The 4x8 is the message
There are some 78 candidates in this election campaign, but most signs point to two – Robert Ghiz and Pat Binns. It’s a battle of fresh and new against tried and true. Liberals and Conservatives are banking on their leaders, while delivering different messages in their ad campaigns.
The signs of an election big 4x8 ones started to dot the landscape before Pat Binns’ election call on Sept. 2. Building supply companies saw a run on plywood in the early summer, and the party workers began sinking the post holes, and nailing up the frames that would hold up those signs in mid August.
Advertising campaigns were put together well before that.
Moments after Binns dropped the election writ, the signs were up, and the first hints of how the parties would pitch their campaigns was unveiled: “Let’s keep building,” for the governing Tories; “A Better Way,” from the Grit camp.
From that very first night, one other thing became apparent: this campaign is about the two party leaders.
PC Leader Pat Binns is in an enviable position. As the most popular premier in the country, the choice to have his face and name everywhere seems natural for the people who have built the Tory advertising campaign.
Similarly the Liberals are using Robert Ghiz’s image on campaign literature and advertising. He’s 29, energetic, and shares the last name of his father, Joe, who built a Liberal dynasty in the mid ’80s and early ’90s.
Ghiz’s campaign team is hoping to tap into a rising wave of young political leaders. Shawn Graham and Bernard Lord in New Brunswick, and Mario Dumont in Quebec have all captured media attention and votes in the past year. Bill Dow, the Liberal’s campaign co-chair says it’s something the Liberals thought about when putting together the “A Better Way” campaign message.
“We knew that we had a young, energetic, inspiring, forward-thinking leader, who has a lot of passion. So we wanted to showcase him,” says Dow.
The Tories are all about Pat. The Binns name and his face are on every poster, newspaper ad, policy announcement, and even the website – patbinns.ca.
“People know who the premier is. They certainly have a high satisfaction rate with his performance as premier, and his government’s performance,” says party spokesperson Jason Lea.
In seeking a third mandate, the Tories decided on the slogan, “Let’s Keep Building,” as a variation on the “Let’s Continue” message that won them a landslide in 2000.
“I guess what we’re trying to sum up with those three words is the fact that we’re very proud of our record. We’re proud of what the premier has done over the last seven years or so. And now is the time to continue that growth and continue that process,” says Lea.
Many people would say this year’s slogan is not very dynamic or exciting. However, it too was designed to fit the slow, steady style of Pat Binns.
“He has a persona around him, and you can’t build an advertising or marketing campaign that doesn’t match your leader," Lea says. "The volunteers that do work on our advertising campaign do realize that you can’t run a campaign that’s contrary to the image of the party, the image of Pat Binns. So that’s why you look at the advertising, the pictures and the words that are used, and the image of the premier.”
The Liberals say they are trying a different approach. The word “team” is used a lot in their advertising. Dow says the party wants voters to know that while their leader is a strong personality, there is a team of strong individuals behind him.
“Our strategy has been twofold,” Dow says. “We’re trying to showcase the leader, and his candidates. We don’t talk about the Robert Ghiz team, we talk about the Liberal team.”
This marks a significant change from the Liberal’s “True Grit” campaign three and a half years ago. After a long search that ended in the coronation of Wayne Carew, the party ran a campaign around the 27 individual candidates. There was little fanfare around the leader, and little spark in the campaign.
It ended with the Liberals holding onto a single seat in the legislature. Carew resigned leaving an interim leader in place until this past April when Robert Ghiz was elected.
Ghiz’s closest advisors are mostly new faces. The slate of candidates features new faces too. Many Liberals from governments past have distanced themselves – or been distanced - from the campaign in an effort to show the electorate there are new cogs in the Liberal machine.
The Liberal campaign was designed in two stages: it began as a provincial campaign that would switch focus to the districts during the last week. Over the past weekend the Liberals’ big campaign road signs were changed slightly. New stickers were placed under the images of the candidates in order to draw the eye to the candidate not the leader.
“When you go into the ballot box it doesn’t have Pat Binns or Robert Ghiz’s name on it. It has the candidate’s name on it. So in the last week you try to focus directly on the candidates themselves. It was part of the strategy, no question about it,” says Dow.
You won’t see many new faces in the Tory camp. Three MLAs have decided to move on, making room for new blood. But the Conservatives are mostly relying on the same people who have delivered two mandates since 1996.
Conservative advertising isn’t changing in the last week before voting day. The party that says it is running on its record has no intention of letting people forget about Pat Binns. He hovers over the shoulder the right one of the candidates on the roadside signs and peers out from the morning newspapers.
“When you drive through a district and you see the 4x8 sign on the side of the road, you’re going to see the picture of the local candidate in front of the premier. You’re going to see their name on the sign very prominent right in the middle of the sign. The lawn signs are only talking about the local candidate,” says Lea.
There’s one other thing about this campaign: no negative advertising or smear campaigns. It simply doesn’t fit the Pat Binns personality, and the Liberals say attacking the most popular premier in the country would be political suicide.
Being the underdog would make it easy for the Liberals to sling a bit of dirt. But Dow says that style of politics does not work on the Island.
“This is all about issues, and we want to stick with the issues here on P.E.I. And you know, that kind of politicking just doesn’t register with the voters.”
“When we’re attacking the Tory regime, we are attacking the government and their record, as opposed to the personalities themselves.”
Over at Conservative headquarters Jason Lea hopes slow and steady wins this race.
Pat Binns continues to say he will stick around for one more term if he’s elected. His timetable of 10 years on the provincial stage, however, remains unchanged. It means that someone will have to take over from Binns in the next handful of years.