All this focus on attack ads!
I do not normally have much to say about Air War aspects of political campaigning. Broadcast and media aspects of campaigns are important, but they are really outside my area of expertise. What I do know is that when the public gets engaged, money and volunteers flow into Party coffers, so naturally I always want to see the Air War driving traffic to websites and events where money and people can be solicited. What I can say positively is that earned media (meaning press coverage) that drives traffic to websites is unequivocably GOOD, while paid media (meaning paid advertising) seldom, if ever brings in enough resources to cover the costs. That paid media had better be performing some really vital function, because advertising has an impact only for so long as the money is flowing, and the money is NOT small. Lesson number one, media buys COST money, they do not generate it.
So my question now is how Trudeau should respond to the CPC advertising campaign just starting this week? Trudeau knew it was coming. He spent the entire leadership race, with absolute SHIPLOADS of earned media inoculating against it as best he may, by defining himself as an ‘anti-politician’ all positive and sweetness, with just a hint of ‘tough as nails’. There are a number of polls say that it has worked pretty well as he might have hoped for, because for his supporters (and they are legion), they are so far calling foul instead of doubting. Trudeau shall continue to get earned media and will do his best I am sure to counteract the attack, but undoubtedly he will still suffer from those ads, and those yet to come. In fact, we can count on it, because it is easier and cheaper for the CPC to suppress support than it is for Trudeau to build it up.
There are people whose professional opinions I respect who call those polls rubbish. Warren Kinsella, arguably one of the Liberal Partys most succesful war room operatives and communications experts has said repeatedly that those attack ads are going to be devastating, and that the only solution is to fight fire with fire, and quickly. I guess he earns the big bucks by being right about his trade. I do have to ask a simple question though. For everybody calling on the Liberals to ‘counter-attack’, I am scratching my head and wondering what do you call 6 months of inoculations that have gone before? Are you suggesting adding paid attack ads into the mix, going against the grain of everything Trudeau has uttered to date by suppressing Conservative support? TWO years before the next election? With money that the Liberal Party does not really have? I am dead sure that Stephen Harper can be attacked effectively, and his support suppressed. But if and when that happens, Trudeau’s’ promises to stay positive, and all that earned media that went with it are gone, gone, gone, along with a large chunk of $$. inoculation effect vanishes, and Trudeau sinks like a stone. And the payoff? The CPC drops a couple of points in the polls, TWO YEARS before the next general election… Mulcair chortles and says ‘Thank you very much!’ Lesson number two, genuine attack ads will hurt the ‘anti-politician’ image so carefully built.
Maybe fighting back means that Trudeau should drop a few million of paid advertising into supporting his ‘anti-politician’ meme built with earned media? With TWO years to go until the next election? It is true that the only way to reach many of those seeing CPC attack ads today is to respond in the same media, in the same time slots. Normal people do not read blogs like this, or avidly consume media reports about Trudeau, or any other politician. They are emphatically NOT inoculated against anything. Those millions of people are getting their first strong impressions about Trudeau from the CPC spots they are seeing now. That is quite a dilemma for the Liberals isn’t it? They need to reach those folks who are less engaged, but they are lacking the basic requirement for a sustained effort. To whit, a steady supply of money.
If you ask me, the fundamental problem is that the Liberal Partys options are limited by their relative weakness in fundraising. Trudeau has popped maybe a $million into the bank to ‘fight back’ against those inevitable attack ads. The Conservatives are holding their breath and hoping he will respond to them in kind. Why? Because $1 million is chump change for them. They will see his million, and raise him two, and bleed the Liberals dry. The CPC do this because their donors deliver like clockwork. The Liberals are on an upwards trajectory in their fundraising, but they are not ready to compete with the Conservatives in a sustained Air War. If there were $2mm rolling in per month, then there would be any number of responses possible. The Liberals could while away the months beating the crap out of the CPC and the Dippers, or build gold statues of Trudeau in every city, lol, so job number one is creating the systems to systematically fill the coffers. I see some very positive signs in that direction, so positive that I think it may be possible to go toe to toe in an Air War next year. Time will tell.