12/20/2017 09:27 EST | Updated 12/20/2017 09:33 EST

Boeing Needs To Do Much Better To Gain The Trust Of Canadians

In its battle with the Government of Canada, Boeing's team has taken a dated approach to its public affairs in the Canadian arena.

In the ongoing political turmoil around Boeing's dispute with the Government of Canada, new tensions are emerging. The Government of Canada has decided not to buy new F18s from Boeing, and also declared would-be bidders will have a distinct disadvantage if they are responsible for harm to Canada's economic interests. The company's recent public affairs campaign has failed to convince both politicians and Canadians that its "commitment to Canada" is real.

By suing the Canadian government, and in turn running an antiquated campaign to remind us all how good they've been to us, Boeing risks turning a normal public policy dispute into a hotly debated us-versus-them battle. If Canadians believe their elected government is acting in the public interest, then surely they would rather hear what Boeing would do to ensure their interests will be protected after all of the lawsuits and procurement disputes are over.

As recently noted in a Fraser Institute blog, "a large part of Boeing's commitment to Canada ... is a result of Canada's commitment to Boeing." This notion has been recently echoed, albeit less politely, in many scathing comments flowing from Canadians on Twitter and Facebook after being exposed to the TV ads that Boeing is running.

PA Wire/PA Images

In its battle with the Government of Canada, Boeing's team has taken a dated approach to its public affairs in the Canadian arena. Boeing's use of a single television ad repurposed for other channels has likely missed its target audiences. Focusing on social media channels such as a dedicated Facebook page aimed at building community promoted with individualized content would have much deeper resonance.

If Boeing is trying to ingratiate itself with the Canadian people, why not spend time talking about our values, and find us on Facebook, where Canadians actually interact in ever-increasing numbers? In the world of false claims and fake news, people look to trusted sources, such as what their friends and families endorse or share. With its ongoing entitled reaction to the Government of Canada's decision, Boeing puts forward a less than compelling case for itself that has resulted in an ineffective campaign to both its tender bids and its public relations.

In its other social media channels, including Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, Boeing appears to be spending significant resources on promotional photos of new aircraft cockpits, equipment and luxurious flights to the Middle East. Don't get me wrong, these are great things, but why not comprehensively leverage your social media channels to try to convince us Canadians that Boeing is sincerely interested in our own national aspirations?

Boeing's latest public relations stunt risks touching a deeply embedded cultural nerve with Canadians.

Boeing's appearances in my social media feeds, on the rare occasion they occur, are simply a stale repetition of the same, month-old, one-dimensional message used on TV. This approach might have worked well if the year was 2007, but in the past decade, there has been a flood of new, sophisticated digital tools available to online campaigns, all which are apparently going untapped by Boeing.

After combing through Boeing's corporate website, I wasn't able to find anything of particular import or relevance to Canada, which makes a costly advertising campaign that speaks to its so called commitment to Canada even stranger.

One only needs to mention the Avro Arrow to remind Canadians of what happens when its indisputably larger and more aggressive neighbour to the South gets upset about Canadian "protectionism," or, for that matter, when Canadians might have the upper hand on innovation and hard work.

When the Arrow's cancellation was announced in early 1959, the day became known as "Black Friday" in the Canadian aviation industry. The cancellation put nearly 30,000 Avro employees and suppliers out of work.

Getty Images
Boeing manufacturing facility in Los Angeles.

Wherein lies the lesson for today's dispute between Boeing and Bombardier? Well, for one, the Arrow is a compelling story that captured the hearts and minds of generations of Canadians and has not been forgotten. Boeing's latest public relations stunt risks touching a deeply embedded cultural nerve with Canadians, reminding them of a rather unpleasant past that tells them today's kind words could lead to another Canadian generation with lost opportunities.

The final hypocrisy is found with Boeing's media relations and legal efforts, which tout unfair Canadian subsidies while failing to hide Boeing's own, decades-long, highly subsidized existence, courtesy of the United States government.

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The thing is, we're nice up here, we say sorry, and unfortunately at times in the past, we've let innovation slip through our hands. Not this time. A behemoth like Boeing complaining about us nasty Canadians failing to recognize that an American company is such a great and benevolent big brother will be sure to backfire. Using advertising tactics almost as dated as the Avro Arrow itself isn't doing much to help.

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