Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dion Attack Ads: Thud, Crash, Boom

The Tory ads to discredit Dion have failed miserably:
A new poll suggests Canadians are not impressed by Conservative party TV ads that attempt to discredit new Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.
The survey by Decima Research found that 38 per cent of respondents -- out of a sample of more than 1,000 -- recalled seeing the attack ads.
But among the 388 Canadians who remember watching the unusual, non-election-period political advertising, 59 per cent said the ads were not fair in how they described Dion. Only 22 per cent felt the ads were fair.

The fact that only 22% thought the ads fair is a telling number, given it is actually below the Tory’s base support. Thud, crash, boom. Once again Harper’s over-zealous politicism has backfired, he looks like a bully and Dion garners sympathy. The other good news, Harper has essentially wasted his main attack line for the election. I doubt it will have the same resonance after these attack ads, it may actually benefit Dion to have it on the table now. A complete failure all around, and well deserved.


bigcitylib said...

link doesn't seem to work. Any party support numbers?

Mike said...

In the immortal words of Nelson Munz:


Steve V said...

Link is fixed.

Lept said...

Were the much touted French ones even used: I neither saw nor heard of them?

Steve V said...


They were supposed to run in Quebec. I wonder if they Tories thought better after the initial buy.

Anonymous said...

We ought to send a Thank You card to the Cons for the free publicity!

Thank you Cons for $98,000+ of your hard-earned donations to the Dion campaign 2007!

Eugene said...

I'd be more worried that close to 40% of all Canadians saw the ads. That is a massive number for any kind of ad campaign. The idea that anyone would call an attack ad fair (22%?) is strange, but the whole point of attack ads is to plant a seed of doubt. I would assume the fact that many people saw the ads would be much more troubling to Dion's people than determining if people thought the ads were fair or not.

Peter Loewen said...

OK, a couple of points (and I know a little about polling, survey research, and advertising, so I hope they're considered).

First, there is a rough correlation at best between what people have seen and what they remember seeing. Second, if asked whether the "conservative ads on mr dion were fair" a good share of people will respond based merely on their partisan disposition. third, whether the ads are "fair" or not is really not a measure of whether they have pushed either party up or down in people's online tally. Bottom line: the poll's interesting and not much else.

Steve V said...

I think it "fair" to say if people didn't think the ads were "fair", then that translates into little resonance. These numbers are BELOW what you expect, if partisanship was the only consideration.

I'm actually glad 40% of people have seen these ads, that means the majority of these people have an unfavorable opinion of Conservative tactic. I don't think it much spin to read these results as a net-negative for Harper. As an added bonus it siphoned off some of the Tory warchest.

Peter Loewen said...


Well, not really. The point is that many people who did not previously think the ads were unfair would respond that they were so after being prompted to do so. And it's not that they're being manipulated, just that they are being asked to respond in a context that they may not have previously considered (i.e in terms of fairness).

But my larger point is that a quick and dirty Decima poll is not going to capture whether the ads have done damage or not, because that damage will lie far down in people's assessments of Dion and Harper and will likely not be elicited by a question about fairness. (And you won't get at it by comparing those who remember seeing the ad with those who don't as good research shows that recall is rarely related to an effect).

In sum, I know you want to believe the ads don't work, and my Conservative friends want to believe that the do. But the bottom line is that none of us know jack shit about their effects right now.

Steve V said...

"In sum, I know you want to believe the ads don't work, and my Conservative friends want to believe that the do. But the bottom line is that none of us know jack shit about their effects right now."

I would say the evidence to date suggests COMPLETE FAILURE. I predict no rise in Dion's negatives as a result of this ad campaign. Intuitively you could just sense this thing didn't come off the way Kenney and company hoped.

Peter Loewen said...

I guess that's the difference between you and me. You can "intuitively sense" that things which comport with your partisan disposition have worked. I, unfortunately, am not blessed with this. Rather, I've filled my head with useless knowledge which only leads me to doubt the ability of us to really figure out how things work unless we assess them objectively with refined tools. I am honestly suprised you even needed to site the Decima poll when you could have just told us how you "felt" the ads have worked.

Steve V said...


Please. Your bias starts with the belief that attack ads work in casting doubt, and you go from there. I agree attack ads do work, if crafted properly. If you want to call me a partisan to negate my opinion fine, but I will tell you that I have had feedback from "non-partisans" and no one seems impressed. Let's wait for the next few polls to see if Dion's negatives rise. They won't, call me on it if I'm wrong :)

Anonymous said...

I saw Cherniak's counter ads played on Telejournal.
Nothing else on French TV.

Peter Loewen said...


Why wait when you can sense that they work now?

All that you are doing by asking me to wait to see if they work is making my argument for me. No one right now - unless they have access to a daily rolling cross-section of about 300 randomly selected Canadians - has any idea if these ads are working.

There is nothing wrong with being partisan, just don't pretend that we're arguing on equal footing. I don't have a dog in this fight and you do. All I am asking is that people consider how flimsy the evidence is. And, sorry, having talked to non-partisans won't cut it in the world where we actually measure these things.

Steve V said...

"in the world where we actually measure these things."

And you choose to ignore the measurement right here, which speaks to bias.

ottlib said...


This quick and dirty poll would seem to indicate that the chances of this campaign achieving its objectives are low.

Generally speaking if someone believes a statement about someone is unfair they tend to discount the statement.

Considering close to 60% of those who saw the ads said they were unfair would tend to indicated that they discounted the message of the ad. As well, you have to consider the numbers of people who did not see the ad.

Only the Conservatives can define what they consider to be an effective ad campaign and they are not talking. However, this poll does give the perception that it was a failure.

Steve V said...

We both have opinions that we start with. Mine now has some factual basis, maybe incomplete, but not irrelevant. Your opinion seems more to do with tea leaves, since you bring nothing to the table but your own perceptions of effectiveness.

Peter Loewen said...

Ottlib and Scott:

I don't want to be a dick about this, so please take this as me merely justifying my position and not trying to be a braggard or something. I've spent about 10 hours a day for the last four years studying how public opinion is formed, how it is changed, how it is effectively measured, etc. In that time, I've also spent some time studying advertising, persuasion, etc. And I've written on it a little and even been paid some money to talk about it.

So when I write that I don't think you can learn much from this poll - if anything - it's for a lot of reasons, like the ones I've already stated:

i) the unreliability of recall questions
ii) the fairness frame of the question (on which I think you're incorrect, Ottlib)
iii) the inability of cross-sectional surveys to pick up changes in perceptions;
iv) the lack of a relationship between recall and effects.

I can add four or five other reasons to why you can draw lots of conclusions or no conclusions from what you've read in a Decima poll as well as what you've heard from your friends. But I don't think you'll be convinced, and that's fair enough. All I am saying is that it is really tough to measure ad effects, and even if there was sufficient data you would still be inclined to take the Liberal side on this.

Now, do I have a bias? If you mean do I have a prior on when negative ads work, then the answer is yes. And an actual bias? I am not so sure. But if I get your sense of what that means then I guess the answer is yes: I am biased towards convincing empirical demonstrations of the effectiveness of things, which Decima has not provided.

Steve V said...

We agree to disagree :)

Bud, if you believe the seed has been planted only to blossom later that's your perogative. My opinion, this flower died on the vine.

Peter Loewen said...

Steve V:

This is the last thing I will write:

"But, surely, Pauli, you don't think what I've said is completely wrong?"

"No, I think what you said is not even wrong."

A discussion between Wolfgang Pauli and a fellow physicist (name unknown).


burlivespipe said...

I believe Bud, unfortunately, has a point. But so do you, in the fact that the impression that was suppose to be created, is now an impression on just why the Conservatives chose now to create it. The media's big buy-in, free ad space especially, allowed the viewers to frame the ads in a different subtext than if they saw them straight off the superbowl. The goal I believe was about cracking open a window, and eventually the dog will squeeze his nose through and then, run out.
That doesn't mean they were effective, but just part of a plan. An evil plan. Imagine what kind of political good could be done with all the energy Harpor's utilizing on minimizing and blasting his opponents?

Monkey Loves to Fight said...

I would say it is too early to tell. The ads off course were not well liked. I don't think most Canadians responded positively to the Liberal attack ads in 2004, but they did work. What the ads do is create doubt, however they alone will not hurt Dion. If Dion comes across as weak himself, they will work in the long-run, but if he doesn't they will backfire. The 2004 Liberal attack ads didn't work on their own. They simply made people question how moderate the Tories were. When people like Randy White and Cheryl Gallant mouthed off, this gave them credibility and thats why they worked. Had they seemed totally over the top they would have failed.

So the point is Dion has to ensure he doesn't come across the way the ads paint him and they will backfire. The door has been cracked open a touch, he needs to slam it shut hard.

Karen said...

What I find disturbing though, is that the penetration rate they achieved was not through their "buy", but rather through the media coverage they received.

That said, rather than planting a seed as some have said, those viewers saw the ad's in another context, usually balanced by critical analysis. That in my view detracts from the "message" just getting out there. Dissect any ad to death and it loses it's punch.

I think the strategy on the part of the con's was clear, but I would agree that they did not succeed. In the main, (and the stat's bear it out), they whipped up their base.

I think the Lib's reacted in the right way. There was not outrage and gnashing of teeth, there was a simple acknowledgement as to how desperate the Conservatives are.

I imagine they are delighted with the ad's and will likely continue along the same href="">line, meaning attack, attack, attack.

What will make the difference I think, is how the Lib's respond, both in verbal reaction and their own advertising.

Certainly there is an awful lot out there that can show Harper for who he is. IMO it would be better to just show that factually because the thing is, you can keep Harper in context and be honest about what he is saying.

Steve V said...

"Dissect any ad to death and it loses it's punch."

Especially when it the only ad out there. Normally in an election campaign, the pace dictates a quick judgement on an particular ad. This ad is alone, eagerly dissected by every pundit and blogger, to death. I agree knb, this detracts from the message.

peter :)

Eugene said...

Maybe the poll shows that the ads are a huge success since 59% could recall the "that's not fair" message :)

Karen said...

Clever Peter, :).

Beware people, here we see ease with which marketers twist and spin, ;).