Torontoist did the research and named Colleges Ontario as the source.
Colleges Ontario, an advocacy organization representing twenty-four colleges across the province. The organization would neither confirm nor deny their involvement to either Torontoist or, several days later, The Star, but still told us all to wait a few weeks for...something. As far as mysterious ad campaigns go, this one was almost perfect: only breadcrumbs to trace back to the source, a city left to talk about the ad and its message and what it all meant (which, of course, was precisely the point).
This week, the ads' meaning was revealed. There were new, revised ads, made to look like a message had been plastered over the original: "Luckily, Obay isn't real..." Here's the explanation from Colleges Ontario. You can see all the ads, then mouse over to see the new version.
For many parents, university is the only real path to success. College is the option you "settle for" if you can't get into university. The opinion of college as the lesser alternative has lead to countless teenagers being pressured into a future that isn't right for them.
Colleges Ontario knew they needed to start changing this perception and they called on Smith Roberts Creative Communications, an advertising firm in Toronto.
What developed in the months that followed is the two-part teaser and reveal campaign you see before you. The teaser phase was launched in February 2008 with billboards, transit shelters, bus, subway and radio ads which were spread all over Ontario promoting a new drug called Obay, designed to make parent's wishes for their children a reality.
After the 2-week teaser phase, the final message was revealed: Luckily, Obay isn't real. Unfortunately though, the problem of pushing your kids to do what you want is – especially when it comes to their future. Believe it or not, university isn't the only prescription for success. Help your children explore their options. Visit ontariocolleges.ca.
The campaign was a huge success. Before the teaser phase had ended, the campaign had received extensive news coverage including reports from Global National News, Toronto Star, 24 hours and NOW Magazine, as well as hundreds of other articles and blogs - all dying to find out who was behind the supposed new drug, Obay.
In the US, the words college and university are used interchangeably to mean post-secondary, undergrad education. People with university degrees say "when I was in college," and refer to their "college experience," no matter what type of school they attended. In Canada, as in the UK and other places, colleges are two-year schools that focus on a particular career, as distinct from a four-year university.
I didn't fully understand the difference until I was researching, then training for, my work as a notetaker (which turned out to be the world's shortest career). The notetakers in that program attended classes with hearing-impaired college students studying for careers in early childhood education, animation, TV studio technology, all sorts of trades, all types of allied health fields - a huge variety of careers. The programs include "co-ops," which seem to be the equivalent of an internship or a field placement in the US.
For some students, college is a stepping stone to university, but for all of them, it's an entry to a career. In this sense, job training seems more structured and systematic than it is in the US. Perhaps this kind of thing is more common in the States than I realize. But most people I know either went to college (university) or didn't, then put their careers together in a piecemeal, haphazard way. With the exception of careers requiring graduate degrees, like law or medicine, most people just have a generic degree, then look for work. Students in these focused college programs seem more career-oriented from the start, compared to US college students I have known.
Considering the tiny percentage of US college students who actually care about getting a well-rounded education, as opposed to getting a degree to increase earning potential - and considering the astronomical price of those degrees - the Canadian and British system seems better to me.
In any event, this ad campaign was hugely successful. If the final revelation was a bit anticlimactic, the discussion and speculation were certainly interesting.