`No’ guerrilla ads win

It did not start off as a battle between traditional political advertising and grassroots ads made on home-video cameras, but in English Canada that is how it finished.The populist uprising credited with derailing the combined resources of Canada's elites in the...

It did not start off as a battle between traditional political advertising and grassroots ads made on home-video cameras, but in English Canada that is how it finished.

The populist uprising credited with derailing the combined resources of Canada’s elites in the referendum was nowhere more evident than in the numerous single-issue tv ads that ran in support of the No side.

Industry observers says the series of big-budget ads aired by the Canada Committee were completely outflanked by No-side ads produced on shoe-string budgets by as many as 45 registered referendum committees.

Most prominent among the No committees was the Reform Party Committee.

The Reform Party spent no money on tv air time during the campaign, relying instead on free time provided by the networks.

Elections Canada registered a total of about 90 referendum committees. Slightly more than half campaigned for the Yes side. Only two spent money on paid tv advertising: the Canada Committee, which ran a traditional big-bucks campaign, and Metis Nation Committee, which spent a marginal sum.

Calvin McLauchlan, president of The McLaughlan Group, a Toronto agency specializing in public affairs, says ‘it may be arguable that the Reform Party advertising was the most effective.’

McLaughlan says the Reform Party’s ads were direct and hard hitting.

Importantly, he adds, their spare production values gave them an air of authenticity noticeably lacking in the Canada Committee ads.

According to McLaughlan, the same formula of a direct message and a low-budget execution was behind Canadians’ positive overall response to the No sides’ disparate mix of ads and messages.

Video-camera

McLaughlan says ‘I think what we have seen here is the evolution of video-camera advertising.’

He says the lesson political advertisers have learned from the referendum is that special interest groups can create inexpensive ‘guerilla’ advertising that is effective.

Janet Brown, a senior associate with the Toronto polling firm Environics, concurs with McLaughlan.

Brown says ‘this was a real victory for the home-video producers. They were the one’s who really captured the imaginations of Canadians.’

Low-budget ads

Brown goes on to say the low-budget Yes ads produced by single-issue referendum committees were more effective than the pricey ads run by the Canada Committee.

‘It seems obvious to many of us that the [Canada Committee's] Yes campaign was a marketing disaster.’

Terry O’Malley, creative head of Vickers & Benson and a leading member of the Canada Committee’s advertising effort, says the No sides advertising was difficult to counter.

O’Malley says the Yes effort was not aided by the fact that everyone involved was new to referendum advertising, and he wonders how traditional political ads could have countered the specificity of the No ads, not to mention the lightning speed with which they were produced.

‘The No ads are as easy as can be to do,’ he says.

As for the likelihood that low-budget, video-camera ads will make a reappearance in elections down the road, O’Malley says ‘I think what we have seen is an option. It is something we have to explore.’ PA