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Who's winning the TV campaign? Not the Tories or Grits

It was 10 days ago, a Saturday. A busy day in my little life. It was half-time in the soccer game between Wales and England, a qualifying game for entry into the Euro 2012championship tournament. It's a mini-World Cup for Europe.

In the midst of the car commercials and reminders about the upcoming Toronto FC game, it arrived - the first Conservative election campaign ad. The Snow Bird jets flying. The Flag. Hair in the Fridge Harper at his desk working on piles of paper (apparently a computer-free area, as usual). Honouring the war dead. A factory visit or some such hard-hat photo op.

It was a very ordinary commercial. Patriotism. We're in safe hands with the man-at-the-desk. We can all slept better because he watches over us. He's working on the papers while flibbertigibbets are being irresponsible. Or something.

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Mostly, election campaign ads are analyzed, on TV or in print, by advertising professionals. It's very predictable. There was one such analysis on CBC the other night. Self-consciously cool and self-important ad people cooing over the choice of some colour in a commercial to "soften" something.

This is a crock. These are the people who afflicted us with everything from "It's Patrick! He just bought life insurance!" to the crazy-as-a-loon Grey Power lady shouting at her car. And they still have jobs. Allowed to walk the streets and everything.

The truly interesting thing to you and me - people who watch TV (hey, call us "everyday Canadians") and see the commercials with at least part of the brain working - is that the opening Conservative ad had nothing to do with the campaign that duly unfolded last week.

After establishing that Harper is Canadian and in favour of Canada, the Conservative TV-commercial campaign became ceaseless attack ads. Reckless Coalition, Ignatieff didn't come back for you, tax hikes are looming under this guy who didn't come back for you. TV viewers were being shouted at, while trying to figure out if the guy with the mustache on NCIS did the dirty deed. (Probably, he did.)

It's said that attack ads are used because they work. Concocted hysteria succeeds, apparently. As someone whose job it is to assess television, I have my doubts about the long-term success,though. People tune out or skip ads that become so familiar they're irritating. And the attacks ads on Iggy have achieved that level of dreaded familiarity.

Later last week, along came Iggy in commercial ads to mock the attack ads. Go figure. The ad business must be thriving in Canada. Real-estate portfolios in the Caribbean are based on such things. Anyway, Iggy says: "Who's he kidding?" to Harper's attack ads. A good "gotcha" commercial. After millions being spent to demonize him, Iggy turns up smiling and -whaddaya know - Canadian. Nothing to be afraid of. Silly, silly Conservatives. (See "Concocted hysteria" in previous paragraph.)

But next thing you know, there's a Liberal attack ad aimed at Stephen Harper: "He's gone Too Far." The conclusion is "Abuse," "Deceit," "Contempt," bang, bang, bang in red ink. Memorable only for including the photo of that Carson guy's alleged popsy. Might have been better if it included: "This Harper guy looks like he keeps his hair in the fridge every night, doesn't he?" Or possibly: "Who does he think he is - Our Glorious Leader?"

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What would I know, I'm only the TV critic. Bit of humour helps, though, raises the tone even in attack ads.

The NDP ads have been, well, a tad sad. There's Jack Layton in blue shirt and tie, sleeves rolled up and all managerial, sitting in front of a giant Canadian flag. Canada. Good management. We get it. Totally. A four-year-old could get it. Put-upon Canadians make an appearance, saying Ottawa doesn't work for them/help them. Geez, that's terrible. Exactly what Jack Layton can do about this is unclear. He's rolled up his sleeves already. A good start, one supposes. Or maybe the lack of clarity is just me, as I'm busy wondering if the ads are done by the same ad people who put Dalton McGuinty in a blue shirt, sleeves rolled up, looking like a nice manager.

The Green Party. Oh dear heavens, the Green Party. I've seen one ad. What's it selling? The Green Party is against TV attack ads. That's it. It's brilliant.

Anyone who watches TV is sold on the Green Party. The party wins the TV watcher's vote because, really, the other ads are dull, unadventurous and deeply irritating.


Halifax Comedy Festival (CBC, 9 p.m.) Hosted by Mark Critch from 22 Minutes, this one has "comedy from near and far" including Arthur Simeon from Kampala, Uganda, and from closer to home Nova Scotia's own Nikki Payne, plus Maureen Langan, Pete Zedlacher, Ted Morris and Sean Lecomber. Give us a laugh, we need it.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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