Saturday, September 20, 2008
Harper to Ritz: Thanks a Lot, Gerry
In the branding war that inevitably envelopes any modern political election, Gerry Ritz may have just handed the Liberal party a potential atom bomb -- or at least a biological weapon.
In an ad released yesterday, the Liberal party has taken aim at Stephen Harper via Ritz. In detailing Ritz's outrageous and unacceptable comments regarding the Listeria outbreak, this spot has the potential to critically wound the Conservatives in virtually any riding where Listeriosis claimed a victim.
Entitled "The Real Harper", the ad describes Ritz's comments (very accurately) as "a new low".
After detailing Ritz's comments, accusing him of playing politics while 17 Canadians died -- itself a likely inaccurate claim -- the ad notes Harper's refusal to fire Ritz, accusing him of "standing by his crony".
Crony, rather than colleague.
In the end, it asks voters a very simple question: "do you really want more of this?" It's the kind of episode that may give many decided Conserative voters pause to reconsider.
In a sense, this spot takes aim at an easy target. It's easy to counter-brand Stephen Harper with an image that he'll inevitably have to wear as Ritz' party leader. But then again, considering that Harper had an opportunity to discipline Ritz -- that is, aside from a likely private screaming session -- and declined, Harper very much has agreed to take this controversy upon his own shoulders.
Of course, the ad doesn't mention a similar incident involving the Liberal party -- one that, fortunately for the Grits, didn't directly relate to the deaths of Canadians.
This ad scores a critical counter-branding hit to Harper's carefully-crafted "sweater vest" persona. (Then again, questions remain about how severe the damage really is, considering that this is an image Canadians have largely been rejecting.
Either way, Stephen Harper has no one but Gerry Ritz -- and himself -- to blame for this blow to his brand image. It will take some strenuous re-branding to try and recover from it.
It's hard to fault the Liberals for taking advantage of this gaffe. The Conservatives certainly would have done likewise to the Liberals given the opportunity.
Perhaps in time, Harper will think of an appropriate way to "thank" Gerry Ritz.