Negative Review for a Positive Trudeau Ad

Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau headed into hall to share 'Hope and Hard Work' - Photo by Ken Boshcoff

TORONTO – OPINION – Well, it looks like Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was serious when he promised to stay “positive.”

The Liberal Party’s recent YouTube ad, starring Justin, amazingly doesn’t even mention the Senate scandal swirling around Ottawa.

To a lot of people that might seem counter-intuitive, but if you’re ahead in the polls it actually might be a wise strategy to stay on the moral high road. (So long as you can count on your non-party allies or on the NDP to throw some dirt.)

Yet I have some problems with this ad that have more to do with its style and content than with its tone.

First off, the ad starts with Trudeau telling me the Conservatives are saying he doesn’t have the right priorities.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

I mean, why repeat a Conservative attack?

Imagine a car company airing a TV ad that began: “Our competitors say our car is unsafe, but let us tell you…”

It’s just a bad move.

What if I had never even heard that Tory claim, now suddenly the idea that Trudeau doesn’t have the right priorities is stuck in my mind, thanks to a Liberal ad.

Next, Trudeau utters a series of negative statements: He won’t be indifferent to retired people, he won’t shrug at unemployment, he won’t shrug of lower middle class wages.

This is a mistake because, simply put, it’s bad communication strategy to state ideas in the negative. When you say, “I’m not a crook”  the primitive subconscious mind, which doesn’t do well with negatives, only hears, “I’m a crook.”

So in a sense Trudeau is unwittingly saying, “I’m indifferent to retired people”. 

Better for him to state his positions in a positive way, i.e. “I care about retired people, I care about the unemployed and the poor, etc.”

But the worst thing about the ad is that its only strong visual, a graph, actually shows the viewer that  both economic growth and middle class wages are going up!

Is that really the message Trudeau wants to promote, that the Tories are doing a great job with the economy?

OK, I realize, of course, that his point is that middle class wages are lagging behind, but his graph doesn’t really reinforce the bleakness he is trying to project.

He needs a graph, in other words, with an arrow going down.

I guess the lesson from all this is that just because a political ad doesn’t attack people, doesn’t necessarily mean its effective.

Gerry Nicholls


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Gerry Nicholls is a communications consultant and writer who has been called a “political warrior” a “brilliant strategist” and one of the “canniest political observers in Canada.” He has worked as a consultant in both the United States and Canada and was formerly a senior officer in the National Citizens Coalition. He is a regular at the Huffington Post as well. A regular columnist with the Ottawa Hill Times, his work has also appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, NetNewsledger, and in the Sun Media chain; and he has appeared on countless TV and radio public affairs programs. He is the author of the book, Loyal to the Core, Harper, Me and the NCC