31 August 2005

Connie TV ads miss the mark

When you take a look at the August flight of Conservative Party television spots, you can see the handiwork of someone who thinks that the Connie problem is just about image.

You can tell what happened. Someone did some polling. They likely found that Stephen Harper appears to Canadians to be a bit to stiff and unapproachable. They likely found an attitude that Harper runs a one-man band with no input from his caucus.

Yep. Must be an image problem, they concluded, betraying their advertising background.

Their simple answer: a bunch of short TV spots showing the Connies working on policy in August, when everyone else is on vacation. Get a catchy slogan: "Stand up for Canada". Include a couple of member of parliament from visible minorities - but only a couple and feature them in just one spot. Have Steve ask people questions. Shoot the whole thing in a store-front somewhere with floor to ceiling plate glass windows. Get Steve out of his jacket. Or if the jacket is on take off the tie. Lots of smiles. Make jokes about Liberals. Be funky and hip.

Poof, says the advertising team, problem solved. We'll just invent a new image.

Warning bells would be going off in the heads of any reasonably savvy political communicator.

Political communications isn't about image. It's about reputation and credibility.

And that's where the Connie's blew it. Right away, the TV spots look contrived - painfully, obviously contrived. No politicians hold meetings in these glass-front offices. They look and sound fake.

And they are. Utterly fake.

The acting sucks. It should; they are politicians for crying out loud, not actors. Worse, the pols in the vids look uncomfortable - they sound and look like they are reading a prepared script.

The set is bogus. No one would believe that policy gets made on the MuchMusic set. None of these guys would be seen on MuchMusic, especially Steve, who still appears stiff and professorial, like he's lecturing people.

The whole thing takes on the air of those breath-freshener spots that mocked the 1970s cop shows, complete with the fake freeze frame at the end.

But those spots were built around the parody as a way of catching your attention and making you laugh. They want you to remember the brand the next time you buy Clorets. The humour is the hook to get your attention and hold it.

Unfortunately, these Connie spots were supposed to be taken seriously.

Unfortunately for the advertisers in this case, picking the people who will run the country isn't the same as picking toilet paper or breath mints.

The spots are being taken seriously, by Conservatives, but that is entirely predictable. They also get a passing grade from commentators like Paul Wells.

The Connie political challenge is to get past the converted and start speaking to other Canadians. They must win over the Canadians who aren't perpetually in a snit, the ones who don't eat up acres of bandwidth sputtering against the evils of the CBC and the rest of the MSM - the mainstream media.

It's a tough job: the most recent polls show that Paul Martin doesn't even have to show up and he clobbers Stephen Harper as Canadians choice for prime minister. The Blogging Connies response, when they are not pounding at the CBC on their blogs, is to create a flashing button on their sites asking where Paul Martin is.

BFHD, as we used to say in high school. Big fat hairy deal.

And like the flashing button, these TV spots are well wide of the mark for fixing the Connie political problem.

The challenge the Connies face is not about looking different. It is about being different. That's the Zen-like difference between political communications done by an advertiser and political comms run by someone with experience at public relations.

Some Connies have suggested that the party should stop trying to look anything than what the part actually is. Now there's an idea. Start by communicating the substance and not the image. If you want to get people to look at the Connie health care policy, for example, why not have a spot featuring Peter Mackay, DDS? He polls well which reflects his natural ability to communicate sincerely, the cousin of crediblity.

Sure it would make Harper's bum even tighter to give one of his rivals a high profile but just think of it. The approach in one feel swoop would wipe out once and for all the rumours that Steve ruthlessly guards his profile. It focuses on the issue not the surface flash. Rather than the artificial team in the current load of TV spots, Canadians would see an actual team. I'd bet cash that their polling numbers would change for the good.

The problem for the Connies is actually really simple and it's one that no amount of advertising will fix. Reputation and credibility are about what you are, not how you look. Billy Crystal's Fernando was dead wrong.

Canadians can see through any image-driven contrivances like these four little TV spots. In the end, the spots, poorly conceived, poorly executed actually add to the Connie malaise. They've already pegged Steve Harper and unless he actually changes or the party changes the leader for a new one, it is damned near impossible to erase the guy's reputation.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Use the link and go watch the spots for yourselves.

I like the child care policy one. The one with the kids in it working at their colouring books.

or was it writing the Connie election advertising strategy?

Steve might consider hiring them. They sure as hell couldn't do any worse a job than the people he paid for two minutes of Canadians' lives they'll never get back again.