From the Natural to the Manmade Environment: The Shifting Advertising Practices of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry


  • Patrick McCurdy University of Ottawa



Environment, Oil sands, Tar sands, Bitumen, Advertising, Extraction / Environnement, Sables bitumineux, Publicité, Pétrole


Background  This article uses basic thematic content analysis (n = 80) and qualitative visual analysis to examine how still advertisements produced by Canada’s oil sands industry changed between 2006 and 2015.

Analysis  The article argues that early industry advertisement campaigns had a strong environment focus with the objective of linking industry’s interest in oil with a visual commitment to preserving, reclaiming, and restoring the natural environment.

Conclusions and implications  In subsequent campaigns, however, industry is shown to undertake a multidimensional campaigning strategy, the most prominent of which is lifestyle messaging that celebrates oil’s ubiquity in consumer culture. The shift to “selling oil sands without oil sands” highlights the need for scholars to widen the aperture of what is traditionally considered environmental imagery from the natural environment to the human-made environment.

Contexte  Cet article utilise une analyse de contenu thématique de base (n = 80) et une analyse visuelle qualitative pour examiner comment les announces statiques produites par l’industrie canadienne des sables bitumineux ont changé entre 2006 et 2015.

Analyse  L’article soutient que les premières campagnes de publicité de l’industrie étaient fortement axées sur l’environnement dans le but de lier l’intérêt de l’industrie pétrolière à un engagement visant à préserver, récupérer et restaurer l’environnement naturel.

Conclusions et implications  Dans les campagnes subséquentes, cependant, l’industrie a démontré qu’elle entreprenait une stratégie de campagne multidimensionnelle, dont la plus importante est la messagerie de style de vie qui célèbre l’omniprésence du pétrole dans la culture de consommation. Le passage à la «vente de sables bitumineux sans sables bitumineux» souligne la nécessité pour les chercheurs d’élargir l’ouverture de ce qui est traditionnellement considéré comme une imagerie environnementale, de l’environnement naturel à l’environnement créé par l’homme.

Author Biography

Patrick McCurdy, University of Ottawa

Patrick McCurdy (PhD, LSE) is an Associate Professor in the Department Communication at the University of Ottawa.  Drawing from media and communication, journalism as well as social movement scholarship, Professor McCurdy’s research and teaching is interested in media as a site and source of social struggle. His research has studied the mainstream and social media movement strategies of social movements including the global justice movement and the Occupy movement. He has also examined the implications of living in a media saturated and media event oriented society covering topics ranging from WikiLeaks to the rise and consequences of celebrity activism. Currently Professor McCurdy is working on the SHHRC-funded Mediatoil project ( which is examining the evolution of oil sands advertising and campaigning from 1970 until present day. Patrick’s work has been published in several academic journals and he is the co-author of Protest Camps (Zed, 2013) and the co-editor of three books Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism and Society (Palgrave, 2013) and Mediation and Protest Movements (Intellect, 2013) and Protest Camps in International Context to be published by Policy Press in March 2017. He may be found on Twitter as @pmmcc.