The night before last, I watched the Conservatives one-two advertising punch during a Jays’ game: their Justin Trudeau attack ad as well as an Economic Action Plan ad, the latter being nothing more than taxpayer-supported political advertising.
Yesterday I saw Justin Trudeau’s reply to the attack ad, and I consider it a good first step. Despite being titled “let’s put an end to attack ads,” it’s really a counter-attack ad. Using the words “we deserve better” to refer to the Conservative attack ads and ending “together, we can build a better country,” he’s putting forth his intention to set a higher standard in both political conduct and public policy than the Conservatives. By asserting that he’s “proud to be a teacher” and that “he’s a son, but also a father,” he’s beginning to tell his own story. He’s refusing to let the Conservatives define him, and tell their misleading version of his story.
Most importantly, he’s signaling that, unlike recent Liberal leaders, he’s willing to fight back. It’s essential that he send this message right at the outset of his leadership.
The YouTube count as of today, April 25, is promising. The Conservatives’ ad, which has been running for 10 days or so, has 258,000 views, but the Liberals’ ad, by only its second day has 202,000 views. It may well overtake the total for the Conservatives’ ad. Clearly there is a lot of interest in Trudeau, from both the Liberal faithful, who were waiting for this, and from citizens who want to check him out.
As I mentioned at the outset, the Conservatives have their positive story about the Harper government, which claims that it has delivered economic renewal, and their negative story, which claims that the Liberal (and, in the future, NDP) leadership combine ambition and incompetence.
The Liberals also need to develop their two sided narrative, with a powerful story of hope, determination, and gravitas attributed to Justin Trudeau, and a negative story about the failings of the Harper Government.
We saw the makings of the first part of this with the counter-attack ad. The Liberals should not – I emphasize not – put an end to their attack ads. If they want power, eventually they have to develop attack ads that delegitimize Stephen Harper. They should be watching his every word and every move, looking for inconsistency, hypocrisy, mendacity, and corruption. Political survival demands no less.