Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Fighting fire with fire

Simpson is on a roll this week with ruminations on attack ads. Message being, however nasty Harper’s tactics are, he buoys his numbers by about 5% every time he unleashes the big mean Iggy the Brainiac American Coalition Monster ads during hockey games.

We’d like attack ads not to work, but there are several reasons why they do – casual followers of politics being easily led, for one thing. Ignatieff has opted to fight fire with water, and stay “above the fray.” Talk warmly about “government being the granite under our feet,” “health care when you need it,” and “pulling the country together.” These are all good things, but they do nothing to call attention to litany of cock-ups Harper’s dragged us through for the past five years.

While the Liberal approach has been to be the positive, hopeful alternative (and that’s fine), they nonetheless need to get tougher in their messaging about the CPC character. Harper has so many skeletons in his closet, he should rename it the Necropolis. The Liberals are being a bit naive to think that flagging them up is going to “turn people off.” Clearly, if done right, they turn people quite on indeed.

It’s not to say, though, that attacks work as a rule. We’ve seen them backfire. Kim Campbell’s prime ministership will be remembered principally for one thing, and that’s the low-blow “face ad” against Chretien. Even Paul Martin’s “Harper will put the army on Canadian streets” was ridiculed, if not painted as distasteful.

Attack ads fail when the attacker has already lost most credibility. Whatever resonance the attack points have in the vacuum of a focus group, they can also communicate desperation and policy drift on behalf of the attacker.

Harper’s tipping point has been a long time coming – Ignatieff (and Donolo!) just have to give him a much more clever, and assertive, push.

UPDATE: Our friends at Dammit Janet have an example. Shows how it’s perfectly possible to focus an ad on Harper, and have it be tough and evidence-based, without questioning his patriotism, without going into his pre-political life, and without suggesting he wets the bed. Not that I’m suggesting that, you understand….

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