"When Amy started thinking for herself, we had to nip it in the bud with Obay," read one ad. "My son had ideas of his own. Obay put a stop to that," read another.
Creative showed a smiling, happy family, and a bottle of Obay pills.
The teaser ads ran for two weeks, causing local bloggers to speculate their origin. Theories ranged from Obay being an actual mind-controlling drug created by a pharmaceutical company to Obay being the handiwork of Scientologists.
The ads originated from an unlikely source, Colleges Ontario, an advocacy group that represents the 24 publicly funded colleges in the province.
According to Malcolm Roberts, principal at Smith Roberts, the creative and media agency behind the campaign, the objective was to change the way parents viewed college.
"Colleges Ontario asked us to help them change the public perception that college is a lesser alternative to university. Many parents are pushing their kids into a university education when, in fact their children would be happier with a college degree in a subject area that actually appealed to them. This campaign was designed to get parents to take notice, and re-think their attitudes toward colleges," said Roberts.
Following the teaser ads was a month-long "revelation" campaign. Original ads were covered by crumpled, yellow pages explaining the rouse.
"Luckily, Obay isn't real. Sure, you want what's best for your kids, but when it comes to post-secondary education, pushing them to do what you want isn't right. Explore all the options at ontariocolleges.ca," reads an ad for the second phase of the campaign.
The campaign delivered 50 million impressions in six weeks and serves as the beginning of a multiyear campaign.
"All 24 colleges have fully supported releasing funds for the next phase of the campaign," said Roberts. "We knew from the outset that this was going to be a long-term strategy, possibly up to five years. You can't change years of ingrained attitudes overnight."
Too bad there isn't a pill for that.