Jennifer Lees-Marshment is a world-wide expert in political marketing who was visiting professor at McGill University in 2009, and who has conducted research and published on Canadian political marketing.
I’ve interviewed several advertising consultants who have worked for political parties around the world and devised attention grabbing pol ads in elections.
Whilst we know negative ads are common in politics, what they told me was that for them to be successful, they need to fit certain rules:
1. Reinforce views by using advertising that simply and clearly expresses existing views and emotions
2. Use advertising to reach people less interested in detail
3. Utilise negative advertising, but carefully, with humour
The Liberals recent ad ‘it’s time to stop the Harper gravy train’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi86pDt30D4) fits these rules. Firstly, although it’s negative, unlike previous attack ads from both sides which could alienate anyone other than core supporters, it is humourous, using carnival type music and showing cartoon type trains, which gets the message over but in a much darker way, making it more accessible to floating voters. You can feel comfortable watching this critique of the prime minister.
Secondly, it uses facts/figures but in catchy way – so tells people the detail of the problem in simple ways, but it is also legitimized by the use of numbers.
Thirdly, it reinforces existing views because the issue of potential mis-spending by the government for the G8, which has already been covered by the media and so is already in public consciousness, and tied to official rebuke from auditor, so legitimate and believable.
This is effective negative advertising.
But even then it can only get a party so far. What it can do is open voters minds to the possibility of taking their vote away from Harper.
The Liberals still have to then give voters a reason to buy their product instead. So what the Liberals have to do now is offer a clear, positive alternative. This could then change the course of the election.