Sunday, December 12, 2010


When you're on top, you can do now wrong. And, of course, the opposite is true...

Plenty of advice, as happens every time the Liberals stall. I agree, a lot of the second guessing is mostly useless, much of the current circumstance a well established, historically validated, trend for the official opposition and their leader. That said, the Liberals would be wise to not merely comfort themselves in past analogies, because every situation is unique and healthy concern is warranted.

I watched Question Period Sunday. On the program, there was Rob Nicholson hammering the law and order agenda, using the same lines he's used for years, making the same baseless, maddening accusations, facts be damned, over and over and over. The appearance highlights, in the simplest terms, a lesson the Liberals do need to learn.

Jennifer Ditchburn made the point on At Issue last week that day to day, she didn't understand where the Liberals were going, as a reporter she found it hard to get direction. It's true, anyone who watches Question Period or scans the daily press releases from the OLO, can see a host of issue tackled. In theory, this practice is sound, because there are a myriad of issues which deserve equal attention. However, in terms of political strategy, I'm not sure this philosophy is helping the party brand or the leader.

If there is one word Liberals could learn, I would submit it is "imprinting". The Conservatives are masters at it, simple, concise messaging, on the same topics, over and over and over, to the point of nausea for the frequent observer. The key point, the ordinary voter isn't engaged, meaning the repetition is less pronounced, but particularly effective.

Have you noticed recently that advertisers have used repetitive advertising? A program now will have the same ad, shown a few times for any given episode. It is annoying on one level, but seeing the same ad two or three times in a short span has the desired effect- you remember the ad, the product, the message. I don't like the idea of political parties as corporations, but that doesn't mean you discount the psychology here. When you use repetition, you tattoo your audience, you cement what you stand for, your brand is easily perceptible. I would submit, Rob Nicholson's appearance Sunday is an example of imprinting, the art of repetition to gel opinion. Political junkies get lost in the minutiae, the inherent validity of the arguments, but that's irrelevant, because the target audience isn't this engaged.

In the last few months, the Liberals actually have brought forth new polices that distinguish. But, if you were to ask Canadians, I doubt they could cite the home care plan, I doubt they have heard about the "planes, prisons" argument, I doubt they can give a clear, concise answer as to what the Liberals stand for. Part of the reason, we pick an issue, emphasis it for a day or two max, then move on to the next matter. In today's reality, with a completely disengaged electorate, this strategy doesn't cut it, you need to bore the snot out of we political junkies, repeat, repeat, repeat.

I would argue, when everyone in Ottawa is moaning about the home care program, saying the Liberals need to shut up about it and move on, then and only then are they truly starting to get the message out. If anyone doubts this fact, look no further than the government of the day...


Karen said...

There is merit to what you say Steve, though personally I'd like to shift that model.

Part of the problem is that it plays perfectly into the 'bites' the media needs. I'm not blaming them in the least, but each model fits the other.

So, I love Ditchburn and she more than some actually digs and doesn't leap on the easy story,many of her confreres live for the quick and easy.

I think prisons and planes can take hold actually if tightened up to illustrate clear contrast.

Was Nicholson challenged?

Steve V said...

"Was Nicholson challenged?"

No, and I would argue it shows that it's an uphill battle to fight the sound bite world.

Karen said...

Can't disagree, but think that should be challenged too...loudly

Anonymous said...

This is the best challenge to Nicholson I've ever seen, from Libby Davies. Starts about 3:30 in.

Steve V said...

As long as you can cobble together a couple semi-coherent points, you can make almost any argument. Then the question becomes, with a passive conduit, is the view sophisticated enough to siphon through. I would say no, and that's part of the reason these guys stay afloat, even when we can't believe it.

The Conservatives have concise messaging, they hammer home their points. We can debate a deeper discourse, but I don't think that distracts from the idea of focused zeal, imprinting.

Steve V said...


She can be such a pleasant assassin can't she?

WhigWag said...

You're quite right about the importance & effectiveness of repeating a simple, well-framed message (see, e.g., George Lakoff's many writings on this, or the presentation linked below).

But, um, that's not "imprinting" - which is more a fxn of _when_ something is learned (in one's life cycle) than in how often or rapidly one's exposed to it, and is
typified by the ducklings following the first "mommy" they see.

Steve V said...

Holy literal. Yes, imprinting, as in when scientists put hatchery fish in a desired stream, because the scent imprints and they are more likely to return to spawn. Loosen up :)

ottlib said...

The biggest problem with what you say is the government has the advantage of being the government so every reporter within 50 km of the Queensway hangs on its every word.

The same cannot be said for the Liberals, except of course, when they say or do something stupid.

That is the advantage of being the government but as history has shown that advantage has a shelf life and this one is quickly approaching the end of it, if it has not already gone past it.

All Liberals can do right now is grin and bear it and continue to pick away at the government while preparing for the next election. It really is their best option at the moment.

WhigWag said...

It's not a literal vs. metaphorical thing: it ("imprinting") is simply the wrong word for what you're talking about, and also has the wrong (pejorative) connotations if you want Libs. to pick it up, because it suggests mindless, instinctual following.

What you're REALLY talking about it what people in marketing call "The Rule of Repetition," which already has plenty of useful articles on it, instead of asking people to start from scratch with a overly stretched metaphor &/or malapropism of sorts.

Steve V said...


I understand what the word means, believe I gave the classic scientific example, so the windbag lecture isn't required. Yes, you are correct, in the strictest sense the word is misused. Funny.


Someone should put that mentality out of its misery.

rockfish said...

I completely agree, but would step it up another notch and say that the party needs to hit the three dimensional 'imprint' button -- MP statement/interviews, leader's message, and grassroots applications.
You see the level that the CONs have applied this tactic, and how the venues of newspaper letters pages, news and magazine comment boards, and radio call-in shows that hammer the usual message. It has created a fake, echo narrative that becomes reality. I'd dare say that this kind of messaging killed the soil in Alberta for Liberals long ago; why does the federal party that helped create the setting for tarsands paydays get no kudos from anyone? (whether it was the right thing, that's another story)...

Shiner said...

From Cable's video:

LD: So you have no evidence
RN: We have a mandate from the Canadian people

That made be cry.

Steve V said...


You're spot on !