The NDP says it’s ‘In it for you,’ but is that enough to rescue the beleaguered party?

The NDP this week introduced its new campaign slogan, “In it for you,” as it embarks on an election campaign that could radically alter its standing in Canada’s political landscape.

Depending on which polling you believe, the New Democrats currently sit at anywhere from 7% to 15% support nationally. There has been speculation that not only could they capture less than half of the 44 seats they won in the 2015 election, but might even lose official party status.

Like the Conservatives with Andrew Scheer, the New Democrats enter the election with a relatively unknown leader in Jagmeet Singh. While not an obvious fit with the party’s labour roots, experts say he does embody its progressive values.

“It’s an odd coalition that he has to straddle, and he’s far more in the downtown, urban progressive [camp] than he is in labour,” says Lindsay Finneran-Gingras, vice-president of social and digital at Hill + Knowlton Strategies in Toronto.

The NDP is also hobbled by a considerably smaller budget than its rivals, with Finneran-Gingras predicting that its advertising will be highly targeted towards—and reflective of—those ridings where it expects to have a greater chance of winning, such as major urban centres. “You see that strategy come out in these ads,” she says, pointing to the ethnic diversity portrayed in the campaign’s spot.

“In it for you”

As with the Conservatives’ slogan, “It’s time for you to get ahead,” the NDP’s use of the word “you” is a carefully calculated decision, says Finneran-Gingras.

“Political campaigns are tested almost more than any brand, and every word matters,” she says. “They clearly think there’s an advantage in talking about you the Canadian, and see it as a way to contrast themselves with the Liberals.

“That has to be what the research is telling them, which is why [both the NDP and Conservatives] landed on the word ‘you.'”

The English spot opens with Singh saying that people tell him he’s different from other leaders, an obvious nod to his ethnicity that also does double-duty by allowing him to talk about how he and the NDP differ on key issues like healthcare and the climate.

Lots of faces. And Jagmeet Singh

In some ways, the NDP’s new campaign ad is a hybrid of the Conservative and Liberal ads. As with the Liberals’ ad, it features people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and ages, intended to reflect the make-up of modern-day (urban) Canada.

And, as with Conservative ads featuring Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is also prominently featured—which Finneran-Gingras says is a reflection of the fact he is still relatively unknown among Canadian voters.

Despite the NDP’s relative lack of advertising budget, the new campaign ads are also well-produced and “modern-looking,” says Finneran-Gingras. “They clearly spent budget on advertising.”

The camera also tends to linger on the people in the ads, she says, essentially turning the spot into a series of mini-vignettes.

A bold approach in Quebec

Rather than simply release a French-language version of its English ad, the NDP also released a standalone ad for the French market ad that puts an emphasis on Singh’s Sikh faith by showing him both with and without his turban.

It’s a striking visual that acknowledges Singh’s background while simultaneously referencing the province’s controversial Bill 21, which bans public servants in positions of authority—such as judges, teachers and police officers—from wearing religious symbols at work.

Finneran-Gingras says that Bill 21 has brought the delicate balance between Quebeckers’ identity and religious tolerance into “hyper-focus,” and applauds Singh and the NDP for tackling head-on what could be an issue for the province’s voters.

“It’s bold, it’s smart and they needed to address it,” she says. “I think it’s a very powerful ad.” The ancillary benefit, she says, is that the ad has created a “ton” of earned media for Singh and the NDP in English Canada, where the sentiment is very different. That’s a win for a campaign.

Meanwhile, Headspace Marketing president Éric Blais, says that if the ad gets enough visibility in Quebec, it could challenge voters’ view of the NDP leader.

“The last time Quebeckers met an NDP leader they really liked [Jack Layton], they triggered an orange crush that made the NDP the official opposition,” says Blais. “I wouldn’t expect that much this time, but Quebec is usually where the expected unexpected happens during election campaigns.”

Any emerging trends in the campaign’s early going?

The campaigns have been “very traditional” so far, says Finneran-Gingras, with a heavy reliance on traditional 30-second spots. While the tone of the ads is obviously different from a decade ago, the approach is rooted in a tried-and-true approach to political advertising.

The Conservative Party of Canada is the one party playing it a “bit differently,” she notes, with a greater emphasis on “micro-content”— such as short videos of Andrew Scheer taking his child to school or walking on Parliament Hill. “It looks like that’s where they’re putting investment right now, which is interesting because if you think of digital-first [strategy], that’s what we talk about.”

She attributes the tactic in large part to campaign director Hamish Marshall, a self-professed “huge fan” of data-driven psychometrics in crafting ad messages who has long favoured this type of approach. “Lightweight content is his default,” she says. 


Chris Powell