Gerry Nicholls Headshot

The Ad That Will Make You Vote Wildrose

Posted: Updated:

When it comes to political communication, the advent of YouTube and other video-sharing websites has been a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, YouTube allows both political campaigns and advocacy groups to inexpensively and quickly get their messages out to a potentially wide audience.

In other words, TV is no longer the only game in town.

Now you can upload a political ad to a website and hope it generates enough buzz to go "viral."

Unfortunately, however, the eagerness to create such viral campaigns has also helped to undermine the overall effectiveness of some political messaging.

What do I mean?

Well, instead of crafting ads to sway public opinion, political consultants and ad people are now producing spots that seem designed solely to generate website "clicks."

And in the process getting a political point across is increasingly taking a backseat to creating spots which are sometimes funny, sometimes outlandish, or sometimes bizarre.

I saw this phenomenon first-hand a few years ago while working in New Hampshire as a consultant in a Republican primary race for a U.S. Senate nomination.

One of our opponents, a businessman named Jim Bender, came up with video spot called "Yum Yum."

It featured an actor in an Uncle Sam costume greedily devouring cakes shaped like banks, cars and college diplomas. The more he ate, the more bloated Uncle Sam got.

The spot was certainly amusing and it generated a lot of good media coverage. One journalist gave it an "A" for creativity; a political newspaper called it a "must-see" ad and it was featured on MSNBC.

So the Yum Yum ad generated media buzz and went viral, all the things you want a YouTube video to do.

But despite all that good stuff, the ad didn't work where it really mattered; it didn't help Bender win support.

Before the ads starting running he was mired in last place in the polls and that's where he stayed right up to election day.

Yes, his ad was entertaining, but it didn't really give people a reason to think Bender would be an effective U.S. Senator.

It was a creative success, but a political failure.

Meanwhile, in the Alberta election, a self-described "filmmaker" and "activist" has come out with a "subversive strategic voting video" that features edgy young people urging Albertans to vote for the PC party since it has the best chance of beating the Wildrose Party.

Since this in practice essentially means voting for the Alberta Progressive Conservative party, it seems likely the Alberta PCs had some sort of hand in putting this spot together, though the ad's creator, of course, denies it.

Regardless of who produced it, the ad is designed to make a splash, to generate controversy, and "go viral."

It does this by getting cute. The ad features supposedly left-wing Albertans telling us even though they hate the right-wing PC party, they will hold their noses and vote PC in order to stop the even more right-wing Wildrose party. Got it?

At any rate, the actors in the spot are ever-so-hip, ever-so-diverse and ever-so-obnoxious.

They swear, they use off-colour language, they tell lame jokes, they mock Alberta conservative stereotypes and they claim among other things that Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, "doesn't believe in gravity."

Now I suppose some might find this amusing, but a lot of voters will likely find it offensive.

Indeed, I suspect anyone who was on the fence before seeing this video will decide to vote Wildrose after seeing it. Also, I suspect many voters who were going to support the PCs before seeing this ad will change their minds and vote Wildrose.

The thought process will go like this: "Any political party these brain dead idiots are against, I am for!"

Now call me crazy, but I believe airing an ad that actually drives people away from your party is bad strategy.

And yes, I know the producers of the spot are hoping this will be offset by legions of young, chic, urban Albertans who will "vote strategically" to deny the Wildrose a victory.

But such a tactic rarely works.

Most regular people going into a voting booth don't think "I don't like Party A, so I will vote for Party B even though I really like Party C." Instead, they vote for Party C.

So in short, this viral video will actually undermine the PC cause.

Now don't get me wrong here: I am not against using humour and edginess in political ads.

It's perfectly fine to make political ads entertaining and humorous.

However, the humour must complement the overall strategic message you are trying to get across.

At the end of the day, after all, the goal isn't just to make people laugh, or to generate lots of clicks on a site. It's to win votes for your candidate or to win converts to your cause.

So if you ever want to put out a political video, beware of trying to get too cute; you might just end up hurting your cause and looking really stupid.

(A modified version of this article originally ran in the Ottawa Hill Times.)