Obay is a fictional mind control medication at the centre of a viral marketing campaign begun in February 2008 by Colleges Ontario, the advocacy group for colleges and institutes of applied arts and technology in the province of Ontario, Canada, and developed by the Smith Roberts advertising agency. The campaign seeks to eliminate what the group calls "academic snobbery" on the part of parents, who often see colleges as inferior to universities, and who may push their children towards the latter option against their wishes.
Beginning the week of February 11, 2008, advertisements for Obay began appearing throughout Ontario, primarily at public transit venues such bus stops, subway stations, as well as on and in transit vehicles themselves. The ads variously claimed that Obay, "from the makers of WhyBecauseISaidSo™", could stop children from thinking for themselves, or supplant their own hopes and goals with their parents'. Radio ads also aired directing listeners to call 1-888-YOU-OBAY, where Obay was said to transform children into "docile pussycats, open to... the future you've mapped out for them." The campaign received national and international attention.
Despite the use of the trademark symbol, there have been no filings for trademarks for either Obay or WhyBecauseISaidSo with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, nor have there been any other indications (such as Health Canada filings) indicating that the product was actually available for sale. As a result, speculation immediately arose as to whether the campaign was a form of viral marketing, anti-commercial culture jamming (potentially linked to the "Obey Giant" street art campaign), or possibly anti-pharmaceutical activism by the Church of Scientology. Within a week, local blog Torontoist said they had traced the campaign to the colleges group.
Colleges Ontario officially confirmed their involvement on February 25, 2008, launching the second phase of the campaign, which also includes a website and cinema advertising, emphasizing the variety of available programs. The original ads have been "corrected" with notices that Obay does not actually exist, directing viewers to the organization's website.
- "Why College" website, Colleges Ontario
- Colleges Ontario press release, February 25, 2008 ("Based on recent research, parents favour university over college as the number one choice for their children by a margin of 3 to 1.")
- Note that in Canada, "college" and "university" are not synonymous as they are in some other jurisdictions, such as the United States. Refer to the article on college for further details.
- Smith Roberts (ad agency) page on Obay posters
- Smith Roberts page on Obay radio ads / phone message
- Suburbia's March to Oblivion, Dan Mitchell, The New York Times, February 23, 2008
- "Obay" marketing in Ontario, Misty Harris, CanWest News Service, February 21, 2008
- The Ones That Mother Gives You, Jonathan Goldsbie, Torontoist, February 15, 2008
- Colleges Ontario press release, February 25, 2008
- Ontario Colleges "Why College" website
- Mysterious Ads for “Obay”—Accordion Guy Blog, February 15, 2008
- Flickr photo pool of Obay ads