Politics·Analysis

Latest NDP ad a compelling bit of anti-Conservative narrative

An online video released by the NDP this week catalogues a litany of investigations, charges and convictions against various members of the Conservative Party of Canada, a sign the NDP is moving to cement its claim to be the only party that can bring change to Ottawa.

Ad Hawk | New Democrats make a foray into attack ad territory to shore up status as the agents of change

A digital ad by the New Democratic Party targets the Conservatives by cataloging the party members and former appointees who have had brushes with the law or ethical issues. Suspended Senator Mike Duffy has pleaded not guilty to fraud and breach of trust. His trial resumes Aug. 11. (YouTube)

Ad Hawk is an occasional series evaluating the effectiveness of political advertising.


An online video ad released by the NDP this week catalogues a litany of investigations, charges and convictions against various members or past members of the Conservative Party of Canada.

A denunciation of alleged Conservative corruption is recited against an ominous soundtrack and newspaper-style still photography. It is framed within the context of leader Stephen Harper's original promises to reform the Senate and clean up pork barrel politics in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal of the early 2000s.

The video will be shown through paid digital and social media advertising to Canadians in western provinces and in southwestern Ontario, where, according to the NDP, "only New Democrats defeat Conservatives."

What's the message?

With Harper's history of positioning himself as the only capable leadership option, the NDP video takes a page out of the Conservative playbook to fundamentally challenge him. It contests the Tories' message that they are the only party capable of managing the public purse, in effect flipping that claim on its head. And it undercuts Harper's tough-on-crime image by passing judgment on people he appointed or with whom he is affiliated.

Why now?

For the NDP, the time is ripe for an ad of this nature, following the apparently positive reception to leader Tom Mulcair's stance against Bill C-51, the win by the NDP in Alberta, the Duffy trial and the Senate scandal and the continuing legal challenges of now suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau. Within this framework, and with the Liberals having fallen lower in the polls, the NDP is looking to cement itself as the only viable alternative to the Conservatives and therefore the only party that can bring about change in Ottawa in the next federal election.

That said, with the Conservatives positioning Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a politically inexperienced lightweight, they themselves might be helping set up Mulcair for success. The lack of NDP branding in the ad is notable until a quick logo flash at the end with the tagline: "it's time for change in Ottawa." The inference is that in whatever regions the ad is running, the NDP are fairly confident they will be the default choice for a traditionally Conservative voter who may be wavering.

As well, the NDP may be using this video ad to test whether this message resonates with the public. This is the benefit of digital advertising: parties can quickly gauge Canadians' appetite for certain messages. Essentially, Canadians will vote on a campaign platform with their clicks. Perhaps the NDP will be the more marketing-savvy party that will put various stakes in the ground early on, take digital analytics into account, and then customize their advertising, social media and on-the-road messaging accordingly.

Kernel of truth here? 

It's important to recognize that some of the allegations in the ad are just that: allegations. Presumably, these are included with a smoke/fire rationale.

That said, Harper did indeed promise to clean up corruption after ousting the Liberals from office.

The Conservative campaign so far has made the most use of attack ads, utilizing creative editing of news footage, innuendo and personal attacks. In response, both Trudeau and Mulcair have previously stated that they're not interested in attack ads.

That seems to have changed with the NDP ad. The question is, is it an attack ad if it is simply reciting an inventory of facts?  

What score or rating would you give?

While we may have grown accustomed to bits and pieces of Conservative scandal in our Twitter feeds, on the evening news, or over the airwaves, when leveraged as a catalogue these accounts carry much more impact. Assembled in quick succession and stamped with red lettering declaring "CHARGED," "UNDER INVESTIGATION" and "FRAUD," the ad's images deliver scope and scale in a much more tangible way. If you squint for a moment, it could appear similar to an advertisement for a documentary about a Mafia crime family.

On their own, these are narratives about individual Conservatives or former Conservatives. Together, they become a narrative about Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.

It's lacking a bit of polish and production value, but for its potential ability to change political conversations, I give it a 9/10.


Kerry McKibbin is a Group Account Director at ds+p inc. who specializes in multi-channel communications strategy including digital and social media strategy. Kerry has worked on some of Canada's biggest brands and campaigns and was previously Director of Marketing for TEDxToronto.

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