Politics·Analysis

Conservatives, Liberals hit closest to the mark with new political ads

It's not even June 1 and the climate for political ads is heating up significantly. Public relations consultant and former political journalist Bill Walker takes a look at four new ads from the major political parties.

Parties try to define leaders amid subtle - and not-so-subtle - swipes at rivals

The federal NDP's new television ad speaks to Canadians "who work hard" while saying government should be there "to help families make ends meet." The ad was one of four released by the main parties Monday. (NDP)

Bill Walker is president of MidtownPR. He was previously the Ottawa and Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star. His assessment is part of an occasional series evaluating the effectiveness of political advertising.


It's not even June 1 and the climate for political ads is heating up significantly. Let's have a look at four new ads from the major political parties, all released Monday.

Ad #1: Proven Leadership, from the Conservatives

What's the message?

This ad fuels the Conservatives' attempt to frame the major issue in the coming election as leadership.

A new Conservative Party ad shows leader Stephen Harper in his office as his voice intones "Most of the decisions you make in this job are hard ones." (Conservative Party/YouTube)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is shown in shirtsleeves in his Parliament Hill office, working hard at his desk.

The voiceover is Harper's, talking about confronting issues "you never expected" and how a PM doesn't have the luxury of "only making popular choices." He gets up after a seemingly long day and walks out of his office, pausing to turn off the lights.

Why now?

This new ad is the positive flipside to several negative "Justin Trudeau — he's just not ready" ads the Conservatives have aimed at the Liberal leader (see below). Harper does not appear in those ads.

Kernel of truth here?

It's true that Harper had to face the 2008 global economic recession (and near-depression) and that he has, like other world leaders, faced significant terrorism threats. The kind of leadership he demonstrated may be a matter of opinion, but this ad zeroes in on the fact that he is a seasoned PM.

What score or rating would you give?

This ad scores 3/5. It works as a 'trust" piece, but won't likely move many non-Conservative supporters.

Ad #2: The Interview, from the Conservatives

What's the message?

This is the latest negative Trudeau ad (see above) from the Conservatives. It attacks the Liberal leader on the basis of his looks, for lacking experience on economic and security issues and for acting "like a celebrity." It ends with one member of a job panel evaluating his resume saying: "I'm not saying 'No' forever, but not now."

Another adds: "Nice hair, though."

Why now?

The Conservatives have arguably been successful at negatively branding past Liberal leaders. As the saying goes, if it's working, don't fix it. They will likely continue to bombard voters with messages trying to frame Trudeau as inexperienced. It underscores the party's goal of making leadership the main campaign issue.

Kernel of truth here?

It's true that Trudeau hasn't been prime minister, or led any government – as was the case for Harper when he first moved into 24 Sussex Drive.

What score or rating would you give?

This ad scores 4/5. As attack ads go, it works.

Ad#3: True Story, from the Liberals

What's the message?

This is an ad that emphasizes two words we've heard a lot from the Liberals: middle class.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau appears with a Canadian family in a Liberal Party ad release this week. (Liberal Party/YouTube)

It begins with Justin Trudeau's voice introducing the Rose family. He talks about how they make financial sacrifices to save for their children's education, "choices more Canadian families have faced in ten years under Stephen Harper." It stresses Trudeau's proposed Canada child benefit, to offer "$2,500 more per year, tax-free, than they get now."

Why now?

Bill Clinton's abrasive but effective campaign manager James Carville once famously said: "It's the economy, stupid." The equivalent Liberal backroom organizer might be saying now: "It's the middle class, stupid." We can expect to see the Liberals continue to try to own this issue in the election run-up.

Kernel of truth here?

Studies do show that the rich have been getting richer, while the middle class largely treads water amid reports of high consumer debt levels.

What score or rating would you give?

This ad scores a 4/5. It's simple and visual. Canadians can relate to it.

Ad #4: Bring Change to Ottawa, from the NDP

What's the message?

The New Democrats have released a very fast-paced 30-second piece that crams a lot of themes and information into one spot.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair appears in a relaxed setting in his party's new television ads, in which he stresses middle class values, the economy and the environment. (NDP)

It starts the sun rising over a city skyline. Then we see people entering a coffee shop.

"You work hard every day," NDP leader Tom Mulcair says.

We see people kneading dough in a bakery and sorting clothes in a dry cleaner.

"I was raised on middle-class values," Mulcair says in an apparent reference to Trudeau, "and I'll work to strengthen the middle class."

Sitting by himself, he then invites Canadians to join him in bringing change to Ottawa.

Why now?

Election season advertising seems to be starting earlier than ever before. The NDP cannot afford to be left behind by the Conservatives and Liberals, or to allow the Liberals to begin to take ownership of the middle class issue.

Kernel of truth here?

Not really. Mulcair is a lawyer and former university law professor. Those are hardly middle-class jobs. And although he grew up in a family of ten children, he is somewhat blue-blooded from a political perspective — his great-great-grandfather was former Quebec Premier Honoré Mercier.

What score or rating would you give?

This ad scores a 2/5. It tries to do too much. And Mulcair sitting alone in a café looks contrived — hardly an appeal to middle-class voters.

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