Sunday, October 05, 2008

An ad to remember

For the first time in this year's election campaign, a New Democratic ad is set to take aim at Stephane Dion and the Libs. (I'll point to the description at the end of this article for the moment, and update this post once a version of the ad itself becomes available online.) And it's worth noting the difference between the NDP's early-campaign ads and what looks to be the party's late-campaign strategy.

The NDP's previous ads - all based on the "New Kind of Strong" theme - each followed a consistent pattern of first hammering away at Stephen Harper's areas of weakness, then providing an understated, upbeat statement of the NDP's plan. And assuming it was time to start going after the Libs, there's no apparent reason why the New Democrats couldn't have done that within the existing concept - continuing to present a dark and ominous portrayal of Harper's direction, but including some mention of the Libs' role in helping Harper to push his agenda.

But the strategy to deal with the Libs looks to have gone in an entirely different direction. Rather than trying to use a particularly sharp tone to emphasize either the similarities between the Libs and Cons or even Dion's role in giving Harper an effective majority for the past year, the new ad almost treats Dion with kid gloves in a few ways.

First, it relies on a simple, background-free layout - making no effort to link Dion visually to the problems the NDP is looking to deal with, many of which can easily be laid at the feet of Dion's party.

On top of that background, it uses caricatures rather than actual images or quotes to depict Dion (as well as the other leaders).

And even the criticism of Dion is based on a line about confusion rather than weakness or incompetence - making for a more generous portrayal of Dion than even numerous sources within the Libs have put forward since Dion took over.

All of which is to say that the ad can't be described as hard-hitting. But then, that may reflect a better appreciation for the nature of the New Democrat/Lib swing vote than Dion and company have shown so far.

After all, it hardly makes sense to try to win over votes now parked with one party by shrieking that it's completely unreasonable to have ever supported them. Which is where the Libs' current messaging against the NDP figures to be counterproductive.

Instead of matching that strategy blow for blow, the NDP is apparently looking to win over Lib voters with a soft-sell approach. Rather than painting the choice between the New Democrats and the Libs as a particularly stark one, the new ad's visuals only gently reinforce the idea that Layton is the better choice to stand up to Harper - offering swing voters a reason to choose the NDP without implicitly slamming them for considering the Libs.

Now, that strategy could prove problematic if there wasn't something original enough about the ad to give it a chance of coming to the forefront of a voter's mind at decision time. But that's where the use of caricatures rather than real photos or videos may prove particularly interesting.

By using images which haven't been used elsewhere and are simple yet explanatory enough to stick in a voter's mind, the new ads would seem to maximize the chances that Canadians will remember their message about the NDP being better positioned to stand up to the Cons when they vote. And that may prove to be exactly what the New Democrats need to keep their momentum headed in the right direction as election day approaches.

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