Attack ads – how to lose friends

Justin Trudeau had barely come home from his celebration party after being elected leader of the Federal Liberal Party when the Conservatives began running their attack ads against him. The ads feature images of a shirtless Trudeau raising money for the Liver Foundation as well as other clips from his youth. While these ads weren’t unexpected, as the Conservatives had already begun attacking Trudeau about his youth, what the Tories hadn’t expected was the public backlash.

While attack ads work in the US, they are generally frowned upon in Canada. We tend to be a more polite society, looking for the positive in situations vs the negative. And in the case of the recent ads, many question why attack someone who is so passionate about his country and is excited about making changes in a stale political party. All this when an election is two years away.

A number of Canadians showed their disgust with the ads by donating to the Liberal Party as well as the Canadian Liver Foundation. By turning this negative campaign into a positive for the two organizations, Trudeau came out shining, while the Conservatives fell a notch in public opinion. This at a time when the millions being spent on infrastructure ads, long after the projects have been completed, is questioning the Conservatives’ use of tax dollars.

So what’s the lesson here? Instead of wasting your ad dollars on saying why your competitor isn’t great, spend your money by telling your audience why your organization/product is superior. In the end, it’s the positive campaigns people remember and resonate with. Otherwise you end up with a media relations exercise that will be used by communications instructors across the country.