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When a strong message overcomes the best attack ads: Considering the 2019 Alberta election

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

A few years ago, I worked on a campaign that had promise. We had a good, young candidate who was well-spoken and known well in the community. Despite the constituency he was running in had been held by another party for many, many years, our campaign had a chance.


By the end of the campaign, though, we lost. Pretty badly, too. In retrospect there wasn’t a very good chance our candidate was going to win, based on a number of factors outside our campaign’s control.


But there’s one thing I keep coming back to about that campaign: we never had one strong message that we consistently used over and over. In fact, over the course of the campaign we probably used 8–10 different messages.

Not good.

The central campaign had two messages: one for our party, and one for the opponents. Regrettably, the campaign I helped coordinate missed that memo.

With time and experience you learn things like how important a single, effective message is.

A great example is the recent Alberta election.

Rachel Notley and the NDP absolutely hammered Jason Kenney with some of the most vicious attack ads the NDP has maybe ever produced. Check this one out:



The NDP went so far as to run a 10-minute documentary-style attack ad on Jason Kenney.


As far as political campaigns go, those are tough ads, with a lot of money behind them to reach as many people as possible.

Here’s the interesting thing, though: nobody can remember what Rachel Notley’s positive message for her own campaign was, even a day after it ended.

In contrast, Jason Kenney, throughout the entire 28-day campaign, was never pulled off his own message.

What was his message, you ask?


Jobs. Economy. Pipelines.


Pretty simple. And he said it over, and over, and over, and over.

There’s nothing fancy to this whole thing, and it’s confirmed by market research like the Rule of 7, which says people need to hear a message at least seven times before they take an action on it.

Looking south, does anyone remember Hillary Clinton’s main slogan in 2016?

*crickets*

Her main one was actually Stronger Together, but hardly anyone remembers it because she was pulled off message so many times by talking about Trump himself, emails, Russia, etc.

Donald Trump’s message in 2016?

All together now: “Make America Great Again”.



Say what you will about Trump, but he made Make America Great Again an unforgettable slogan because he said it all the time, and it was plastered everywhere: from podium signs to billboards to digital marketing, and, of course, the hats.

Nothing beats a strong single political message — especially when you use it effectively and use it over and over.

Ultimately, Jason Kenney and the Alberta Conservatives won the election over the NDP because their message was better, and they used it smartly and to their great advantage.

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