Both the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada unveiled their official campaign slogans on Monday, a clear signal that the 2019 federal election campaign is underway.
The Message will have ongoing coverage of election advertising, starting today with the Conservatives’ new platform: “It’s Time For You To Get Ahead.”
The announcement was accompanied by a 30-second ad featuring Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called “My plan,” which outlines how Canadians would benefit under a Conservative government. The ad hits on familiar Conservative talking points: Lowering the cost of living and leaving more money in Canadians’ pockets. It contains little in the way of specifics, although the campaign hasn’t officially begun yet.
We asked political advertising pundits including Headspace Marketing president Éric Blais, former Juniper Park\TBWA creative Mark Tomblin and Lindsay Finneran-Gingras, vice-president social and digital for Hill + Knowlton Strategies, for their assessment of the Conservatives’ platform. First, here’s the ad, with analysis below.
“It’s time for you to get ahead”
The Conservative platform will be built around a “clear, plain-spoken” message that will resonate with the Conservative base, says Finneran-Gingras, although she notes that its length is a departure from standard orthodoxy.
“Generally campaign platforms stick to two words and tend to be more like brand taglines,” she says, citing the Liberals’ newly introduced (“Choose forward”) platform. “This is almost a complete sentence.”
The slogan speaks to Scheer as an “everyman” who thinks that every Canadian deserves to get ahead, she says. “It will embody their whole campaign moving forward.”
Tomblin, however, said the slogan is overly earnest, too vague and “ho-hum.” “I presume the thinking here is that by Mr. Scheer concentrating on you, you won’t be concentrating too much on him,” he says.
It will be interesting to see how that plays out as the campaign progresses, says Tomblin, particularly in key ridings around Toronto. [“That’s] where the last Conservative electoral slogan was so well received [in the 2018 Ontario election] but so quickly lost its lustre when the political rubber hit the road,” he says.
Blais notes that the French version of the slogan, “Plus. Pour Vous. Dès maintenant,” translates as “More. For You. Right Now.” “Usually something gets lost in translation. In this case—and I doubt that’s the intent—something seems to have been added: it’s not just time for you to get ahead, you get more ‘now’ with the Conservatives,” says Blais. “That’s quite a promise to make when you haven’t been elected yet.”
“Whenever you’re developing taglines in a bilingual country, they’re usually first developed in English,” explains Finneran-Gingras. “When you do a direct translation it usually doesn’t roll off the tongue. The goal in advertising, and it’s the same for brands, is ‘How do we slightly tweak the language in French so it punches and sounds like a tagline, as opposed to a direct translation?”
“It’s a very simple ad,” says Finneran-Gingras. “It’s not terribly interesting visually, and not designed to cut through in today’s digital-first ad world. You’re likely not going to stop while you’re scrolling through your phone.”
Finneran-Gingras’ preferred tactic for assessing political ads is to watch them with the sound off, which is how many people would likely encounter the ads while scrolling through their social feed.
“When you see this on a feed, it looks like any other corporate leader ad that you’d expect to see on LinkedIn explaining the latest sales results,” she says. “It’s doesn’t tell a story with the creative or the visuals. The message it does tell is that Andrew Scheer looks like an everyman. I do find it odd that there are no other visuals that would at least draw in attention, because people are scrolling incredibly quickly in a digital environment.”
While the ad is “a little bit lacking” from a creative standpoint, Finneran-Gingras speculates that it was specifically designed to run alongside news coverage of the platform launch. “If you just launch a campaign platform without a video, what is the media going to run with it?” she says. “Every media outlet has been running it, so it’s being seen. It would have cost them almost no money.”
Andrew Scheer, Conservative leader
The spot opens on Andrew Scheer accompanied by a super identifying him as “Leader of Canada’s Conservatives,” which Blais and Tomblin suggest reflects the fact he is not yet widely known by Canadians.
Tomblin says it’s “striking” that the head of the federal opposition requires a super identifying him, suggesting that Scheer’s low profile and/or awareness could be problematic for the Conservatives as the election progresses.
“Not only is [Scheer] competing with a man in Mr. Trudeau who was literally born into one of the most powerful political brands in Canada, but also—and let’s be frank here—Mr. Scheer isn’t even the most famous Conservative in the country,” he says.
“In fact, I would hazard that he isn’t even the second most famous. I think I wouldn’t be alone in putting both [Alberta Premier] Jason Kenney and [Ontario Premier] Doug Ford ahead of him, and by some margin. Hence the super.”
While Finneran-Gingras did notice the super, she downplays suggestions that it is odd to identify Scheer at the beginning of the ad. “[Awareness] is still something [Scheer and the Conservatives] struggle with,” she says. “From the polling I’ve seen, Andrew Scheer is still not a household name with every Canadian. He’s still having to introduce himself. They’re going to keep using his name until election day; it does them no good to assume Canadians know who he is.”
Adds Blais: “It will take more than a super with his name and title to properly introduce Andrew Scheer to Canadians and build brand name recognition.”
Who, exactly, is he speaking to?
Blais says the ad is oddly constructed, with Scheer talking both directly to voters and to someone off-screen. “Many will be left asking: Who is he, where is he and who is he talking to off camera,” he says. “It’s odd how it opens and closes with Scheer speaking to camera [to voters] but has the leader speaking to an invisible interlocutor for most of the spot.”
The spot’s central narrative, “more money left in your pocket,” is in keeping with traditional Conservative talking points, he says, but does little to counter the Liberals’ ongoing attempts to conflate Scheer with much-maligned Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
What can we expect from this campaign?
Canadians can expect a heavy dose of attack ads from both major parties this time around, says Finneran-Gingras.
“The Liberals don’t have the benefit of running on ‘Sunny ways’ this time,” she says. “They need to fight back a bit.
“The Conservatives always tend to run attack ads because people’s default brand is often the Liberal party, so they need to find those swing voters by going after the Liberals.”
There will also be a lot of what she calls “advertising by default,” small pieces of content that will be distributed via channels like YouTube, with little or no media investment behind them.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of micro-content that slowly builds a narrative, along with the traditional tent-pole ads that we’re used to,” she says. “In today’s digital and social environment, you can’t just rest on those tent-pole ads. You need to have many pieces of content to feed the daily [news] cycle.”