Well this is different.
The pundit class had been stamping its collective feet with impatience, but Liberals responded with remarkable speed to the Conservative attack ads against Justin Trudeau.
In a 30-second spot released Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau rebutted the Conservative accusation that the young new leader lacked the experience needed to become prime minister.
Perched on a teacher’s desk in a classroom, Mr. Trudeau responds to the Conservative charge that he’s “in way over his head” by declaring: “We can keep mistrusting and finding flaws in each other, or we can pull together and get to work.”
The genius of the ad is that it actually opens with a clip from the Conservative spot. Where the Tory post seems cruel and snide, the Liberal response appears calm and reasoned.
Where the Conservative ad seeks to demean – “Does he have the judgment to become prime minister?” – the Liberal ad seeks to affirm: “Together, we will build a better country.”
Where the Tory spot uses Mr. Trudeau to tear down Mr. Trudeau, the Liberal ad uses Mr. Trudeau to build up Mr. Trudeau. We would all rather build than tear down.
So the Grit commercial appears to be a very effective riposte, and proof that the party now has the money and the brains to protect its leader’s brand and to take on the Tory war room. But there are caveats.
The first and most important is that, when it comes to questions of political marketing, most journalists don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. And that includes yours truly.
We didn’t arrive at this humble station in life via Madison Avenue. We grandly pronounce on what we think works or doesn’t work with an audience, but we are, in fact, just a few members of the audience, no better able to judge the effectiveness of a marketing strategy than any other interested observer.
Second, while affirmation advertising may court the better angels of our nature, attack ads pick at doubts that already exist.
As my colleague Jeffrey Simpson observes, Mr. Trudeau added an unwelcome degree of credibility to the Tory attack when he urged us all to examine the “root causes” of terrorism in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
“Within days of the launch of their attack campaign portraying new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as in over his head, the young Mr. Trudeau demonstrated that, yes, he was in over his head,” Mr. Simpson concluded.
Third, we don’t know how much skin each party has in this game of tit-for-tat. Right now the Liberal ad is being broadcast through social media. But how much are the Liberals willing to spend to get the spot on the air in real time, in prime time?
Who has more money, more commitment, and more talent in the war to define Justin Trudeau?
So there are many questions. But we at least know this: The Liberals have countered a Conservative ad that distorts and demeans with a response that affirms and uplifts.
If this were an episode of the West Wing, the Leader’s approval ratings would soar, along with the violins. But this isn’t television; it is the reality of conflicting campaigns on television.
So we’ll just have to wait and see.