Ad strategy helped push Tories under

A tactical advertising blunder by Conservative strategists is being called one of the contributing factors to the party's decimation on Oct. 25.As a last-ditch effort in the federal election, campaign organizers released two tv commercials created by Tory adman Tom Scott...

A tactical advertising blunder by Conservative strategists is being called one of the contributing factors to the party’s decimation on Oct. 25.

As a last-ditch effort in the federal election, campaign organizers released two tv commercials created by Tory adman Tom Scott and Tory pollster Allan Gregg.

John Tory, the national Progressive Conservative campaign co-chairman, authorized the spots.

However, the day after they aired, only 10 days before the election, they were pulled due to a public outcry.

Ridiculed Chretien

The public felt the spots ridiculed Jean Chretien, who suffers from partial paralysis of the face, the result of a childhood disease.

In one spot, a closeup of Chretien’s face is accompanied by a voiceover which says ‘I, personally, would be very embarrassed if he were to become the prime minister of Canada.’

The other spot also focusses on Chretien’s face and has a voice asking, ‘Is this a prime minister?’ It ends with the words ‘Jean Chretien – a prime minister?’

Some observers feel the spots were the final nail in the coffin of Kim Campbell and the Progressive Conservatives.

Not only do observers feel the perceived offensiveness of the spots decided voters against the ruling Tories, but the target of the ads – Jean Chretien and the Liberal party – went unscathed as a result.

Terry O’Malley, Vickers & Benson chairman and copywriter, says the commercials, ‘signalled that they [the Tories under Prime Minister Kim Campbell] were the same group [as the Mulroney Tories], that nothing had changed.’

Observers feel Scott, Gregg and Tory misread the public from the beginning.

Believing voters were happy with the status quo, their first flight of commercials, which featured Campbell in conversation and looking off-camera, did nothing to enhance the image or sell the product.

Failed to sell

Later ads, which attacked the Liberals’ job creation plans and the Reform Party’s social program, again failed to sell the Conservative product.

Observers feel the last-hour attack on Chretien was an act of desperation as party strategists felt Tory popularity seriously slipping.

Jerry Goodis, creative director, roving marketing director, lecturer, and 25-year-veteran of the ad business, spent 19 of those years creating ads and speeches for Liberal campaigns.

Goodis says when he saw the Chretien ad he almost fell out of his chair.

‘Negative advertising is desperate advertising,’ he says.

‘If a product doesn’t have enough going for it on its own, and you have to stoop to negative advertising, it is interpreted as an act of desperation by the viewer or reader.

‘Contempt’

‘It showed contempt for people’s intelligence.

‘How could they possibly believe that people wouldn’t respond the way they did? Goodis asks.

‘Canadians have a sense of fair play, a cultural difference, that makes them recoil at things like this even if they don’t like the other person,’ he says.

Even if the commercials were only meant to criticize Chretien’s policies and not his appearance, public perception is reality.

‘There’s a different mind-set when you’re in power that makes you think you can get away with a little more than the person trying to win power,’ Goodis says.

Volunteer talent

The P.C. Advertising and Communications Group, set up for election purposes only and headed by Scott and Gregg, had plenty of volunteer talent to choose from.

Toronto-based writers Cal McLauchlan and John Burghardt and Vancouver’s Peter Lanyon worked for the Tories during the election.