01.18.2011 07:09 AM

In today’s Sun: The problem with the Reformatory ads (updated)

“Tony Schwartz, the father of modern political advertising, is speaking.

“A political ad is about things that are important to the people at the time an election is taking place,” says Schwartz, from his home in New York City. “The best political commercials do not tell the viewer anything. They surface his feelings, and provide a context for him to express his feelings.”

Schwartz should know. The Democrat ad man who developed the legendary 1964 “Daisy” ad – featuring a little girl plucking petals off a daisy, and warning of nuclear war if the Republicans took the White House – was considered a political genius. His Daisy ad (after which, full disclosure, I named my political consulting firm) is considered the best political spot ever made. It ran only once, on Sept. 7, 1964, and helped to return Lyndon B. Johnson to the White House with a landslide.

Shortly after I interviewed him for one of my books, Schwartz died. But it’d be interesting to hear what the father of Daisy had to say about the battery of TV spots the Conservative Party unleashed on Canadians on Monday morning.”

UPDATE: And I talked to my friend Jane about the ads this morning.


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    CanadianSense says:

    I don’t anticipate the opposition to be financially prepared to launch a counter attack to these ads making them vulnerable.

    As many of us keep saying: Campaigns matter. Money, staffing requires resources. A national campaign is close to $ 20 million. Loans and lines of credits will be taken out and used. Can the other parties afford to draw down their cash before the writ is dropped? (Unlikely in my opinion)

    Its morning again in America by the Republicans was positive. It reminds me of the positive ad used by the CPC “rising to the challenge”.

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      PETE says:

      he utube videos now going viral will show Harper fr the fool he really is……and he’s your hero.

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    Lance says:

    Warren, why do you still insist on calling the Conservative party “reformatories” when there are more Tory Quebec MPs then there are now former Reform MPs still serving in government? I don’t begrudge you a bit of partisanship as is your wont, but isn’t that just a little dated?

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      PETE says:

      I don’tt hink so. His base is still the reform party leftovers and thast’s where his financial support comes from. Aptly named for sure.

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      Ted says:

      Harper was a founder of the Reform Party. Jason Kenney a hardcore reformer. Flaherty and Clement were vocal supporters of the federal Reform Party (maybe Baird too, I just don’t know). In other words, the core of the key, senior and most influential members of cabinet and government are all Reformers. There was no Reform Party in Quebec so to say Reformatory is not reflective is not reflective of the reality of the current party.

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        Tim from Alberta says:

        The word,reformatory, is really not negative to all.It was perhaps(and likely was) coined by Mr. Kinsella as an acknowledgement of accomplishment(s).In that context the word could be viewed in a very positive way and celebrated.
        Without the Reform party,our present Conservative government would not exist.
        Unfortunately many of it’s common sense policies were watered down and/or disgarded when it/we took in the old,tired,eastern controlled P.C. party.A political reality that exists to this day.
        Perhaps the same thing could happen in Ontario.A reform party(of sorts) that would take in the liberals,ndp and the party of Ms. May.
        A two party country would/could result,the bloc would be neutered and the chaos of our minority government could/would be replaced with the harmony and efficiency of a majority one.

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          James Curran says:

          The Bloc will not be neutered. If anything, it would be more influential with their always guaranteed 35 to 50 seats in a two party system. And there is nothing in the near future to suggest they will just vanish.

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    Bill King says:

    Just curious – what’s the attribution for your contention this ad “is considered the best political spot ever made?”

    Some folks say the Willie Horton spot was up there too.


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    Richard says:

    By the way, you can see that daisy ad in the recent documentary “Art and Copy” which is about the real mad men. It’s a worthwhile movie, I think.

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    Mike says:

    Warren, your quote and a cursory look at the Conservatives latest ads, started me thinking about past elections. I can’t help but wonder if ads had anything to do with voter choices. Every election since the “daisy” ad in the U.S. and Canada seemed to be about voting AGAINST a party (kick the bums out). Events, rather than ads seemed to have had the greatest influence on voters. If my thinking is correct, the Conservatives will likely stay in power with a minority until one day, they are guilty of actions that exercise everyone’s intense disapproval.

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      Ted says:

      “Every election”?

      Since Diefenbaker (random starting point but the point will hold even more strongly if you go back further), we had national elections in 1963, 1965, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008.

      Of those 15 elections, we only “kicked the bums out” 4 times and almost every time after a long period of governing (Clark excepted).

      That to me says Canadians prefer to go with the flow and it takes some serious frustration and anger to get enough of us motivated to vote out a government. Plus there has to be a reasonably credible alternative (the bar is much lower for the opposition, they just have to demonstrate a modicum of competence; eg. choosing Harper – who had less governing experience in 2006 than Ignatieff has right now – over Martin).

      In this context, I think the ads are critical.

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        Dan says:

        I think that speaks more to the fact of the added benefits incumbants receive, especially around elections.

        Wat’s interesting to note is that incumbants are generally less negative in their advertisments as opposed to thsoe challanging seats.

        It’s odd for the Tories to be running negative ads (as many studies suggest that runnign negative ads whne in a poll position can be detrimental to the campaign) but I think it’s more a reflection of the increasingly negative tone of Canadian political ads which (although not as extreme in tone) more closely resembles US political advertising than most people realize.

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          Ted says:

          Harper’s entire campaign in 2008, his entire mid-election multi-million dollar national ad campaigns against Dion (once) and Ignatieff (twice) have all been almost 100% negative and personal attack ads.

          The Conservatives’ ad campaigns are not a reflection of an increasingly negative tone; they are leading the way into an increasingly negative tone.

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          Mike says:

          Ted, the key to my comment was not the number of elections, but the number of Government changes. There have been few and always, it seems, because Canada is getting rid of a Government it collectively dislikes, e.g., Mulroney, Martin (Adscam).

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    hugger says:

    Given the amateurish and childish nature of 5 of 6 of those ads, I wonder if that is how CPC supporters want their Party to represent them to the Nation?

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    Michael Behiels says:

    I agree with Warren. Successful ads, for products or political campaigns, must trigger deep, visceral emotions. If they do not they are a waste of money and time.

    The only Conservative ad that does this is in part the one that targets Ignatieff’s credibility as a Canadian citizen and patriot. The Tories will run this ad from now until the election is over. In so doing, they will put serious doubts in the minds of independent voters – these voters will either not vote (which works for the Tories) or they will vote based on the emotions aroused by the bogus but nonetheless destructive claim that Ignatieff is a disloyal foreigner who intends to do Canadians harm.

    The Liberal Party must respond immediately to this bogus charge. If it does not badly informed voters will believe the Conservative Big Lie!

    The Tea Party advocates are using a similar charge about President Obama’s disloyalty to America in order to build widespread support for their movement – a great many angry and confused Americans now believe that Obama is not an American Citizen and that he should not be president. Crackpots, like the one in Arizona, who believe this bogus but dangerous charge are calling for his forceful removal from office.

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      The Doctor says:

      Is there proof that the Arizona shooter believed that Obama was not an American citizen, and was in any way motivated by that belief?

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        Namesake says:

        Way to focus on the important point, there, Doc.

        Prof. Behiels didn’t say anything about the shooter: he may have meant any of a number of Arizona Tea Party ‘Birthers’:

        they’ve held rallies on and even pursued legislation on that in their State House of Representatives



        Google: arizona “tea party” birthers = 1,540,000 results!

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          The Doctor says:

          I’m well aware of how loony the Tea Party and its supporters are, thanks.

          Beheils’ words were “Crackpots, like the one in Arizona, who believe this bogus but dangerous charge are calling for his forceful removal from office”, and the “charge” he was referring to was the (ridiculous) one that Obama is not a citizen, is therefore not qualified to be President etc. I have seen no evidence in the public record that Jared Loughner held those specific beliefs. But perhaps he did — I was merely asking the logical question as to whether such evidence exists. If it does not, then it seems to me that that part of Mr. Beheils’ post is not accurate.

          I note that the Wikipedia entry for Jared Loughner does not have any mention of him having any specific views or beliefs regarding President Obama. There is this:

          “Loughner’s best friend, Zach Osler, disputed speculation by media commentators that Loughner’s actions were fueled by partisan politics and rhetoric, insisting, “He did not watch TV, he disliked the news, he didn’t listen to political radio, he didn’t take sides, he wasn’t on the Left, he wasn’t on the Right”, and instead conspiracy theories had a profound effect on him. Another friend, Zane Gutierrez, later told the New York Times that Loughner’s anger would also “well up at the sight of President George W. Bush, or in discussing what he considered to be the nefarious designs of government”.”

          He doesn’t sound like much of a “Birther” to me.

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    Unohoo says:

    Warren, perhaps you should have a seance to bring back Davey and Schwartz to ask them about the ads and the current state of the defunct Liberal party led by a failed leader.

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      Namesake says:

      Considering that Mr. Davey passed away only yesterday, that remark’s about as tasteful and indicative of good judgment as the ads themselves. Way to stand up for the base.

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      Mr. Chamberlain says:

      Perhaps we should hold a seance for you, Unohoo, seeing that you are dead from the neck up.

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    nic coivert says:

    I heard a couple of those attack Ignatieff ads on the radio and I thought they reeked of failure. So I found them pleasing. Harper obviously has nothing good to say, he’s a man soured by spite.

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    Colin says:

    Warren – interesting comments considering the Liberals fine-tuned the “attack ad” with Harper’s “hidden agenda”. The coalition is not and will not be supported by Canadians. If the Liberals and NDP want to form a union then maybe they should be up front about it and proclaim their intentions BEFORE an election not immediately after.

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      Namesake says:

      But they don’t want to: that’s not their goal; their goal is to win the most seats for their own Party and form a gov’t themselves.

      So, no, we don’t need the CPC’s operatives like you declaring what Canadians will or won’t accept and what the Opp. parties should or shouldn’t do, to play into Harper’s hand.

      But maybe the CPC should heed some of it’s minions own free advice and proclaim ITS intentions about what IT will do after the next election, instead of running against a purely hypothetical pink coalition menace; these “Duck and Cover” tactics are such a throwback to a simpler & stupider time.

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      Mr. Chamberlain says:

      You are kidding, right? We are talking about a Party of One when it comes the CPC. And nevermind telling me what Canadians want. Despite every effort to divide us, we will come together in the way that is pragmatic and sensible for the moment. And do not fool yourself, there will be books on the theme of tyranncy once Mr. Harper is replaced, penned by his “colleagues”.

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    H Holmes says:

    Elections spending limits mean that the lead into an election will be dominated by the conservatives branding the other parties.
    While the other party have to rely on volunteers to fight this branding.Which leads to a less then cohesive message.

    As seen by the conservatives, they don’t mind taking a 3 or 4 point hit, if it firms up their base vote in certain ridings.

    The liberals seem to want to run national ads, so that they can fight back before the election.
    However they don’t have the resources.

    This is exactly what happened after the momentum from convention, we didn’t have the resources to fight against the whole “just visiting” meme.
    Now we don’t have the resources against the whole “coalition” ad campaign.

    Another way is to bypass the national problem and focus locally on smaller issues during the run-up to an election and let our national campaign take over after the writ is dropped.

    I encourage everyone to donate both time and money to the best of their abilities to their local riding association, that is where elections are won and lost because local issues can far outweigh the national thrust of these ads. Especially when it comes to federal program issues.

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    Michael Behiels says:

    I just viewed Peter Mansbridge’s interview with Harper. This interview was both enlightening as to how Harper interprets his own performance (He says over and over: “I am a pragmatic conservative, father knows-best-type of leader and not the least ideological like most of my supporters who put me into office).
    Again, Harper used the opportunity to frame himself for the upcoming election by trying to convince Canadians that he is a strong, patriarchal father-knows-best leader. Canadians will have to choose: Harper or chaos. The line comes from the 1935 election campaign: It was King or Chaos! A Harper majority government will guarantee stability, prevent social unrest. A dreaded coalition of the liberals, socialists and separatists will blow Canada up!

    Mansbridge (who looked somewhat nervous) was very, very careful not to rattle Harper’s cage. He lobbed him softball questions for which Harper was well briefed and then consumed all the time to prevent further questions. He refused to interrupt Harper for clarifications when his replies were either incorrect or misleading.

    Harper has little respect for journalists because he portrays their role as seekers of truth – they want to inform their audience.

    Harper has long maintained that the role of the political leader is not to seek or to reveal the truth about anything. The role of a politician, he argues, is to stick closely to a well-scripted message and repeat the message over and over until the unsuspecting voter believes his message is the ‘truth,” and nothing but the “truth.” For Harper it is all about controlling the message and forming his own reality and that of his supporters.

    The Captcha code is cute! Kinsella f me!

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    WesternGrit says:

    We need an ad with a good visual:

    Chubby kid (Harper) ranting and yelling at some kids who have quite obviously spent time in foreign lands, as his “friends” slowly walk away from him, then he tries to skate and falls on his ass – all the time clutching his “Hockey Book”.

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      jStanton says:

      It’s a great illustration of the Reformite psychosis. Completely self-absorbed, infantile, inept and obsessed with arcane trivia. Alas, the LPC would prefer to re-do Mr. Ignatieff’s “nature mystic” ad instead, no doubt.

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        Mr. Chamberlain says:

        Cut to the heart of it. A commercial about a ballot with one party on it.

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    hugger says:

    Didn’t Peter McKay stand up in parliament in May or June last year and guarantee a competitive bidding process for the F35’s?

    Ads focused on things of that nature would seem logical to me. Open, honest, accountable and all that.

    Someone has to act like grown ups.

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    Aongasha says:

    Interesting all this sound and fury about Conservative ads, especially when one Googles Liberal ads from the past or checks out Wikipedia. These of course go back to the times when they had money. They weren’t so delicate about attack ads then – ‘soldiers in the streets’ and all that.
    I agree that all parties should be held to a higher standard, but this is a little hypocritical by the LPC and supporters. In fact I think the NDP is probably the party with the cleanest or at least cleaner hands in all this. But no doubt, being a senior citizen, I will soon be told I’m wrong and have no right to an opinion.

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      Namesake says:

      What, you’re still holding a grudge about how the pollster Frank Graves once characterized some of the strongest supporters of the Conservatives, and holding it against the Liberals?

      If so, come on:

      first of all, Graves doesn’t work for or represent the Liberals in any way: he’s just a media hound, like the other 3 or 4 main pollsters, trying to get noticed & drum up more business for himself with snappy sound bites;

      secondly, pollsters use lots of characterizations, like “Soccer Mom,” but it doesn’t mean they DISMISS those groups’ opinions; far from it — rather, they’re identifying them as a very identifiable, issues-base, voter-rich bloc whose opinion VERY MUCH matters & can make or break an election, because THEY VOTE.

      As for the other issue, yes, you’re quite right: if any Liberal supporters ARE selectively condemning the CPC simply for ‘going negative, then most likely they are being hypocritical.

      However, most of the chatter I’ve seen isn’t on the very idea of negative ads, at all, but about this particular set’s TIMING (like, aren’t election ads supposed to be for… elections? and right after the whole American controversy blew up?); CONTENT (stale & recycled); and likely EFFECT (more apt to backfire, than not).

      In other words, it’s on how ill-advised and bady executed it’s been: like so many other of their files, of late (Census, Potash, UAE…)

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        Namesake says:

        upper-date (as Kady likes to say):

        So, in addition to the one ‘nice’ ad featuring the PM burning the midnight oil in his office likely violating their own Ministerial Accountability rules on not misusing government property (for partisan purposes, e.g.), http://www.cbc.ca/politics/insidepolitics/2011/01/adwatch-on-prime-ministerial-offices—-of-government-and-otherwise.html

        it now turns out that three of the others violate copyright laws, for featuring CBC footage they didn’t have permission to use.

        And it’s not the first time, which makes their communications team serial offenders, scofflaws, slow learners, and just generally incompetent.


        (Good thing there’s such a strong difference between the political staff and the governmental officials in this New Gov’t of Canada, eh, or we’d all be in trouble. Oh, never mind.)

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    tceh says:

    I liked CAITIs ‘Lie. Conceal. Fabricate.’ It sums up the Harper CONservaitves in three simple to understand words.


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    Mr. Chamberlain says:

    I have wondered for a while now if the Harperites actually don’t want to take on Mr. Ignatieff in an election and have adopted the tactic of making the Liberals unsure about their leader. I actually think they are scared of him and are doing everything they can to avoid meeting him in an election, as I said, by undermining support for him in his own party. The Liberals have given too much power to the con attack ads, real or imagined, regarding their very capable leader in Mr. Ignatieff. It seems their audience in the attack ads is not the undecided voter or softer supporters of the Liberals but the hard core Liberal members who will do the heavy lifting with the drop of the writ. It seems as though the Harperites launch attacks to discourage the Liberal base from wanting to go to the polls. Further, perhaps the purpose of the ads is to entice the Liberals and NDP towards work more closely, which would simplify matters for Mr. Harper.

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      The Doctor says:

      I agree with you to the extent that many people have written off Ignatieff prematurely. He’s a good communicator, experienced with media & comfortable on television (he used to be a TV personality, don’t forget). Also, while the Liberal Party has some “issues” (e.g., dead in the water in many parts of Western Canada) the Liberal brand still has a lot of resilience. Lorne Gunter (of all people) once wrote a good article in the National Post (of all places) in which he explained in a very convincing way why the LPC is essentially the default voting option for a lot of Canadians. I could see the LPC under Iggy being very competitive in a well-run campaign, especially if they catch a couple of breaks.

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      PETE says:

      I’m a hardcore liberal and no lies spewed by the Harpercrites will sway me against having an election ASAP.

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        Mr. Chamberlain says:

        Sounds like we have a ball game.

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    new says:




    which one is more honest here and work for all people?!

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    new says:


    Why are Obama and Harper wasting so much money on this war when they cannot give jobs or even houses to their own poor people? …

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    orval says:

    Best Canadian ad from recent past was for me one of the “beep-beep” Conservative ads from 2005/6 with people in a coffee shop looking at a TV screen with David Dingwall saying he was entitled to his entitlements. The way the two actors in the foreground then looked at each other and slowly, subtly, sadly shook their heads was brilliantly done. There was emotion in that ad. Seeing that ad convinced me, more than “beer and popcorn”, that Martin would lose and Harper would win.

    What the Liberals need to do right now is to stop whining and hit back with good forceful punchy ads of the kind that WK would approve. If they can.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    With respect, that’s not quite right. One of my former university professors ran for Preston in Quebec. Warren — (you’ll like this part) later, he joined team Chretien!

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