Friday, May 15, 2009

Switching Gears?

I think we've seen enough reaction to gauge how these attack ads are being received. There's a critical point to make here, Conservatives have relied on this dynamic time and time again, namely not just feeding the public a message, but cementing a narrative with the media conduit, amplifying overall impact. If you can get the media to buy into your negative frame, it's half the battle and the sentiment finds outside validation. If you do a fair analysis of the Dion attack ads, part of the equation in their success, the ads tended to mirror what the conduit thought; "weak" wasn't merely a partisan presentation, it was repeated ad nauseum by every publication for months and months.

That said, I found something QUITE telling tonight and the change in tactic, the talking point, comes straight from Conservative head office. Yesterday, Tim Powers was quite happy to go ON and ON about the personal attacks directed at Ignatieff, that was the message. Today, and this is not by accident, when Powers was confronted with the ever emerging media theme of mean spirited personal attacks, Powers pivoted and tried to reframe the ad campaign as a discussion on policy:
"There's three or four of them, two or three deal with the economy. What the Conservative Party is trying to say, is to tease out of Michael Ignatieff where does he stand on the economy. He's been a public intellectual for 40 years, good for him, nobody has a problem with that. But, in those 40 years he's rarely written about the economy. There are important issues, people need to decipher."

Technically, there is mention of the economy in a couple of the ads, but even here, always within the larger theme of "just visiting". The personal attack is THE message, whether it be the sole focus or in other ads that give a sprinkle of policy. When the ads were released, there is no question what the Conservatives were pushing, the website says it all, as does the choice of which ads to highlight. Interesting, that today's talking point tries to ignore the previous thrust and instead spin the ads as a legitimate debate on serious policy matters.

Putting aside the need to fight back, the Liberal retorts, I think it's becoming clear that these ads aren't finding legitimacy with the all important media. The columns haven't been particularly receptive, if you had to generalize, almost a childish characterization that questions the source as much as the target. The media are simply not running with this theme of Ignatieff the "visitor", any talk of legitimate question is buried within the gutter questions. It's for this reason- because I don't take Powers pivot as coincidence- that the Conservatives are sensing some blowback, or maybe more rightly, less than glowing reviews, that they're already changing the frame of these ads.

I'm not discounting potential effectiveness, we all know the "attack ads work" reasonings, which are being rehashed now. What I'm sensing though, and I've scanned everything I can possible get my eyes on, THIS time the Conservatives don't have a media partner to support their message. That reality will be a factor in the final analysis, and the fact Conservatives are already adjusting their talking points, supports the perceived importance.

14 comments:

penlan said...

Yesterday, on Politics, Don Newman was talking with a couple of pundits about the ad - the one now showing on T.V. In the past they would play it. This time Newman said, & I paraphrase, but just a bit,
"We aren't going to show it folks. Tough economic times here & we aren't going to advertise for free."

I REALLY liked that. The gist of the conversation was negative on the ad.

Steve V said...

And, there wasn't a sympathetic media ear today on his pundit panel.

KNB said...

I still have to watch Politics on line, but on Power Play, Tom Clark ran a bit of the ad, but he too cut it off saying unless they pay for it...

Good analysis Steve.

Anonymous said...

The analysis misses a more important, non-partisan point. Why exactly is the media reacting differently this time? Have *they* decided all of sudden that Canadians should have had enough of this and that the government must become serious about policy? Why do they believe it's their prerogative to decide that in the first place and how exactly do they all come to that understanding anyway?

These campaigns should never have been given as much media scrutiny as they have had in the last few years to begin with. Of course, it is easy journalism...

Tof KW said...

I think there is a simpler explanation to this cool reception this time around by the media, that is that whenever the next election is held there is the very real chance that Ignatieff will be prime minister with a minority government. If the media start towing the CPC talking points again like they did with the Dion ads, that would pretty much would kill any chance of the Liberals giving any consideration to BCE and Canwest-Global on newspaper bailouts or cable carriage fees. Watch for the media to be a lot more non-partisan this time around.

LMA said...

It's interesting that even the Cons begrudgingly admit that nobody has a problem with the fact that Ignatieff has been a public intellectual for 40 years. Perhaps Ignatieff's many achievements and dignified demeanour are raising the bar for the way political campaigns are conducted in this country? I hope so.

LMA said...

Anon: Gee, I don't know, I guess I would classify holding academic positions at Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard, being an award winning author, and receiving several honorary doctorates as achievements, wouldn't you?

Steve V said...

LMA

Don't bother, it's just desperate for attention ;)

I just smell fear to be honest.

Steve V said...

"Watch for the media to be a lot more non-partisan this time around."

Sort of an amazing comment when you think about it.

Steve V said...

Murphy with a pretty good smackdown"This is getting very tired."



We are starting to see the "more about the messenger" theme coming out.

Steve V said...

"They say as much about those who design those ads, as about their ostensible target. These ads may well remind Canadians of something they already know - that Mr. Ignatieff was a long while before he chose, or deigned, to become a full Canadian. But they will also remind Canadians of something they know just as well, and do not like in the main: that the Harper Conservatives are a brittle, humourless and by-default-mean congregation.

The ads, I predict, will hurt the Conservatives, far more than they will trim the rising Ignatieff Liberals."

strikes said...

I'm actually a big fan of attack ads as they are so easily satirized (see below)
http://www.harperem.frankstreicher.com/index.html
I do believe that this time around the mood was badly misread

RuralSandi said...

I think it's driving the Cons crazy that Ignatieff has put out his policies yet so that they can spend the summer trashing them. That's all they talk about.

Remember - Harper didn't put out his policies until the campaign was underway in 2005/06 - making daily announcements.

Double standard.

Steve V said...

Sandi

And, don't forget about releasing his platform ONE week before election day in 2008.