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.

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