Breaking down the Liberals’ ‘Choose Forward’ campaign slogan

The Liberal Party of Canada formally kicked off its re-election bid on Monday, unveiling its new campaign slogan, “Choose Forward,” accompanied by an ad featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mingling with everyday Canadians.

As we did with the Conservative Party of Canada’s new campaign earlier this week, The Message turned to political pundits including Headspace Marketing president Éric Blais and Cameron Summers, senior vice-president, Toronto office lead for Weber Shandwick (and a former senior advisor to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty) for their thoughts. Here’s their assessment.

“Choose Forward:” Yay or Nay?

The new slogan implicitly states that voters face a choice in the upcoming election, says Summers: Continue moving forward with the Liberals, or take a step backwards to the politics of the Stephen Harper years.

“If you’re presenting yourself as an option for moving society forward, that is a stark contrast to familiar Conservative tropes of ‘Let’s go back to the good old days when things were better,'” he says.

Any re-election campaign needs to strike a balance between building on accomplishments and promises fulfilled, while also convincing disenchanted voters to give them a second chance, says Blais. “Choose Forward,” he says, just might do that.

“The last four years weren’t as sunny as Trudeau professed,” he says. “And there’s been very public chicanery in the Liberal family. But, as in most relationships, you look at the pluses and minuses and you choose to go forward. That’s the sentiment here.”

The slogan also has the benefit of being short in both official languages, says Blais, which will help with consumer recall. “This may sound inconsequential, but brevity also matters on posters, buttons, lecterns, lawn signs, and small size digital ads,” he says.

Trudeau vs. Conservatives

The ad successfully tells a story, even if viewers watch it with no sound, such as in their social feed, says Summers. “It tells the story of Justin as a man of the people, somebody who is relatable to the Canadians portrayed here; there’s a story about Justin as the accessible politician.”

The script notably focuses on the growing Conservative movement rather than Trudeau’s chief opponent, Andrew Scheer. “It’s no mistake that they call out [Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s 2018 campaign slogan] ‘For the People.’ The party sees that there is a winning strategy if they demonstrate that contrast. It’s very much about [Trudeau] and the Conservative movement as a whole.”

Campaigning against Scheer specifically is “not really a thing, yet,” says Summers, since the Conservative leader still faces a “major challenge” in raising his profile with voters.

“For now [Trudeau is] going to run against an entire movement, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be folks like [Minister of Public Safety] Ralph Goodale or [Minister of Environment and Climate Change] Catherine McKenna who clearly go after Scheer.”

Just last week, for example, Goodale tweeted a 2005 video of Scheer explaining his opposition to the Civil Marriage Act (which legalized same-sex marriage). “The idea would be that you raise the Prime Minister above the fray in that regard, and let the slings and arrows go on underneath,” says Summers.

Does this bus stop at 24 Sussex Drive?

The ad’s primary visual is of Trudeau riding a bus with Canadians of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. It’s a “key motif,” says Summers, acknowledging everything from the environment (public transport as opposed to air polluting automobiles) to the makeup of today’s Canada.

“It’s a microcosm of how Liberals think of Canada,” he says. “The idea that these are regular people travelling forward together is very purposeful. It’s all towards what the Liberals would put forward as a better future.”

The ad also successfully depicts Trudeau as being as youthful and vibrant as he was when he famously walked up the down escalator four years ago, says Blais. “Whatever voters might think of his performance and ethics, he comes across as optimistic about the future and as energetic as he did four years ago.”

A potential stumbling block

Summers says that the ad is “quite purposeful” in putting forward urban/suburban environments as representative of the modern Canada: urbane, multicultural and inclusive. While roughly 82% of the country’s population lives in cities, that strategy could backfire with rural voters.

“‘Regular Canadians’ in the Liberals eyes are suburban, urban Canadians of a very multicultural mix,” he says. “You risk projecting onto rural voters that they’re not [‘Regular Canadians’]. To me there’s a big danger there.”

The ad is unlikely to sway non-Liberal voters, but that it’s designed to appeal to the “soft middle” that remains uncommitted, says Summers. According to a recent Angus Reid poll, 35% of voters who say they are uncommitted voted Liberal in the 2015 federal election.

“If you did not like Justin Trudeau before, you will hate this ad,” he says. “It will confirm everything you do not like about him. If you like Justin Trudeau or are happy with the Liberals, you will love this ad, because it confirms everything you believe in him and what the party is about.”

The tally

The Liberals’ “Choose Forward” video has garnered 23,574 views and 164 comments as of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Conservatives’ “My Plan” video has garnered 10,437 views and 60 comments. The French language ads have garnered 2,082 and 1,094 views respectively.

Chris Powell