Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Attack Ads – how BC Liberals, Non-Partisan Association negative ads blew up like Wile E. Coyote

BC Liberal attack ad website targeting BC Conservative leader John Cummins
Wile E. Coyote - BC Liberal & NPA chief strategist at work

Why BC Liberals, NPA efforts blow up in their faces – but negative advertising can work

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

“Bad advertising can unsell a product.”
- David Ogilvy, advertising guru

Call it A Tale of Two Attack Ads – the story of two separate political parties both shooting themselves in the foot rather that their intended targets.

As a political strategist, I love negative advertising, even though voters say they hate it. 

When done right, it can change the course of elections, demolish opponents and actually inform.

But when done wrong – as two current examples amply demonstrate – it is like giving yourself an exploding cigar and lighting it up in front of a huge crowd.  Ka-pow!

The B.C. Liberals and Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association both have more black powder all over their faces than Wile E. Coyote failing to blow up that pesky Roadrunner in the cartoons.

The B.C. Liberals launched a pair of nasty radio ads and a website targeting B.C. Conservative Party leader John Cummins as an “unprincipled” politician that “you just can’t trust”.

The NPA have a radio ad attacking Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver councillors for supporting “backyard chickens” and “front yard wheat fields” and lacking the NPA’s “common sense”.

Political commentators are nearly unanimous in saying both parties’ ads are enormous mistakes.

Vancouver Island University political science professor Allan Warnke – himself a former B.C. Liberal MLA – told Victoria’s CFAX radio host Sean Holman  on Sunday that the Cummins’ ads are: “One of the dumbest things I’ve seen in a long time.”

And former federal Liberal Party activist Bob Russell added: “I’m almost speechless at how stupid this is – it’s the worst act of political judgement I’ve seen.”

When to go negative

 But as important as pundits are, the real test is simple – do they work?

The answer in both cases is no, because the attack ads fail a basic checklist about when to go negative.

Seattle Democrat political consultant Cathy Allen developed a handy test to help any party or candidate determine if attack ads are warranted.

Allen says negative campaigning could be – but not necessarily is – the “proper course' during political contests in the following situations:

    When you are taking on an incumbent;
    When you are being significantly outspent;
    When there is irrefutable information that your opponent has done something wrong;
    When your candidate has little name recognition.

There are other obvious circumstances – such as when the other side goes negative first and a response is needed – but this is a good summation.

Unclear on the concept

Unfortunately for B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark, her party’s ads fail on all four counts. And the NPA ad doesn’t do much better.

First, John Cummins is not an incumbent, not even close.  Cummins recently became leader of the B.C. Conservatives after a long career as a federal Conservative Member of Parliament but he has no seat in the B.C. Legislature, let alone being the incumbent in government.

The incumbents would be the people running the attack ads.

Second, the B.C. Liberal Party is not being outspent in the least – they have an enormous financial advantage over both Cummins and the New Democratic Party led by Adrian Dix.

In the 2009 provincial election the B.C. Liberals ran a full slate of 85 candidates and spent $12 million.  Last year they raised $9.5 million.

In that same election, before Cummins was leader, the B.C. Conservatives ran 24 candidates and spent $18,000.  Last year they had donations of $61,000.

So in the 2009 election they were outspent by the B.C. Liberals by a ratio of 667 to 1 and last year were out fundraised by a ratio of 156 to 1. 

Strike two against using attack ads because your opponent is outspending you.

Third, what has Cummins done that is “irrefutable” and “wrong”?  Well, he did something that 42 per cent of other British Columbians did in the 2009 election – he voted for the NDP candidate!  Sinful! Wicked!  Unforgiveable!

Cummins is also – shudder – actually collecting his pension as a federal MP after serving in Parliament for 18 years.

More infamy!  Who does he think he is – ex-B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell, now serving as the highly-paid High Commissioner to London? 

And he opposed Clark’s increase in the minimum wage!  What is he – some kind of conservative? 

Oh, but he’s an “unprincipled” politician who says one thing and does another – unlike say, Christy Clark’s flip-flops on the fixed election date, the Harmonized Sales Tax, Senate seats for B.C., the gas tax and more.

Or the B.C. Liberals, who promised not to introduce the HST or sell B.C. Rail or rip up hospital workers’ contracts and then did it post-election, for example.

While some voters may not like that Cummins voted for NDP MLA Guy Gentner in North Delta, others will say that shows a politician who isn’t rigidly ideological and will vote for the best candidate regardless of party.

Or that the B.C. Liberals were so bad under Campbell that even a Conservative MP couldn’t stomach voting for them.

Free publicity for Cummins

Fourth, does Christy Clark lack “name recognition”?  Err, no.  A final strike against the attack ads.

In fact, it’s Cummins who may be a stranger to many – but he soon will be well known, thanks to B.C. Liberal ads.

What’s worse, the ads give Cummins serious street credibility with voters.  After all, the B.C. Liberals aren’t running ads criticizing their main opponent, NDP leader Adrian Dix. 

No, the B.C. Liberals clearly see Cummins as a huge threat to their political existence.

And that may be correct.  A split in the right wing vote alleged allowed the NDP to win elections in 1972, 1991 and 1996.

But it’s also true that B.C. voters on the centre-right weren’t happy with the choices of an aging W.A.C. Bennett versus a populist Dave Barrett in 1972, a disintegrating Social Credit led by Rita Johnston in 1991 [ironically Johnston is now a B.C. Conservative advisor] or an underwhelming and slightly scary Gordon Campbell in 1996 versus an energetic Glen Clark.

Perhaps more problematic is that most British Columbians are finding out about Cummins and the B.C. Conservatives from the B.C. Liberal ads – but they don’t necessarily trust the source on what they hear.

That will backfire with many, who will remember the name and try to find out about Cummins, just not from the B.C. Liberals.

Vancouver's NPA plays chicken

The Vancouver Non-Partisan Association ad can be put to the same four-point test.

First, it is true that they are taking on an incumbent, although NPA mayoralty challenger Suzanne Anton is also an incumbent long-time councillor.  We’ll charitably give a modest passing grade.

Second, is the NPA being “significantly outspent” in the upcoming November election?  No.  At this point, the NPA ads are the only ones being run. 

Vision spent $1.9 million in the 2008 election while the NPA spent $1 million.   Not quite the ratio of B.C. Liberal spending compared to B.C. Conservatives.

Third, what has Robertson done that is irrefutable and wrong?  Egads – he’s promoting urban farming! 

Imagine growing edible wheat instead of neatly manicured green grass on your lawn!  Think of having chickens in a coop in your back yard!  Just like you can in New York, Chicago, Seattle and other major centres.  Cluck, cluck.

Unfortunately for Anton’s attack dogs, their own former 2008 mayoralty candidate Peter Ladner agrees with Vision,  not the NPA, on this one.

"Politicians and candidates be warned: Ridiculing urban farming is a no-win strategy," wrote Ladner in his Business In Vancouver newspaper column last week, just a day after the NPA negative ads hit radio airwaves. "Food security is marching up the priority list in cities around the world, and Vancouver should be leading, not resisting, this movement.”

Ladner wouldn’t say his column was a counterattack on the NPA negative ads – he didn’t need to.

The NPA fails the test badly when even your own side says what you claim is dead wrong is actually absolutely right.

Fourth, does Suzanne Anton lack “name recognition” as a reason to go negative?  No.

As the only opposition councillor at city hall, Anton has received the lion’s share of publicity compared to anyone but Robertson.  She has been an NPA councillor since 2005 and a park board commissioner before that.

That means the NPA fails on at least three of the four criteria for attack ads.

But even though both the B.C. Liberals and NPA made a huge mistake in hiring Wile E. Coyote as their chief campaign strategist, blowing themselves up instead of the Roadrunner, don’t expect the attack ads to end.

Because can you trust the B.C. Liberals and NPA to do the wrong thing?  Oh, don’t be so negative!



Ken in Victoria said...

Hello Mr. Tieleman. This reader was awaiting a wonderful article on the liberals attacking Mr Cumming. You have not disappointed this most humble reader.
May I add the following comments. First of all, the liberal may have money but lack brains.There is a saying the BS bafflers brain. So does money. Just because I owned a Jaguar does not make me smarted than non Jaguar owners. It just proves I have better taste. In choosing Mrs. Clark as their fearless leader,they have shown both a lack of brains and poor taste.
Mr. Cumming voted NDP in the last election as Mr. Campbell and his herd of liberal followers were not the best choose. He is now and rightly so offering voters a better choice. Is that why he is being attached by a weak Mrs. Clark and her brainless attack spinner?
As this typist lives in Victoria, I refuse to comment on the Vancouver scene. Can we return and get our money back from that disgraced former Chief of Police that was not welcome in Vancouver?
Well back to work on less important matters.

Anonymous said...

and the NDP does not deliver attack ads Bill?

Theirs are just as bad, if not worse when it comes to credibility.

Every party does it, even your beloved NDP.

In fact the BC NDP is perpetually critical never coming out with workable soliutions.

Its always easier to be critical than it is to be part of the solution.

But will give the NDP credit for one ad. The Christy Crunch Ad was genius.

Anonymous said...

However quite frankly John Cummins does look very frightening in that photo. I'm not sure if I do trust him. Thank you.

Adrian Dix looks awful too. I wouldn't trust him.

Anonymous said...

The picture of John Cummins is not particularly flattering, however, one should not judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes.

If he voted ndp in his provincial riding he just might have some principles, he voted for what he felt was the best candidate.

I have never voted Conservative but if strategic voting became a reality in my riding, yes I'd rather see Mr. Cummins win than some local lieberal.

This lieberal campaign will do the lieberals more harm than good. If nothing else people who have never heard of him may start thinking, who is he and why are the lieberals so afraid of him.

For some right wing voters he may offer the better candiate, its not as if the lieberals have been a principaled bunch. They have given us the highest rate of child poverty in Canada 7/8 yrs. running. If Cummings can remedy that he may become an attractive candidate, especially if he comes up with a plan to fix the health care system.

DPL said...

Unlike Mr. Cummins and Mr. Dix, Christy has managed to develop a wide smile but not much else. Her own caucus didn't bother to support her run for the leader job, except for one guy whose lackluster performance so far leaves his thinking process in doubt. Dix and Cummins may not look cute an cuddly but both make sense. Dix has in public chastised the BC Liberals for those attacks. One can only wonder how many ex socred, conservatives in BC will jump from Cristy's team. Any bets.

Blowing money on such stupid adds is money wasted. The BC LIberal backroom boys and girls blew it this time

Anonymous said...

Richard Neufeld--ex-Social Credit, ex-Reform and ex-BCLiberal MLA--was appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper in 2008. Not only does Neufeld draw comfortable salary as a Senator, but a BC government pension as well.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhh Good Old Richard Neufeld


What did he do as the BC Minister of Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources to deserve a comment from a Dan Murphy cartoon in the Province?

Maybe Dan could redraw it to suit Rich Coleman.

Bill Siksay said...

Bill, if you were a bill in parliament, I would pass you.

Ken in Victoria said...

There have been eight comments posted as I type. Pro comments against attack ads. No man, women or child seems to like them. However, the businesses
paid to produce, running and publish the ads certainly do.
This factor suggests campaign reform is necessary. Maybe then they would not waste money or as much money. Why is a Mr. Harper cutting off the dollars per vote? He is Stupid beyond human believe.
The waste of tax payer money in attack ads against the elder PST did not work. Mr. Falcon man he should resign and and Mother Clark should call an Election. If the HST was cancelled at eating locations would there not be an increase in jobs. In addition. Mrs. Clark can hire more spin doctors to provide jobs. She and her band of rip off artists are going to need them.
Coffee (Crown Royal)break over. Good bye. Same to you Clark, Falcon & others.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Cummins voted NDP, to keep a certain someone out, rather than vote someone in.

I have heard Christy bragging about the jobs she was bringing to BC.

All of this was planned by Harper and Campbell, long ago. The LNG at kitimat, is old news. The expansion of Port Prince Rupert, was done long ago, for taking in the big freighters. Many of the huge freight liners, will carry goods from China. The C.N. rail yard expansion in Prince Rupert, was also planned long ago. So was the rail yard expansion in Ashcroft BC. The Ashcroft sub, is to store the goods coming from China.

The expansion of Prosperity Mine, was also planned by Harper and Campbell. Harper left the back door open, so the expansion could be re-applied for.

Harper and Campbell had already set up for, the Enbridge pipeline and the dirty oil tankers from China.

Harper and Campbell also planned, drilling oil and gas wells, off BC's coast. Watch for that one too.

Another rotten plan for BC is, they want to log our rain forests. That's where the Spirit Bears are. There are thousands of wild creatures, who live in that rain forest. The ocean there, has our beautiful Orca and Humpback whales, and a great variety of sea life.

There doesn't seem to be anything sacred in BC. To cut down the rain forests, is an atrocity. This will destroy, even more salmon runs. The bears, eagles and thousands of wild critters, depend on the salmon. However, greed trumps common sense every time.

The C.N.R. yard was expanded in Prince George, for the new mines in Northern BC. Also planned by Harper and Campbell.

Bill Tieleman said...

WARNING - any posts attempting to pose as other regulars will be rejected or removed! I've just deleted a fake "cherylb" on this comment thread after checking with the genuine article. I let everyone post almost everything here, including attacks on me, but I won't put up with deliberate mischief like this.

Henri said...

Ken in Victoria said...Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 4:25:00 PM PDT

Why is a Mr. Harper cutting off the dollars per vote He is Stupid beyond human believe.
Ken in Victoria, The stupid one is the person who implemented this waste of my tax dollars Craption, of pass me da pepper era.

Ken in Victoria said...

I enjoy reading what others have to comment on. Is Henri a good commenter? Yes. Therefore, please allow this comment to be for his eyes only. Now the money per vote was to allow non main stream parties to field candidates and be rewarded for the number of supporters they gathered. Thus their participation will continue in the next election. Does Henri not wish to read comments from different sources. I do.Therefore, every voter by their vote donates to the party of their vote. To me that is Democratic.Mr Uneven Steven Crapper wishes to silent the opposition to his far right mandate.Is a 40% of votes offered a right majority? Unless there are only two parties, then majority is guaranteed.In my opinion, the Cons brand is bad news and I could not support their efforts provincially.However, I do support their participation. Let their message be considered by the gentle voters.
Henri, I hope I have changed your mind. Remember Kenny really like Henri.

Steve macfarlane said...

There is always the common thread within neoconservative attack adds.They are motivated by the fact that they have no valid alternative policies to promote. Where is the NPA's policy on a West Broadway tunnel transit route or affordable housing? Where is the Liberal's platform on regional disparities or the mentally ill? All they can muster is personal attack adds.

Ken in Victoria said...

As is my usual practise,I review past comments.The first comment in this posting was removed as it was a fake. Good work Bill.
Next I want to Acknowledge the comments by the Anonymous persons on Sept. 20 at 1;41PM,1;50PM and 3;06Pm. Well written comments that all should read and consider.

Next,a special shout out to Anon at 5;02PM on Sept 20. Your comment certainly is a great example of what comments should be. You have impressed my associates.
Finally to Mr. Bill S. I agree Mr. Bill T should be passed. Then lets vote him to the Senate.
To conclude, let me state that I somewhat attack the establishment because they are the power to be. Where possible, I will offer solutions. I have offer a Christmas present to the Meal Servers in our Province. Removal of the HST would enhance both the workers and the owners. Thank you.

Bill Tieleman said...

I doubt "Bill Siksay" is the real former MP either - please stop the silliness. I could eliminate all but registered posters but then most of the Anonymous folks would disappear!

Anonymous said...

mousBill, if you were a bill in parliament, I would pass you.

"I would pass you.."

Ahem, don't go there folks.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:02pm - what on earth are you going on about? Spirit bears and salmon? Did you accidentally comment on the wrong article?

And Ken in Victoria, every comment you've posted is utter nonsense. I can't make heads or tails of anything you're trying to say. I clicked this hoping to read some intelligent comments on the subject, and all I've found is a bunch of senseless rabble.

An impressive following you've managed to win over, Bill.

Gaylord Perry said...

To the anon who posted at 2:20, I disagree vehemently with your accusations of Ken in Victoria. Though his English may be inaccessible at first, I would argue that he is in fact quite a deep thinker -- maybe English just isn't his first language and in fact, we should be proud to have amongst our discussion group a Canadian who is both knowledgeable in BC affairs and still learning the language.

I think it's really a testament to Bill's writing style and points of view that that he is able to bring together such a diverse group of individuals who share a common goal: the discourse of politics.

(゚∀゚) said...

Hey Bill, just here to show my support. Those PABsters aint nuttin.

Ken in Victoria said...

Is this Wednesday knight. It is raining in Victoria. Hopefully the Lotto Gods will shine bright on this loser. Note, if you do not buy a lotto ticket you can not win. Conversely, if you do not buy a ticket you will not lose.
I expected many mature comments on this subject and there were. Some comments do not rate a comment so I will not comment. I am pleased with Mr. Tieleman and his adult approach. Thank you for reading my comments.

Parliament said...

Bill, you pass.

Ken in Victoria said...

Thursday already! Time flies by when having fun. I certainly am.I enjoy all comments whether good, bad or ugly. Some rate a direct comment such as Mr. Gaylord Perry or Chris as also known. I have reviewed three of his past comments and liked them. He is certainly no knucklehead.
I agree with his statement that we both do not always agree with Mr. Tieleman but we appreciate the forum he offers to us to pitch our thoughts.
Apparently, there is an Anonymous person that has difficult catching the ball or thoughts.Perhaps, we need some one to translate for this person.
Thank you Mr. Gaylord (Chris) Perry for reading the comments from Victoria. I will end this brief statement by stating the HST debate draw the writer to this column. I repeat my respect for Chris D and the two Bills.

Anonymous said...

An impressive following you've managed to win over, Bill.

Indeed. a Textbook example of constant whiners and complainers.

Anyone every conside the fact that the NDP has come out with attack ads too or is that just "well they have to"?

Anonymous said...


Appreciate your perspective on this but I don't think your US consultant's checklist is worth cat spit.

Let's look st the most successful negative ads in recent times: the federal Conservative ads against both Dion and Ignatief. Which of the four boxes do those ads tick? Ummm...none. Let's look at the anti-Hudak ads in the current Ontario provincial election. Umm...none.

I think you need a new checklist.

Anonymous said...

This also means that the BC NDP should not absolutely not set attack ads from this time forward.

To do so will make Bill and his supporters here a huge hyprocrite.

It will be a first for the NDP, providing a positive ad that actually says what the NDP will do themselves if they get elected to government.

Ken in Victoria said...

Today is a Monday. What will our weak Mrs. Clark bring to us in the next five days. Will the Spin Docs attack? Yes, because they can not defend their Miss Takes of the past ten years. I am sure they will just attack the ten years in the 1990's. However, the gentle voters will just state the libs are desperate and have no new ideas. Stale dated is that Party. Time for for another right wing party. Where is Mr. Gordon Wilson?

Anonymous said...

Where is Mr. Gordon Wilson?

You've got to be kidding. That Progressive Democratic Alliance was a one month wonder. Wilson was one of the worst party leaders in B.C.

He and Judy Tyjabi never did pay back money the PDA was supposed to pay out.

and to think this guy sells off his Liberal roots (yes he was leader of the BC Liberals) and crossed the floor to the NDP. The reward? A nice cabinet post.

Ken in Victoria said...

In my review of this column, I do not have to, but will make one final comment.
To the person at September 26 at 10:24 am, let me state clearly that the reference to Mr Gordon Wilson was not to suggest his return but the return of a new third party leader. I am looking to Mr. Chris D or Mr. Cummings.
As in the past, the libs are sinking and there is a need for a new party to party as the second partier on Bellevue Street in Victoria.
Hopefully, Mrs Clark and her Heir Falconer will be the only two libs reelected. Just picture them facing Mr. Dix and his wonderful team. They will be playing second fiddle to that new second party. Kenny likes that.
I trust you understand but do I care. NO!
Finally, A shout out to Gordon and Judy, I hope you are doing well.