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With summer fading, election advertising is kicking into high gear. From a creative perspective, how are the parties shaping their brands?

The Globe and Mail is asking a panel of experts from the ad and PR world to weigh in on a genre of advertising that is little admired within the industry, but which plays an important role in swaying voters' impressions of the candidates.

Giving us their take are John Crean, national managing partner at National Public Relations, whose expertise includes strategic communications and issues management; Helen Pak, CEO and chief creative officer at ad firm Havas Worldwide Canada, and recently, creative strategist at Facebook Canada; and Angus Tucker, executive creative director and partner at Toronto advertising agency John St.

"The communications have been strangely impacted by global events," Mr. Crean said. "It's hard to predict for the parties and the campaigns. Whether it's the refugee crisis or the changing global economic dynamics, there have been a lot of things taking them off message."

Ideally, advertising should help the parties exert at least some control over the messages. The second edition of our panel looks at some of the latest ads from the three parties with standing in the House of Commons.

“Proven leadership for a stronger economy” (more colloquially known as the “Stephen Harper isn’t perfect” ad)

Conservatives

Ms. Pak:

We’re hearing about Stephen Harper from what seems to be real people. But the delivery, for me, didn’t come across as authentic. When a real person is talking on camera, there are natural pauses. The delivery isn’t perfect. Those lines were either fed to them, or perhaps they actually said them but were directed to say them over and over again. With this documentary-style storytelling that we see more and more of in ads, people are savvy. They can spot authenticity and see when it’s not authentic a mile away. That’s not the impression you want to give.

Mr. Crean:

Notice that they don’t refer to the Liberals, they refer to Justin. And they refer to the NDP, not to Mulcair. They’re trying to create brand imagery around the others. It’s very intentional that it’s not “Mr. Trudeau” or “the Liberal Party.” It’s part of the image of the young, inexperienced guy. They’re using “the NDP,” not “Mr. Mulcair” or “Tom.” When it comes to economic management, Mulcair could be argued to have a better sense of how to be a good economic manager, while the NDP has a pre-existing narrative as left-wing, socialist, spenders. The Conservatives would be trying to reinforce that. … It’s surprising to me, entering into what they call a “technical recession,” that they could continue to use the economic platform as a selling point. They’re making a big bet on the economy as the most important consideration.

Mr. Tucker:

It looks like it was shot on a Sony Handycam someone found in a garage sale. I get that they don’t want to look like they’re throwing money around on fancy TV commercials, but you should look like you care at least a little about how you look. If Nixon versus Kennedy taught us anything 55 years ago, it was don’t look horrible on camera.

“I’m ready”

NDP

Mr. Crean:

This election, they will make it or break it on brand Mulcair. … I think it’s good strategy. The NDP have had a history of most popular leader but not most popular party. People loved Ed Broadbent but didn’t necessarily vote NDP. They feel they have got something in Tom Mulcair as a leader. It’s showing him in a very positive manner. He’s smiling, laid-back, looking very personable. It is a continuation of building the brand of Tom Mulcair. In the bottom-left corner of the screen, you see his name there through the entire ad; you don’t see the NDP logo until the very end.

Mr. Tucker:

“I’m ready” [is] a deliberate use of the Conservatives’ “He’s just not ready” campaign that has raised doubts about Trudeau’s experience and ability to handle the job. … All the time and money that the Conservatives have spent telling people that Trudeau isn’t ready – he doesn’t have any experience – and Mulcair basically is saying, “I’ve got tons of it.” The Conservatives had been banging that drum over and over and over again. They made lack of experience the reason not to vote for Trudeau. So the NDP comes in and says, “If that’s the only thing you’re worried about, we’ve got that covered.”

Ms. Pak:

Their initial spot was a big mess. The scenarios looked staged. At least in this commercial, I get a sense of who he is. I appreciated seeing retro pictures of him, intimate glimpses of his life. He’s not saying much, but he’s saying, “I’m like you.” He’s inviting you into his past. Where it goes off, for me, is when it shifts to the present with the cliché images all politicians use: I’m wearing a hard hat and talking to people in industry, I’m sitting in a small chair reading to children, I’m holding babies. That was unfortunate.

“Escalator: harder to get ahead”

Liberals

Mr. Tucker:

Trudeau is always a little awkward on camera, and this spot doesn’t help him much. … It’s almost like he’s deliberately trying to appear serious and prime ministerial, which isn’t bad, but I feel like they’ve sucked any of that youthful passion and vigour right out of him. When you think of relatively young, successful politicians – Bill Clinton playing the sax, Barack Obama appearing on Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis – there’s this ability to connect with a younger group of people. And I’m not talking 16-year-olds, but even 30-to-40-year-olds. … With Trudeaumania, they were likening his father to the Beatles. He just seems dull. The advertising is dull. It feels like they’re playing defence, trying not to lose, as opposed to trying to win.

Ms. Pak:

In advertising, we use visual analogies all the time, because it helps with storytelling. But there’s a danger in using visual techniques: It can backfire on you. If you turn off the sound here, the visual is of Justin not going anywhere. It’s an interesting, but perhaps an unfortunate, choice. The message was about moving forward instead of being stuck. I did like that, but I just don’t know how effectively it comes across.

Mr. Crean:

This is fascinating. It reminds me of [Ronald] Reagan in 1980: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” That worked so well for him in defeating Jimmy Carter, because most people weren’t doing any better. I think Trudeau is trying for a similar approach: Notwithstanding what you’ve been told, you’re not better off. But it has a bit of a long-walk-to-nowhere feel, walking up the escalator and talking. The question I would have is: Is that too cute for political advertising? Does it add anything to the message? Maybe it does. … I find it a bit distracting.

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