Ad Hawk is an occasional series evaluating the effectiveness of political advertising.
The latest attack ad by the Conservatives is proof positive of Kim Campbell's infamous assertion that election campaigns (including 45-second videos on social media) aren't the time to talk about complicated policy issues.
The ad — posted as an online video last Thursday, but not airing in any purchased television spots — attacks Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's foreign policy position on ISIS and Iraq.
- Justin Trudeau: I'll end ISIS combat mission, restore relations with Iran
- Stephen Harper says Justin Trudeau wants to be 'best friends' with Iran
It begins with screenshots from horrific videos posted online by ISIS, while an anthem from the group's propaganda media plays in the background.
News headlines such as this one are pasted over the images to add to the dramatic effect and make the narrative even more chilling: "Depraved new video shows ISIS killing prisoners in new, sick ways."
Cut to a super: "Justin Trudeau's response?"
The answer: a headline from CBC News, followed by heavily-edited excerpts from an interview Justin Trudeau gave to the CBC's Terry Milewski on Power & Politics on June 23.
Milewski: "Would you pull the CF-18's out of Kuwait, say, ok we're not going to do the bombing anymore?"
Trudeau: "Yes, we'd move away from the CF-15* mission to…"
Milewski: "Move away from the CF-18's, that is a yes, right? You would pull them out?"
Trudeau: "Yes, that is a yes, yes."
Milewski: "If you don't want to bomb a group as ghastly as ISIS, when would you ever support real military action…"
Trudeau: "Terry, that's a nonsensical question."
* Trudeau appears to stumble on his words and/or misspeak, confusing the type of fighter jet Canada has deployed in its mission against ISIS. Editing has rendered the video and audio out of synchronization at this spot. Compare the edits with the original interview footage.
The video ends with a photo of Trudeau and the tagline "Just not ready."
Editor's Note: Read CBC News Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire's blog on why CBC/Radio-Canada asked Facebook and YouTube to take down this political ad for not only using CBC's news footage but also re-editing it.
What's the message?
The ad is very direct and in-your-face: ISIS is taking barbaric terrorism to an even more sickening level. Justin Trudeau won't use force to stop them. He's just not ready to lead.
The "Justin's just not ready" label is nothing new but the imagery, sounds and the interview clip of a visibly uneasy Trudeau take this attack ad to a new high, or low, depending on which party you support.
It makes the famous 1964 "Daisy" ad aired once by the Lyndon Johnson campaign look tame by comparison.
The footage of the nuclear explosion and mushroom cloud in that ad exploited the fears of the time and the voice over sought to capitalize on that fear: "These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die."
As graphic as that ad was, the opening segment of the Conservatives ad is even more disturbing for its rawness.
One would assume that Mulcair would be enemy number one by now, given his recent showing in the polls.
The Conservative attack ad formula had been effective against past opposition leaders Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion. But previous Tory ads didn't dent Trudeau very much.
Are the Conservative still targeting Trudeau because his supporters may be more prone to switch to the Conservative party, based on the 2011 election results?
Or do the Conservatives not yet have the right material for an effective angle of attack against Mulcair?
Kernel of truth here?
Attack ads are a blunt instrument. They're rarely subtle. And there's no grey zone. It often boils down to presenting complex issues in the most simplistic ways like "you're either with us or against us."
Few will actually watch the full interview Justin Trudeau gave to the CBC on Power & Politics.
Those who do will hear Mr. Trudeau's complete, unedited and more nuanced answers about the Liberal plan for humanitarian aid to the region and a training role for the military.
But that's a moot point. The Conservatives were given fresh content on a silver platter and are now serving in a provocative way. The damage is done.
There's something ironic in the use of news clippings in the Conservative party's attack ads.
Less than a year ago, the Conservative government mused about adding an exemption to allow political parties to dodge copyright claims when compiling news clippings and TV footage to launch attack ads against their rivals.
- Copyright exception for political ads mulled by Conservatives
- Political parties blocked from using broadcasters' content in ads
- Conservatives' copyright law changes could backfire
- Could election debate footage become ad fodder, depending on who owns it?
Heritage Minister Shelly Glover told the House "Major television networks should not be able to censor what can and cannot be broadcast to Canadians. We believe this has always been protected under the fair dealings provisions of the law, and if greater certainty is necessary, we will provide it."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper later added, "As political people who conduct much of our business in public, we fully expect we will be held publicly accountable for the statements we make in public. I would be very concerned about any proposal that would attempt to censor or block that information from the public."
While the Conservatives never followed through with legislation, is using a heavily-edited and distorted CBC interview what they had in mind?
What score or rating would you give?
Is it a well constructed piece of communication? Does it drive home a powerful negative message against a political opponent? Will it break through the clutter of pre-election ads from the parties and the PAC-style groups?
The answer is yes.
However, I give it a zero for using actual footage from ISIS propaganda videos.
The Conservatives could have made their point without it.
Eric Blais is president of Headspace Marketing, Inc., a strategic consulting firm. He specializes in the Quebec market.
Previously from Eric Blais: