Define "Strong", If You Will...

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:07 PM

Counter-branding effort begins

In the 2005/06 federal election, many people hoped Jack Layton and the NDP would play softball with the Liberals, hardball with the Conservatives, and keep Stephen Harper out of office.

Instead, the NDP focused their efforts on the Liberals, shrank the Liberal caucus returned to the House of Commons, and -- some say -- helped Stephen Harper get elected Prime Minister.

Of course, Layton understood well what he was doing when he targeted the Liberal party -- he was attracting disaffected soft Liberals to support the NDP instead.

Now, less than a day before the call of a 2008 federal election, the NDP has once again chosen to err on the side of the opposition, releasing a new attack ad against Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

Following a trip to the Democratic National Convention, Layton seems to have decided to adopt the kind of strategy that helped deny Al Gore the White House in 2000 -- portraying the two mainstream parties as lacking in meaningful differences.

The ad takes aim at the Conservative party tax cuts (taking note of "$50 billion in corporate tax cuts" while strategically ignoring the tax cuts for middle- and low-income Canadians), and taking a page out of the old Liberal party playbook by complaining about child poverty.

The ad addresses one in five Canadians who reportedly don't have a family doctor and, predictably, the Fort MacMurray tarsands.

This ad follows a recent round of branding ads by the Conservative party, and are thus an excellent example of an attempt at counter-branding. In this case, branding the party as bad for low-income Canadians, cutting corporate taxes at their direct expense.

However, those who pay close attention to the ads will notice something else: a striking resemblance to the infamous 2006 Liberal attack ads, including the one that helped sink their entire campaign, featuring heavily drum-laden music and even the same woman providing the voice-over.

In the end, Jack Layton appears against an NDP orange backdrop, and concludes that Canadians need "a new kind of strong". "The new strong is about fighting for what's right for you," Layton says. Presumably, the kind of strong leadership that will be provided by Jack Layton and the NDP.

Of course, this depends all on how one defines "strong", and perhaps that's the real genius of the ad -- challenging what many people consider to be "strong" leadership, and taking direct aim at the legion of polls that find that Canadians regard Harper as the best of the country's federal political leaders.

It's an interesting mix of political strategy: simultaneously attacking the Conservatives' biggest weaknesses and what many consider to be their greatest strength.

With Liberal spots sure to hit the air within the next couple of days, this impending election is apparently going to start hot.

All we need now is an election call.

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