BTC: The nasty, vicious, mind-blowing ad we won't be talking about -

BTC: The nasty, vicious, mind-blowing ad we won’t be talking about


Before things went a bit sideways yesterday, discussion on the NDP bus largely concerned the party’s latest campaign ad, an altogether interesting video clip that might be the most aggressively negative bit of advertising in recent Canadian political history.

Not that the ad was going to get much of any coverage here anyway. Precisely because of what Jennifer Wells wrote for yesterday morning’s Globe.

“Yes, there was a wee frisson over the Arctic bird incident. But there’s no need to panel up a bunch of creative directors to bemoan the post-alimentary canal effects of whatever it is that puffins eat.

“Such critical, isn’t-this-awful assessments, common in the ‘ad-watch’ community south of the border, are a waste of time, says Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University.

“He has tested his thesis on a number of occasions, splicing ads into the evening news for one group and splicing stories critical of those ads into the same newscast for a second group. ‘It’s as if they had just seen the ad, and that’s it,’ Prof. Ansolabehere says. ‘All that people take away from that is the message from the ad.’

“That would be the power of advertising (and a deflating assessment of the news media’s attempts to inform the electorate).”

That the parties—most impressively the Conservative side—have regularly made great use of television and print news to supplement their advertising budgets is no revelation. Media outlets dutifully air the clips, seemingly, in the interests of comprehensive journalism. But if the impressively named Professor Ansolabehere is to be believed that justification is dubious at best.

(In other words, negative advertising works. And this puts the Liberal campaign and its leader in a particularly awkward position. Go negative and seem hypocritical. Or stay positive and hope for nothing less than a revolution in modern politics.)

One point that can perhaps safely be made: If the Liberals or Conservatives had released that ad, whether or not the Prime Minister’s men were running amok that day, it would have resulted in much wide-eyed, feverish coverage. But the NDP releases it, and in French at that, and it’s a footnote, buried beneath news of the Prime Minister’s previously undisclosed interest in piano and poetry.


BTC: The nasty, vicious, mind-blowing ad we won’t be talking about

  1. I’ve never seen the problem with negative ads. If you don’t point out the shortcomings of your opponent, then who will?

  2. Depends on what your definition of negative ad is. I have no problem with parties trying to compare/ contrast their ideas with their competitors, it’s what they are supposed to be doing. So what if they torque their ads a little bit, it makes for better debates.

    And only Dion supporters think the Liberals are staying ‘positive’ while the rest of the parties are rolling in the muck.

  3. It’s not the negative ads that bother me….it’s the LIES in them…that shouldn’t be allowed.

  4. As far as I’m concerned each candidate should tell me why I should vote FOR them, not AGAINST the other person. I think I’m smart enough to figure out the short-comings of our candidates without having it shouted from every media outlet in the country. What I often don’t see enough of is what the exact policies are that each candidate is standing up for.

  5. I think there is a difference between being critical in ads and being negative. It is ultimately about the intent of the add the ethics of the information it uses. Pointing out the failures of an opponant in terms of their record or policy should be fair game. Trying to make statements about them as a person is a different matter even when it is colaked in policy talk (ex. “Dion is just not worth the risk” is meant as a commentary on his personal worth, especially in light of the numerous and pointed personal attacks leveled at him).
    Sandi makes a good point about lies being an issue in ads. I’d add to that that there is a problem with context. I just saw a Tory ad that made Dion say several things I’m sure he never intended to by using 3 to 4 word sound bytes, with no context of any kind given. Using that strategy I could have almost any politician say virtually anything just by cobbling together enough clips of them speaking out of context. It is deliberately misleading and that for me is quite problematic.

  6. RyanD, you make good points. Harper’s team seem to be masters at finding past quotes where they can use a phrase that is completely at odds with the Liberal platform and then use that to attack and spread the impression of untrustworthiness.

    It is an old American political strategy, to confuse and leave people with the impression that you can’t trust anything. This allows their campaign which focusses on an image or perception (in Harper’s case, the perception of a “strong, steady, leader”) to take over, because anything focussing on issues and content becomes suspect in people’s minds.

    This election will be a test for Canadians on many levels. Are we paying attention? Are we thinking critically? What are we basing our decision on?

  7. I just want to add that I don’t see the Canadian media helping us a lot. So much of the election coverage buys into the Conservative strategy of spreading misinformation, casting doubts on everything, and consequently pushing perception.

    There has been some coverage exposing various tactics and covering issues and platforms, but not nearly enough in my opinion.

  8. It seems like all parties are afraid that they are giving away their secrets if they make statements about what they intend to do to benefit the electorate. This country needs to move beyond rhetoric and get to the meat. We, the people need to contact our M.P.s with what issues matter if we want to leverage useful changes in this country. I emplore all to do that vigourously!