If the campaign comes to you, come to Maclean's

UPDATED with non-trivial new information…see bottom of post…

One of the things Maclean’s wants to do during the next election better than we ever have done before is to keep track of where ads actually run. This is based on two common practices of every party during recent elections, practices we expect them all, especially the Harper Tories, to ramp up dramatically:

(1) Announcing ads that they do not, in fact, pay to place commercially;

(2) Running ads, especially in selected local markets, without announcing them or showing them to reporters beforehand.

The first tactic is slightly sneaky, the second minimally so. Both are legitimate campaign tools. The goal of announcing but not placing, of course, is to get a free-media bounce out of all the credulous teevee and print coverage, without blowing any of your campaign budget. The goal of placing but not announcing is to avoid the attention of reporters who work for fancy news organizations in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The Tories in ’06 ran pots of “negative” ads against the Liberals in local markets before they, the Tories, ran national ads warning the Liberals would “go neg.”

I must emphasize that it is perfectly legitimate for all campaigns to use both of these tactics, one or neither. But I must also insist that we have a right to follow these shadow wars if we can. Our hunch here at Maclean’s is that you can help us.

Let us begin with this ad, which Jason Kenney said in a Sunday news conference the Conservatives will run on the video screens of selected gas stations. It is tremendously clever and it’s getting lots of free media (I just gave it some coverage right here, for instance). And I suspect the Conservatives will buy space at gas stations and in more traditional media, because they have money.

But let’s find out. If you see this Conservative ad or one like it, whether at a gas station or during the commercial time on television or radio, log it here in the comments space or email me through the link below. Simply in a sentence or two, no more, please tell us where you saw the ad (physical location if it’s a gas station; city, station and show if it was broadcast); and what the ad’s message was. Please don’t log “free-media” appearances, such as newscasts or journo panels that cover or discuss the ad. What we’re trying to measure here is the geographical distribution of paid ad buys.

We hope to do more of this during a campaign. We have contracted Stéphane Dion to make sure we have plenty of time to work out the details. (Just kidding.) Consider this the shakedown cruise for what should prove to be an interesting new campaign coverage tool.

Thanks in advance for your help

UPDATE, Monday morning: Kady O’Malley discovers that the gas-station ad network that was supposedly going to carry the Tory ads is… not going to carry the Tory ads. No wonder in the comment thread below, nobody’s seen one yet…

SUPER-FILL’ER-UPDATE: Ryan Sparrow is telling Kady he was misquoted. We are waiting to hear which gas-station ad network will carry the Tory ads.

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