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Annals of the energy war room: Square-pipeline logo to be dumped like a bad first date

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Left image: Progress Software Corp. logo. Right image: The CEC's first logo.

The Alberta energy war room's logo will be unceremoniously dumped like a bad first date.

It turns out the iconic square-pipeline symbol that was supposedly rustled up just for the Canadian Energy Centre, as the war room is officially known, was already in service as the corporate logo of a multi-national business software development company based in Massachusetts.

Needless to say, this was an embarrassing coincidence to have someone discover after only a week of operations by Premier Jason Kenney's $30-million-per-annum corporation, established by the United Conservative Party government to straighten out those misguided folks who won't adhere to the party line on why Alberta's fossil fuel industry is actually good for the planet.

This is not the way these sorts of propaganda efforts are supposed to work. The idea is for the general themes of the stories, interviews, memes and videos they pump out to become the prevailing narrative about the industry the centre was set up to support. The idea is not for the war room itself to be the story.

Once upon a time, plagiarism and other forms of creative coincidence, accidental and intentional, were easy to get away with because detecting them was hard.

But we live in an age of sophisticated online search engines that include, importantly, image recognition applications. So it didn't take long for some bright spark to notice that the war room's logo and the one in use by Progress Software Corp. of Bedford, Massachusetts, were for all intents and purposes identical but for colour. Naturally, this observation was soon zipping around social media at warp speed, accompanied by some pretty unkind commentary.

I'm sure I wasn't the only person to write spokesperson Grady Semmens in the wake of the social media revelations to ask for an explanation about how this came to happen, how much the logo cost, and whether or not it would continue to be used.

I received the following email containing answers to some of my questions, which seems to be the same one Semmens sent to everyone else:

"The Canadian Energy Centre is taking steps to replace its company logo after learning that the icon in the logo is being used by another company," he emailed.

"The icon was produced for the CEC by marketing agency Lead & Anchor. The CEC is working with the agency to determine how this situation occurred."

(On Thursday night, readers will be interested to learn, Lead & Anchor's website said only that it is a private site, offering only a link to a discreet sign-in page.)

Semmens' email continued: "'This is an unfortunate situation but we are committed to making the necessary corrections to our visual identity,' said Tom Olsen, the CEC's chief executive officer and managing director. 'We understand this was a mistake and we are in discussions with our agency to determine how it happened.'"

"The icon has been in use since the CEC's public launch on December 11, 2019," the email continued. "Any costs associated with removal and adjustment of the design will be borne by the agency."

"Lead & Anchor was chosen from nine respondents to a post on Communo, a Calgary-based company that operates a network of vetted marketing and communications agencies," Semmens said before signing off. "The CEC has already begun work to update its visual identity and a new logo is forthcoming."

The logo remained on the CEC website as of December 19 (but had been changed as of December 21).

Alert readers will recall that back in the day, when Olsen was communications advisor to Progressive Conservative premier Ed Stelmach during one of the province's occasional rebranding efforts, a photo of a beach in Northumbria, England, appeared over an advertising tagline that read, "Alberta: Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve."

No big deal. Stuff like this happens in the advertising industry all of the time.

Hilarity ensued, however, when Olsen insisted to an Edmonton newspaper that "there's no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta, there's no attempt to mislead. That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do."

Thursday's reaction was infinitely better, don't you think, than pretending not to have made an obvious boo-boo? Still, it may not be completely reassuring that a public agency supposedly dedicated to fact checking and disputing criticism of the fossil fuel industry seems to lack the wherewithal to do a simple online image check.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Left image: Progress Software Corp. logo. Right image: The CEC's first logo.

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