The BQ ad budget may be small, but the message is very clear

—With little paid advertising, the sovereigntist party is using media smarts to break through with Quebec voters, says ERIC BLAIS—

I could feel it during my visit to Quebec City earlier this week. As so often happens in Quebec, the unexpected is unfolding—and will very likely have a significant impact on election day.

The Bloc Québécois is rising, and its success should be noteworthy for political marketers. The Bloc barely advertises, but its simple, clear message resonates with voters.

The sovereigntist party, which most Canadian politicians counted for dead at the start of the campaign, could well be a spoiler. Justin Trudeau needs a strong showing in Quebec to win a majority. Andrew Scheer also needs to win seats in the province to form a government. Both were counting on the collapse of the NDP and weren’t paying much attention to the Bloc and its leader, Yves-François Blanchet.

That’s about to change for the remainder of the campaign, with most recent polling putting BQ support at more than 25% and seat projections from the CBC as high as 40—though that would be truly remarkable. Yet, the party leaders will have to tread carefully in their attacks on the Bloc. The secularism issue, and strong support for Bill 21 in Quebec, is a hot potato that Trudeau, Scheer and Singh would rather not talk about. But it’s one that has been fuelling the rise of the Bloc during this campaign.

One advantage for Blanchet is that he doesn’t have to campaign outside the province, spending all his time touring its many regions while repeating the key points of his party’s platform. The former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister in Pauline Marois’s government is charismatic and media savvy, having been a regular political pundit on the Club des Ex on Radio-Canada’s all-news network.

The Bloc has a very low—actually non-existent—share of voice in paid media advertising. Unlike the national parties, the Bloc has so far not run television ads, while posting only one video when the campaign was launched. But it is relatively competitive in terms of earned media coverage in Quebec’s press, and has adopted a different approach with its campaign signs.

All parties, including the Bloc, put up signs featuring their candidates in every riding. The smiling candidates either appear alone or with the leader, but the Bloc is going further in capitalizing on wild posting to communicate the party’s main plank. And it’s doing so with rigorous message discipline that consistently reinforces its slogan: Le Québec, c’est nous. (Québec, it’s us.)

Using the same formula, posters across the province claim that “The French language, it’s us,” “Secularism, it’s us,” “Clean energy, it’s us.” The themes are hugely relevant, and the list is short enough to break through the noise of daily policy announcements and stick in voters’ minds.

Before entering politics, Blanchet ran his own artist and concert management firm. One of the artists he represented is Éric Lapointe, who co-wrote “Le Québec c’est nous,” the campaign song that plays at every rally. The Liberals also released a French song, but the lyrics were badly translated from the English original—which prompted the Bloc to leverage social media with the line “Chanter en français, c’est nous” (Singing in French, it’s us).

Because it lacks the resources, the Bloc has been forced to zig while others zag. It has been laser focused on its narrative, and has taken to the street to communicate its simple message to voters. Many in English Canada resent that a separatist party is getting so much attention, but the Bloc’s rise presents a lesson on how to localize future national campaigns in Québec.

Eric Blais