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since June 19, 2001


Martin-centred ads could backfire

If PM's star falls faster than the party's, he could drag down the Liberals


Martin-centred ads could backfire: If PM's star falls faster than the party's, he could drag down the Liberals

Friday 2 April 2004
p. A18

Oh, the Liberals are all atwitter over their new election ads.

They're "something new," they tell us. Liberal sources have boasted to some media outlets the ads are "risky," by which they do not mean a gamble that could backfire, but rather that they are edgy, out there, unique.

Hardly. The ads will seem innovative to you only if your idea of getting out of your mealtime routine is to serve pot roast instead of meat loaf some Tuesday. (And maybe add an extra dash of ground pepper to the gravy! But only a dash, mind.)

Otherwise, I think you'll find the ads conventional and unimpressive.

There are four. You can view them at http://www.liberal.ca/ads_e.aspx.

The Liberal party is barely mentioned. The focus is almost exclusively Prime Minister Martin. There is one ad each on accountability, education, health care and Canada's role in the world, except in French. In the French line-up, the one on our international goals is replaced by an ad on social responsibility.

Each ad is 30-seconds long. Each opens with a stark red panel on which is superimposed the title, "Paul Martin on Accountability," "Paul Martin on Education," and so on.

The word "Liberal" appears in the bottom right-hand corner for only the last four seconds of each spot.

It's clear Liberal campaign organizers would rather voters focused on their man instead of their party.

Heh, heh, no sense reminding folks they are the same people who brought them Adscam, the gun registry, HRDC, phoney invoices for non-existent Canadian flags, a half-billion dollar unity slush fund (over and above the sponsorship scandal), millions in home-heating subsidies paid out to convicts, snowbird retirees and the dead, and on and on and on.

The same is true of the Liberals lawn signs for the upcoming contest. As you can see elsewhere in this column, the PM's visage and "Team Martin" are blared along the top.

This is sometimes referred to as "first image" placement since this is the first place most people look. It is the choicest spot on a poster, the place designers often put that which they want to highlight.

Notice the tiny "Liberal" in the bottom left-hand corner.

It is clear the Grits are afraid to run as who they are and equally obvious they think their last, best hope is to put all their electoral eggs in Martin's basket, then pray the wicker holds until after election day.

This may assuage some voters who are so eager to have Paul Martin as PM that they are prepared to overlook that that means taking the rest of the Liberals in the bargain.

But it is unlikely to have much impact on the bulk of Canadians.

The Liberals must have concocted their ads and lawn signs four to six weeks ago, right after the Auditor-General's report revealed the party's likely involvement in the Quebec sponsorship scandal, and the party immediately took a 13-point dive in the polls.

At that time Martin's approval ratings were well ahead of his party's, by as much as 16 points.

Yet since that time, Martin's "favourables" have fallen to 39 per cent from 53 per cent. He is now no more popular than his party, which is stalled at 38 per cent.

Martin's cross-Canada "I'll Get to the Bottom of This" tour was obviously a bust with ordinary voters. After appearing on every call-in show and stopping in at every coffee shop in the country during the weeks following the scandal, Martin's standing with pundits may have risen (they were mostly impressed by his public appearances), but regular Canadians clearly liked him far less after it was over.

Having been designed for a moment in political time when Martin significantly outpolled his caucus, the Libs' ads and lawns signs will at best be a wash for them, now that Martin and the Liberals are in a dead heat in public sentiment.

However, if Martin's ratings keep declining, the decision to emphasize the PM and hide the "Liberal" make come back to bite the party's buttocks.

And if Martin is in any way tagged with involvement in Adscam -- either through testimony at one of the hearings or by Conservative research -- between now and election day, then the new Martin-dominant commercials and signs could pull the party down with him.

The ads are unintentionally funny, too. Watch them with the sound on, then with it off.

The onlookers (ordinary voters around a kitchen island) are bored.

One lady, wearing what appears to be a tan leisure suit, even looks frightened, as if she is hoping that if she just smiles and nods politely, maybe the mad stranger will go pounce on one of the others first. If these are the best reactions Martin could elicit from Liberal-friendly voters who know they are on camera, imagine the reaction he'll induce in the rest of us.

Lorne Gunter
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post

Index to some of Lorne Gunter's articles

On global warming

On other issues

whiterose.gif (6796 bytes)The White Rose
Thoughts are Free

Posted 2004 04 05