Politics·Analysis

Liberal ad aimed at Conservative government TV spending misses mark

The federal Liberals have released a new TV spot criticizing the government for spending taxpayer dollars on ads that they say promote the Conservative party. The Liberal ad, however, missed the mark, writes public relations expert Bill Walker.

New Liberal Party ad says government has used $750M of taxpayer money to promote itself

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his party have taken aim at the government's use of taxpayer dollars to produce television ads. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Bill Walker is president of MidtownPR. He was previously the Ottawa and Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star. His assessment of a new Liberal Party ad targeting Conservative spending on their own TV spots is part of an occasional series evaluating the effectiveness of political advertising.

What's the message?

The Liberals are trying to make the point that taxpayer-funded government TV advertising for programs such as the Action Plan are being used to promote the prime minister and his Conservatives.

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The problem is that this concept is confusing for the average viewer. When the ad says that in the past nine years taxpayers "have paid $750 million for our ads" it is not immediately obvious — except perhaps to a politically sophisticated viewer — who they are referring to when they say "our ads."

Overall, the takeaway key message of the ad is confusing and lacks an easy, catchy tag line that is memorable.

Why now?

Spending on government TV ads has been heavy lately, particularly during the Stanley Cup playoffs, where this new Liberal ad was targeted. This so-called loophole in government advertising laws is caused by the blurry line between what constitutes a government information ad and a partisan political ad.

Kernel of truth here?

There is a good point to be made on the issue, but this ad may not achieve it. There have long been complaints within political circles that in the run-up to an election, governments ramp up spending on TV advertising for partisan political gain.

The Conservatives had the same complaints when the Chretien Liberal government was in power. Now the Conservatives are being criticized. For example, last fall they began running ads for upcoming family tax breaks months before tax season.

Similarly, there have been feel-good ads for Canada's 150th anniversary, even though it is two years away. Critics call it political propaganda designed to benefit the Conservatives. And it's worth noting that all Canadians pay for these ads — each and every taxpayer.

What score or rating would you give?

This ad scores a 2/5. The sound effects do a good job implying spending and financial transactions, but the message is convoluted. This is not an easy subject to explain in a 30-second spot. But there are more effective ways to try.

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