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The influencers: How Ottawa uses popular online hosts to get its messages out

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Florence Lavoie is 22 years old, works at home producing and distributing French language videos on YouTube. It’s lightweight, slice-of-life stuff, mostly: tips on makeup, dating, shopping and diet (one September post ranking lip balm flavours picked up 34,000 views).

She’s been posting videos online since age 10. Her bubbly, upbeat on-camera persona has earned her north of 85,000 subscribers — enough to make YouTube her full-time job, enough to bring her to the attention of the Government of Canada, which hired her in March to produce and distribute a short online video warning young people about the dangers of opioid abuse.

« There is an agency from Montreal that contacted me and talked to me about the project, » Lavoie said. « So already I was interested in sending a nice message to the young people that follow me, because there’s a crisis and people can get involved and touched by that. »

A ‘new era of celebrities’

The Public Health Agency of Canada paid Lavoie and four other social media influencers $17,700 in total to raise awareness about the dangers of opioid misuse. Lavoie’s video earned her $6,600.

« It’s like the new era of celebrities, if I can say (that). People look up to us and they’ll take our advice, » she said.

Nice work if you can get it — and you can get it if you try. The Trudeau government has been actively courting people with significant online audiences to help it communicate its messages to the Canadians who tend to tune out traditional government communications strategies.

Florence Lavoie holds forth on her YouTube channel. « Younger people don’t really watch television anymore, » she says. (CBC News)

Lavoie said the logic behind the recruitment of social media ‘influencers’ like her is obvious to anyone under 30: young people live online — and they don’t like being preached to by older ‘experts’.

« Younger people don’t really watch television anymore and don’t really connect to ads like that because they don’t really speak to them, » she said.

Her opioid video took the form of a conversation between herself and her 15-year-old brother. In it, they talk about the mortal risks involved in taking unknown drugs and strategies for coping with an overdose. No lectures, no screeds against recreational drug use — just a little brother getting some potentially life-saving advice from his older, cooler sister.

« We spoke about the crisis in a way that was natural, » Lavoie said, adding that when she took the federal government’s contract, she made it clear that she wasn’t going to be telling young Canadians « oh, don’t take drugs, you’re just going to die and go (to) prison.

« I didn’t want to share a message like that because even though drugs are not good, well, some people are going to be taking some and you just want to tell them what are the risks. »

The Public Health Agency of Canada hasn’t limited its influencer outreach to the youth market. The agency spent $4,000 on sponsored content published on the website UrbanMoms, which targets Canadian parents with both heavy and light takes on the problems of raising a family (recent posts included pieces on nipple care and allergy-proofing your house). The site reaches just under 100,000 Canadians every month.

Natalie Milne, VP of Maple Media. « If you have a very specific target audience that you’re trying to reach, influencers are an exceptional way of reaching that audience, » she says. (CBC News)

« It was a good fit because UrbanMoms already has the established audience in that demographic that the government was looking to reach. So they were trying to get the message out to parents who have kids who are about to embark on their teenage years, » said Natalie Milne, vice president of the Toronto-based digital publishing company Maple Media, which manages the UrbanMoms site.

« If you have a very specific target audience that you’re trying to reach, influencers are an exceptional way of reaching that audience and they deliver the message in a really authentic and organic voice. »

All sponsored content on Maple Media’s sites is identified as such, said Leslie McCormick, the company’s campaign manager.

« We put a statement at the bottom of the content that says that this piece is sponsored by Health Canada, in this instance, but the opinions are our own. And we always include links out to the client’s site, » McCormick said.

‘Established credibility’

Two other federal government departments — Global Affairs and Public Safety — report having hired online influencers to get the word out.

Public Safety has spent $181,028.20 on social media influencers since 2015 as a part of its public relations campaigns promoting things like protecting sensitive personal information online.

The government is still using ‘traditional’ TV talking heads as a spokespeople — but now, those spokespeople are also helping to expand its social media footprint.

Public Safety paid $133,000 to HGTV home reno expert Bryan Baeumler for his help in promoting the government’s Flood Ready campaign, a program to encourage Canadians to flood-proof their homes.

« Social media influencers have access to large audiences, where they have established credibility and authority on issues that matter to Canadians, » said Tim Warmington, spokesperson for Public Safety Canada.

« By partnering with influencers and leveraging their reach, we can seek to engage with Canadians while making efficient use of public funds. »

Elizabeth Dubois of the University of Ottawa says the federal government’s use of online ‘influencers’ in its communications strategy comes with some risks. (CBC News)

Not everyone is convinced that influencers always offer the best means of getting government messages to hard-to-reach audiences. Elizabeth Dubois, a University of Ottawa academic who studies the political use of digital media, said there’s a risk of fracturing the audience for essential government information.

« By selecting particular influencers, we’re essentially selecting parts of the Canadian public, » she said. « Which means that the parts of the Canadian public who connect with those influencers get the information, and everyone else doesn’t. »

The ‘bot problem

And Dubois warns that any government use of online influencers has to make certain, in an age of weaponized online disinformation, that the people being hired truly are who they say they are — and are being read by actual people.

« If we’re selecting influencers based on their reach but their reach has actually been manipulated by a bunch of ‘bot accounts that have been created to inflate how important they seem, we end up accidentally investing resources in something that’s not actually going to pay out because it’s not real people following those influencers in the first place. »

Others say the trend toward delivering government messaging through online influencers is only going to accelerate — because it works.

« I think it’s about time, » said John White, a branding expert with Social Marketing Solutions in Fort Collins, Colorado.

« Government always kind of lags behind. I think that government is slowly catching on and seeing the success that the business world is having with influencer marketing, seeing how they can implement it into their messaging to move their audience. »

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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