Monday, October 06, 2008

Jack Layton Talks (With Chalk!)

In a pair of new campaign ads released today, "Jack Layton and the NDP" hit back at both the Liberals whom they hope to supplant as the Official Opposition, and the Conservatives whom they want to prevent from winning a majority government.

These two spots may be the most creative of all the ads released during this election campaign (at the very least, they give the Conservatives' "Dion gamble" ads a run for their money). They feature Jack Layton delivering a short message while animated chalk figures appearing (likely quite strategically) on the right side of the screen.

The first spot addresses the economy, and stars Stephen Harper bequeathing a gift of $50 billion to a corporate boardroom:

The board members celebrate as Harper deposits a bag stuffed with cash on their table.

The image then pops out of view, and is replaced by a hypothetical Prime Minister Jack Layton holding the same bag -- this time clearly marked "Canadian $" -- aloft, while he explains his campaign priorities: Jobs and Training, Doctors and Nurses, Medication, and Childcare.

A kitchen table with a family of four seated at it appear below the list of Layton's priorities, rejoicing while Layton looks on approvingly.

"For strong leadership, on the side of everyday families like yours, vote New Democrat," Layton promises.

In terms of branding and counter-branding, this ad is nothing new for the NDP campaign: it brands the NDP as the party of "everyday families", and counter-brands the Conservatives of the party as the "other" -- money-grubbing corporations.

The second ad addresses leadership:

This spot begins with Layton noting that "most Canadians don't want to see Mr Harper in power," and plays up the ABC -- Anyone But Conservative -- angle that has emerged not only during this election, but also in the two elections preceding it.

The ad then weighs two alternatives: Stephane Dion and alleged impending Liberal infighting, or Jack Layton.

(Of course Dion and the Liberals would more likely pat themselves on the back and get down to the business of governing if they managed to win this election, as opposed to embarking on two years of bitter infighting in the wake of an electoral victory, but this spoils the premise of the ad, so one cannot expect the NDP to mention this.)

The goal of the ad, once again, is obvious: to brand Layton as a strong leader while counter-branding Stephane Dion as a weak leader, unable to plan a proper electoral campaign or control his party afterward -- that is, if he remains party leader at all.

But beyond this, however, the two spots have a rather ingenious thematic premise to them.

The virtues of the NDP are treated as being so basic and so sensical that they don't necessarily rely on protracted theorizing to support them. Rather the ideas themselves are so fundamentally simple that they can be explained in the simplistic language of cartoon doodles.

Even while they take an aggressive stand against the opposition, these NDP ads are so utterly disarming that most viewers may be challenged to recognize them for what they really are: primarily negative ads, with a brief positive message sprinkled in at the end -- the very kind of ad that has become customary for the NDP.

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