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The masculinization of Alberta’s oil industry propaganda: A dangerous trend threatening a sustainable future

By Josie Simon, August 29 2023—

Alberta’s oil industry has adopted a new style in its marketing and propaganda efforts with an increasingly masculine tone. Marketing products such as the “I Love Oil” stickers and apparel featuring rugged, masculine imagery and slogans that appeal to traditional notions of toughness and independence have become common. Such marketing is targeted almost exclusively towards men, tapping into the gendered cultural values of this demographic. This shift in style indicates how the industry seeks to assert power and dominance as it faces the growing threat of green technologies and climate change. 

The marketing strategy of Alberta’s oil industry has experienced a remarkable transformation, demonstrating its ability to influence public attitudes towards the sector. In the past, the industry relied on public relations campaigns characterized by a benign facade of professionalism. However, their new approach, marked by an aggressive and ruthless style, employs vulgar and provocative language and imagery to appeal to a specific demographic. 

The Canada Oil Sands Community’s 2016 FaceBook advertisement is a prominent example of this trend. The ad, featuring two women kissing, was criticized for objectifying women and perpetuating the male gaze. Such tactics reveal the industry’s willingness to fight dirty to maintain dominance and control the narrative in the face of mounting environmental and social concerns.

These stickers and campaign materials are particularly cunning, cementing an image of oil’s power, strength and masculinity while vilifying alternative energy forms. This tactic creates a divide, framing environmentalists and those pushing for alternative energy forms as weak, feminized and anti-Albertan. The industry has smartly wedged rural lifestyles to the power and independence that oil represents, cementing the idea that supporting oil is necessary for upholding these traditional values. The result is the development of a powerful us-versus-them mentality that taps into regional ideologies to create a loyal following. 

By framing oil development as a matter of provincial identity and masculinity, these campaigns risk exacerbating existing divisions between urban and rural communities and different regions of the country. When the liberal elite is seen pushing for electric cars and other green technologies, it only reinforces the idea that these technologies threaten traditional, working-class lifestyles and their associated values. 

Yet, ultimately, this is a dangerous and shortsighted approach. The hyper-masculine rhetoric surrounding the oil industry comes during a critical moment for the planet’s future. Climate change demands a worldwide shift to cleaner and renewable energy systems, which requires Alberta to lessen its dependence on oil and gas. By continuing to promote oil as the only answer, the industry — and by extension Alberta — is at a disadvantage in the race for innovative green technology.   

Further, the industry’s current approach risks alienating the younger and more diverse demographics who prioritize environmental and social responsibility. As we move towards a more inclusive and sustainable future, the industry’s reliance on outdated and exclusionary marketing tactics may be an obstacle rather than an advantage.

As a resilient and tight-knit community, let us tap into our spirit of innovation and cooperation as we navigate these unprecedented times. Together, we can chart Alberta’s sustainable and prosperous future, showcasing our imaginative spirit and commitment to progress for future generations.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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