From ‘Choose Forward’ to Jagmeet’s poutine recipe: Which party won the election ad battle?

It’s the final days of the federal election campaign, and as party leaders make frantic dashes to key ridings across the country, we can expect the parties to make one last advertising push this weekend.

Already, the Conservative Party of Canada has released a new ad that methodically recaps the ways a Scheer government will save Canadians money; while the Liberals’ just-released spot adopts a much more vigorous declaration of its “Choose Forward” campaign mantra. (See below for the brand new Conservative and Liberal ads.)

With almost all of the campaigning done and most of the media spend already spent, The Message reached out to a handful of communications and election advertising experts to ask for their analysis of major party strategies and tactics. Appropriately for a campaign where the electorate is divided, our experts provided a wide range of opinions about who did what, and who did it best.

Which party was the most effective?

“The Conservatives were most effective at sticking to their message and the NDP were most creative given their limited budget. Staying disciplined during a campaign is extremely hard to do, and the Conservatives managed to never stray from an affordability message in every almost every ad, leader speech, press release, and social media post. The NDP deserves mention for their ads that featured engaging creative concepts and a social media campaign that really captured authentic moments with Jagmeet Singh.” —Dennis Matthews, vice-president, marketing and communications, Enterprise. 

“The NDP’s advertising is easily the most consistent, compelling, and believable. Jagmeet’s “Different” commercial took a criticism/brand problem and flipped it into a huge positive that made you really think about him as a leader. Someone with the ability to have open and honest dialogue about the hard conversations will always look like a winner.” —Niall Kelly, partner, creative director, Conflict.

“In Québec, the Bloc saw its support rise dramatically from 19% when the writ dropped to roughly 30% according to the latest polls. Given that the number one objective of political advertising during a campaign is to increase voter support, the separatist party that was ignored by most a month ago…had the most effective advertising and communications strategies. Ironically, it did very little advertising, opting instead for a very effective grassroots campaign in every part of the province.” —Eric Blais, president, Headspace Marketing. 

“Loss aversion is woven into our DNA. We fear loss twice as much as gains, therefore the Liberals seeding the fear and consequences of Conservative cuts resonated.” — Tony Chapman, former agency founder, host of the podcast Chatter That Matters and a frequent political pundit.

“This has been a campaign that failed to have any truly break out or memorable advertising. In concept and execution almost all of the party ads were generic…That said, of the three major parties I think the NDP created a couple of interesting ads (like Singh without his turban and the faux Trudeau ads) that were both emotional (the turban spot) and funny (the Trudeau spoof). Given the NDP had the least amount of money, they likely had to think about ads that would drive earned impressions, rather than just blanketing the airwaves…The Liberal party was noticeably better than the Conservatives at shooting beautiful ads and content. Part of that is Trudeau is always good on camera and in photos. He can carry spots that Scheer would struggle with.” —Lindsay Finneran-Gingras, vice-president, social and digital at Hill + Knowlton.

Which party was the least effective?

“It was shocking to see just how cable-access the Conservative Party looked. One of their biggest commercials felt like it was produced by the local high school AV team. You’d sadly find better production quality in an Acorn Stairlift commercial. That’s probably a tactic to convey “budget conscious,” but it just comes across as cheap, not good value.” —Niall Kelly

“The Conservatives to me were the least effective at producing traditional advertising. It was packed with too many messages and no clear creative premise. But, Scheer has gotten noticeably better and more comfortable in front of the camera, with the last few content pieces showing a man who looks more confident and more like a leader.”—Lindsay Finneran-Gingras.

“This was supposed to be the Green Party’s moment. They blew it. They started the campaign at around 11% of voters’ support and have since dropped to 8%. All indicators showed climate change as a potential ballot box issue. That’s their brand and their name, but somehow Elizabeth May and her advisors must have calculated that to be truly a contender this time around they could no longer be a single issue party.” —Eric Blais.

“I believe Justin Trudeau’s ‘sunny ways’ promise to never run traditional negative advertising set their campaign back. They needed to go on the offensive against the Conservatives, and by mixing in attacks on Harper, Ford and Scheer into their otherwise positive ads, it muddied the message. Further, the lack of focus on a single theme meant the advertising never coalesced, as it featured a range of topics including gun control, climate change and affordability issues.” —Dennis Matthews.  

“Green. They stand on one pillar but failed to build it beyond the colour green. They let Trudeau claim the higher ground.” —Tony Chapman.

Can you identify one ad or tactic likely to have the most affect on voters? 

“Negative ads work, and I think that the final closing ads of all the parties are effective for what they need to do. Trudeau standing in front of the camera and speaking directly to Canadians about his vision of the future, in stark contrast to Scheer’s, is exactly what the Liberal party needs to be doing right now. The Conservatives are likewise focused on creating content that shows Scheer as a leader, someone who is focused and, strangely, can offer a more positive message for the future. The NDP have finally figured out that Jagmeet being Jagmeet is enough. The content of him cooking poutine is better than almost any ad they could create.” —Lindsay Finneran-Gingras.

“This may sound perversely counterintuitive, but the Liberals’ oft-repeated principle of remaining positive and avoiding negative ads may have hurt them. At first, they stayed fairly positive with their ads about choosing forward, but they clearly went nasty negative with the release of old videos about Scheer’s position on social policies posted by top ministers on Twitter.” —Eric Blais.

“A friend of mine reminded me of a great quote this weekend: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” Justin Trudeau has shown us who he is, so everything he says now is hard to believe. Jagmeet, on the other hand, is a fresher face and comes across as warm, kind, and compassionate. It always comes down to who can convince me they’re not full of bullshit. Based solely on advertising, the NDP is by far the most compelling and persuasive.” —Niall Kelly.

“Being consistent. Voters are distracted and you never have 100% of their attention… Sometimes a voter might be seeing a Facebook ad, then hearing part of something on the radio and catching the last five seconds of a TV ad during a hockey game. So it’s not one tactic that is a silver bullet but rather having a strong creative concept that punches through on multiple platforms.” —Dennis Matthews. 

Was there anything innovative about this campaign? 

“I think you saw the biggest use of digital identification in this campaign. At any time the Liberals and the Conservatives had hundreds, if not thousands, of Facebook and Instagram ads in market to identify votes and to fundraise. This type of lead gen campaign has happened before, but the scale this cycle was much larger.”—Lindsay Finneran-Gingras.

“This is the first federal election campaign where text messaging went mainstream, especially for Conservatives. When the dust settles, it will be interesting to learn whether that was an effective way to identify potential voters. We know reaching consumers on their phone is key, but it’s unclear whether it turned off more people than it engaged.”—Dennis Matthews.

“Social content highly personalized to our insecurities. The Liberals created tension and anxiety around issues like climate and cost cutting, and then presented themselves as a safe haven. Conservatives were sitting under a tree of rotting fruit, and were out-matched when Liberals took the campaign to a fresh orchard.” —Tony Chapman. 

David Brown