Thursday, September 04, 2008

Branding In Progress

Conservative party party tries to present a "softer, gentler" Harper

With an election call seemingly mere days away, the Conservative party is trying to jump the blocks a few days early with a trio of new pre-campaign ads.

The rationale is actually very simple: the Conservative party has more money than they can spend in an election campaign. So the best way for them to spend that money is for some pre-campaign advertising -- before the campaign spending limits kick in.

The ads cover three general topics, one of which will certainly be raised as an issue by the Opposition parties, one of which probably will be raised, and one on a traditional Conservative party strength.

In other words, two of the ads address percieved Conservative weak points, while the third plays to the party's strength.

As with the previous ad, these are enthusiasm-themed ads, as opposed to the attack ads the party has used over the previous 18 months.

Cumulatively, all four are part of the Conservative party's campaign branding -- the effort to concoct an electoral identitiy for the purpose of wooing voters.

The first of today's batch of ads deals with immigration:

In the ad, Harper outlines his ideas regarding immigration: he's clearly excited about the enthusiasm many immigrants to Canada show for their country.

More over, the ad itself is more than just empty platitudes, as many politicians are prone to offer on the topic of immigration. Harper has a clear agenda: he wants to make changes to the system under which Canada recognizes foreign credentials -- one that currently keeps thousands of qualified professionals out of work.

He also reminds viewers that it was his government that reduced the right of landing fee.

Of course, Harper doesn't mention the controversial changes to immigration law smuggled through as part of the most recent budget. In response to an ad clearly intended to brand the Conservative party as "warm and fuzzy" on immigration, expect Opposition parties to counter-brand with this.

The second ad addresses another potential Conservative party weakness, veteran's issues:

This spot addresses what some would think should be a Conservative strong point. But they may want to think twice about that.

With the war in Afghanistan continuing to remain a hot-button topic, many Opposition candidates -- or at the very least opposition activists -- will likely attempt to counter-band by portraying the government as callous toward the deaths of Canadian soldiers, even while the Liberal party (in particular) continues to support the war officially.

They'll also insist on overlooking the fact that the Canadian soldiers actually fighting in Afghanistan continue to overhelmingly support the mission. If they can't accomplish this in a coherent fashion, they'll turn their hostility against Canadian troops and their families once again.

One can also count on various Canadian opposition candidates and partisans to attempt to invent a vetern affairs scandal, such as those currently embroiling the American administration.

The third ad is a simple family values ad:

The third ad is a typical "family values" ad. This is one that will actually tough to counter-brand against.

After all, it's hard to attack a candidate's family life without making oneself seem like a common political vulture. Those who have focused the bulk of their partisan attacks on Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain are learning this the hard way right now -- or are at least due to find out all about it in short order.

This branding effort by the Conservative party will inevitably be followed by a counter-branding effort on behalf of the opposition. One disadvantage the Conservatives are placing themselves at by campaigning so early is that it will give the Liberal party campaign strategists plenty of clues as to what the Conservative party message will be.

That being said, the Liberal party would have to attempt such a counter-branding while also branding themselves. And while going negative early has never troubled the Liberals before, consistently being seen as the first party to go negative will set over time and become an inexorable part of the party's identity -- if it hasn't already.

For the Conservative party, the ads offer one further potential difficulty: the ads tagline, "We're better off with Harper" imply a distinctive lack of positive confidence in Stephen Harper: not that voters should support Harper because of his effectiveness as a leader, but rather because of an abundance of negative confidence -- confidence in his percieved superiority to the alternative (see Stephane Dion: not a leader for an early version of this pitch).

The Conservatives will need to be wary of these unintentional underlying messages. Even messages not intended to be part of the brand identity can become entangled within it.

There is little question the campaign has unofficially begun. Now the so-called fun begins.

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