Day 6

Is Kellie Leitch's viral campaign video an epic fail — or a stroke of political genius?

This week, an awkward campaign video from Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch went viral, unleashing a flood of ridicule on social media. From the outside, it seemed like a PR disaster for Leitch. But Anne Kingston and Conway Fraser say the public's reaction to the video plays right into her campaign team's hands.
(YouTube / Kellie Leitch for Leader of the Conservative Party)
Listen12:16

This week, an awkward campaign video from Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch went viral, unleashing a flood of ridicule on social media.

The video is eight minutes long. It features Leitch in an austere, official-looking room, outlining her position on immigration and Canadian values.

But while Leitch's policies may have been the focus of the video, many of those who shared it online were more interested in the video's unusual production values.

In the video, Leitch paces around, regularly stopping to look to the left or right and taking long awkward pauses mid-sentence.

Soon after the original video went up online, an abridged version started to circulate with all of Leitch's speech cut out  — leaving behind just the silences and sideways glances.

That video went viral, too.

From the outside, it seemed like a PR disaster. But Kellie Leitch seemed to feel differently.

"I'm delighted that now, unfiltered, the Canadian public can see what I'm talking about," Leitch told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Leitch's delight is probably justified, according to Maclean's magazine writer Anne Kingston and communications consultant Conway Fraser.

As they tell Day 6 host Brent Bambury, the public mockery of Leitch's video plays right into her campaign's hands.

Kellie Leitch speaks during the Conservative leadership debate at the Maclab Theatre in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Codie McLachlan/Canadian Press)

         

What was the Leitch campaign going for?

The first time he saw the video, Fraser thought it was satire.

"I thought I was watching something on This Hour Has 22 Minutes," he says. "It looks like an SCTV commercial; I'm expecting to see Eugene Levy up there."

"I don't know what was worse — her actual delivery or the production value," says Fraser.

Kingston, who has interviewed Leitch in the past, doubts there was anything tongue-in-cheek about her delivery style.

I don't know who she's looking at. Is there somebody in the corner? I have no idea. It's very, very awkward.- Conway Fraser , media coach and communications consultant 

"I can assure you, there's ... not an ironic bone in her body," says Kingston.

"It was almost a parody of a leadership video in a sense, that she was trying to be relatable," she says. "They're trying to make her seem presidential or prime ministerial … and it just did not work."

Fraser, who has experience as a media coach, noted a number of classic mistakes in Leitch's video delivery.

"She definitely is trying to slow down her speech pattern. There are long pauses; she keeps looking off into the corner of the room. I don't know who she's looking at. Is there somebody in the corner? I have no idea. It's very, very awkward."

Kingston was fascinated to observe how Leitch had been coached for the video.

"The first thing I noticed was voice training," says Kingston. "They're clearly trying to get her voice [into a] more resonant, deeper timbre."

"I also sensed they were trying to work on, sort of, this Margaret Thatcher situation. But it kind of was crossed with a bible belt preacher," she says.

"It struck me as incredibly disjointed. And then ... I tried to imagine how many takes they took and how bad it must have been for this to have been the final product," says Kingston. "And then I thought, well, wait a second. They were willing to post this. So what is this saying about what they're trying to communicate?"

Kellie Leitch answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

    

Politics of distraction

Kingston and Fraser say the Leitch video is, in part, successful because media organizations — including Day 6 — are talking about its failures.

"It's a hijacking of the news cycle," Fraser says. "[But] if I were still in journalism, I'd be covering it too, just like Trump."

In a recent column for Maclean's, Kingston went so far as to call the video a "masterwork of Trumpian distraction."

"What I was referring to was the response," Kingston explains. "All of a sudden, people were talking about Kellie Leitch again."

At the same time, Kingston says, the focus on the video has shifted scrutiny away from Leitch's policies.

They were willing to post this. So what is this saying about what they're trying to communicate?- Anne Kingston,  Maclean's   magazine writer

"We're not at all even talking about what she actually said. And … she made some statements that were actually a complete twisting of fact and reality."

The video is, at times, frustrating with its twists and turns, Fraser says.

"If I hear the words 'freedom' and 'Canadian values' one more time … if you turn that into a drinking game, we'll all be loaded in ten minutes!"

But ultimately, Fraser and Kingston both agree that it doesn't really matter how journalists cover the video, because it will fuel Leitch's campaign regardless.

"We are giving this oxygen," Kingston says. "We should be looking at the content, not just the form. But it's almost as if it doesn't matter. The form eclipses all."

Andrew Scheer is flanked by Erin O'Toole, left, and Kellie Leitch at the Conservative leadership candidates' bilingual debate in Moncton, N.B. on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

   

Did the Leitch campaign do it on purpose?

The video's viral success raises the question: did the Leitch campaign make the video intentionally awkward?

"There's almost this dark brilliance if they did," Kingston chuckles. "This sort of remarkable, Machiavellian sort of strategic thinking."

"I almost perversely would admire it if they had that foresight to be able to play the electorate. I mean, it's terrifying."

We can sit back and judge it, but I suspect her camp's pretty happy with this.- Conway Fraser, media coach and communications consultant 

The video certainly has the potential to be very effective for Leitch, Fraser says.

"We've got, like, fourteen people in this race. It's like a Greek Senate race, there's so many people. And so it comes down to fractions … and we're not talking about Kellie Leitch going out to the general electorate to be elected, we're talking about Kellie Leitch going out to card-carrying members of the Conservative party to be selected as leader."

"Her goal is to get enough votes to make it through that first ballot. And from her perspective, she probably thinks this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. We can sit back and judge it, but I suspect her camp's pretty happy with this," he says.

Leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch arrives at the national Conservative summer caucus retreat in Halifax on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

But even if it ended up working in their favour, Fraser doubts the campaign set the video up for ridicule.

"At the end of the day, I looked at it and I thought, 'you know what? They probably think this is absolutely fantastic'."

Calculated or no, the video is part of a broader strategy that will likely be repeated, Kingston says.

"I think the minute you start really staging something like this, it becomes apparent … But to say that they're not going to do things that they know are going to drop like a bomb — we've already seen them do it before; this has worked. You repeat success."