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The unexpected way Nixon’s ban on cigarette ads changed TV forever





From the very first 10-minute radio commercial in 1922 to five-second commercials today, the length of ads has changed dramatically over the decades. But it isn’t the changing lengths of commercials that’s so fascinating, it’s the reasons why.

A new wave

On April 1st of 1970, Richard Nixon signed legislation banning cigarette advertising on radio and TV in the U.S.

Former president Richard Nixon set 30-second ads in motion. (The Associated Press) The last cigarette commercial aired at a few minutes to midnight on January 1st, 1971, during Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

The tobacco industry was a huge advertising category, spending more than $150M on television, or the equivalent of $1B in today’s dollars. The loss of that revenue was crippling to the big three networks. They needed to find a new way to attract business.

Enter the 30-second commercial.

30-second ads were less expensive to produce and buy than 60s. These cheaper commercials attracted a whole new category – and revenue pool – of smaller sponsors to network television.

From this point on, the 30-second commercial would become the standard of advertising time. It also introduced the world to one other lasting concept: Advertising clutter.

But one decade later, another wave was about to hit the advertising shores…

I Want My 15-Second Ad

When MTV launched in 1981, videos changed more than the musical landscape.

The quick-cut editing style of music videos greatly influenced the advertising business. As a result, some 30-second commercials had more than 40 edits – meaning more than one per second.

The impact was seismic – because MTV taught young audiences to accept lots of information in a short period of time.

That change opened the door to the arrival of the 15-second commercial in 1984.

They were cheaper to produce, advertisers could afford to buy lots of media time and the quick aspect of the 15s meant they rarely got zapped by viewers.

The lower cost allowed advertisers to “bookend” – which meant placing a 15-second ad at the beginning and end of commercial breaks – the two most important positions to be in. The low cost also allowed ad agencies to produce many more commercials. The speed of fifteen-second commercials also required a new form of storytelling – usually a quick gag and a payoff.

15-second commercials were usually mixed with 30s in campaigns.

And all was well.

Until the 21st century introduced us to an 18-second video… of elephants.

The YouTube generation

The first video ever posted to a new thing called “YouTube” happened on April 23rd, 2005. It was titled “Me at the Zoo.”

It showed YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim at the San Diego Zoo looking at elephants:

He and his two partners posted it to the new site they had created to share videos.

By summer of 2006, the site hosted over 65,000 videos and was delivering over 100 million views per day. By 2010, YouTube was the dominant provider of online video in North America. That attracted advertisers. Soon, brands were posting their network TV commercials on YouTube.

But YouTube offered big audiences and longer time limits, so advertisers extended the length of their commercials. Many stretching to two minutes. When Google purchased YouTube in 2006, it began offering “pre-roll” advertising. That meant commercials would roll before the start of the actual video people had come to watch.

Five seconds into the ads, a “skip” box appeared in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, giving viewers the option to skip the ad if they so desired. Then, in 2015, the advertising industry received a jarring piece of research:

94 per cent of people were skipping the pre-roll ads.

Getting viewers interested enough to pay attention to those first five seconds – let alone watch an ad in its entirety – became a real challenge for advertisers. Until one brand decided to become unskippable.


In 2015, Geico’s ad firm “The Martin Agency” had an idea: What if they embraced that five-second window?

Instead of just repurposing their network TV ads into a pre-roll, they created an entire campaign that focused on making the most of those initial 5 seconds.

They called it: “Unskippable.”

The campaign featured a series of ads showing people in different cheesy situations. Like, handshaking over a business deal in an office elevator. Or a mom serving a young, 50s-style family a spaghetti dinner.

One person always emphatically uttered the key word that formed the basis of Geico’s marketing: “Savings.”

Then around the 3-second mark, the actors freeze in place, and then the voiceover breaks the fourth wall and says:

“You can’t skip this Geico ad because it’s already over. Geico – 15 minutes could save you 15 per cent or more on car insurance.”

The ad was unskippable because it was already over. Or was it?

After those initial five seconds, the camera lingers for an uncomfortably long 30-60 seconds on the actors – still standing perfectly still, holding their breath, while the environments around them hilariously continued to move.

In the elevator handshake ad, a woman steps into the elevator and has to awkwardly maneuver around the two frozen businessmen in order to press her floor button:

In the spaghetti dinner scene, the family dog hops up onto the table and starts eating the entire meal while the family remains still and smiling:

And, as a testimony to how powerful the “unskippable” idea really was, it amassed over 14 million views on YouTube – remarkable in a medium renowned for warp-speed ad skipping. And more importantly, the campaign also sparked a record number of insurance quote requests.

Geico’s “Unskippable” campaign disrupted the world of pre-roll advertising. It would go on to win over 30 awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes advertising festival.

Proving that sometimes all it takes to upend an entire medium is a little thinking…outside the skip box.

For these stories and more from Under The Influence, click or tap on the “Listen” tab to hear the full episode.
You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.

Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio – a 1969 Airstream trailer that’s been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O’Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.
Follow the journey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and search the hashtag: #Terstream.

(Image Credit: Sidney O’Reilly)


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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic





TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed





On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon





When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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