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'A very retro, family-oriented message': New ads aim to reframe Poilievre

With a steady lead in the polls and a healthy war chest of political donations, the Conservative Party is rolling out a trio of new advertisements that are being viewed as aiming to redefine and soften Pierre Poilievre's image and messaging.

"This is about consolidation," said CTV News' pollster Nik Nanos. "What it looks like Pierre Poilievre and his advisors are trying to do is to add some sort of human dimension beyond… the cut and thrust of very aggressive tactics in the House of Commons and on YouTube."

Nanos said that while the Conservatives continue to have the advantage in the polls—his latest ballot tracking has the Conservatives nearly 10 points ahead of the governing Liberals—Poilievre doesn't have a significant advantage over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in terms of their personal brands.

He said that may be why the party is pushing out ads trying to "add another dimension to the attack brand" while still offering a contrast to Canadians. 

The ad buy includes three ads—shot in both English and French— that will run over "the next several months" on TV, radio and digital platforms and cost "well over $3 million," according to Conservative Party communications director Sarah Fischer.

"It's a sizable buy… It will be seen, it will get noticed with that kind of spending," political marketing strategist and brand consultant Clive Veroni said.

"So I think it will definitely have an impact. And they've obviously made a conscious decision this early on, to start to redefine him and invest significant dollars in redefining him."


The first ad, entitled "Meet Pierre Poilievre," launched on Tuesday across platforms. At one minute in length, it is the longest of the three ads. Voiced by the Conservative leader's wife, Anaida, the clip features both present-day footage of Poilievre playing with his children, and old photographs of him as a child with his adoptive parents and in hockey gear. 

"Who is Pierre Poilievre?" his wife starts, before going on to offer her own framing of how those close to him, including she and her children, know him.

"I know him as a guy who loves me for who I am, a Canadian who came to call Canada home, and his wife. So, when Pierre says it doesn't matter who you know or where you're from, but rather who you are and where you're going, these aren't just empty words, he's lived it," she says.

Veroni described this ad as having a "Leave It to Beaver" nostalgia that he said is in line with past Conservative messaging.

"They do kind of help to soften his image a little bit… I guess my question is, it feels very like a very retro, family-oriented message. And I just wonder, you know, to what extent the Canadian population is still living in that world?" Veroni said.

"Clearly that's a message that resonates with some Conservative voters, but I don't know how many other Canadians would find that an appealing image."


Poilievre and his wife jointly posted the clip to Instagram as well, a move that those spoke with interpreted in different ways, in the context of last week's joint separation announcement shared by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau on the Meta-owned platform. 

While all agreed that because of the scale and quality of the ad buy, it is likely the concept and these clips were shot prior to the prime minister's breakup being announced, the timing of the rollout is what's left open for interpretation.

In Nanos' view, releasing this particular ad now is not a coincidence.

"It's 100 per cent intentional, nothing's done by accident. Like really, they could have held on that ad if they thought that it was inappropriate. I think this is probably the one way for him to send a message without directly addressing the separation," Nanos said.

Veroni said whether intentional or not, "anyone watching this ad would obviously, you know, put it in the context of the Trudeau separation. "I think people will naturally in their minds make a comparison," he said.

Conservative commentator and past party leadership hopeful Rudy Husny noted, though, that Anaida has played a role in Poilievre's campaign and image in the lead up to, and since, he won the leadership.

The night he won the party's top job, the former Hill staffer was the one to introduce him, so to him, seeing her featured in this way now appeared more like a continuation of a strategy. 

"She's a political operative, so she knows what she's doing," Husny said. "I don't see a link with the separation."

Husny said timing-wise the ad rollout makes sense, as people are returning from summer vacations and starting to pay more attention to politics as the fall nears.


Another two ads will be rolling out over the next few months, according to the party.

The second in the series, titled "Putting the pieces back together"—but may soon become known as "the puzzle ad"—is a 30-second spot showing Poilievre doing a puzzle of the map of Canada with his son.

In it, Poilievre starts with what's become an oft-repeated political message, "Everything feels broken in Canada," citing affordability, safety and division, before pledging a Conservative government could "put the pieces back together," and "bring it home."

On the "bring it home" messaging, Veroni said he thinks it's a phrase that "has legs" and can be repurposed in different contexts, something the Conservative leader is already demonstrating. Though, for Nanos it also carries a "good old days, or retro hour" vibe.

The third ad is a brief, 15-second Poilievre voice-over clip: "Who pays Trudeau's tax?" It focuses on the Conservative pledge to scrap the federal government's carbon pricing scheme, which Poilievre's describes as "a tax on all."

"Enough. I'll axe the tax so you pay less and bring home more," Poilievre says in the spot before the "this message brought to you by" screen shows a photo of him and his wife waving to a crowd.

On this issue, Nanos said the Conservatives are aligned with the majority of Canadians. A recent Nanos survey indicated that two-thirds of Canadians don't think it's a good time to increase the carbon tax, and are unsure about its overall efficacy as a strategy to combat climate change.

"I would say that this particular ad… is more of a fundraiser than anything else. It doesn't really have a lot to do with brand definition for Pierre Poilievre, and has to do with pressing a really hot button and to try to put the Liberals on the defensive," Nanos said.

Asked if beyond opposing, it's time for Polievre to put more emphasis on proposing alternative plans, Husny said for now the Conservatives are better off driving home the message of change and waiting until closer to, or during, the next federal election campaign before fully articulating their policy ideas.

"When you look at the polls, people are starting to say, 'Yes, Canada is broken in a way,'… So I do believe that, in a way, that narrative is working," he said.

Veroni said considering the ads as a cohesive campaign, the Conservatives are trying to execute a "360 degree coverage of positioning."

"These ads actually exist on a spectrum. The softest one is the one with the wife, it's the most nostalgic. Then in the middle is the ad with the jigsaw puzzle, it's still very homey, that ad... It offers up a critique, but it's, you know, in Poilievre terms, it's a fairly gentle critique. And then the third one, which talks about the carbon tax, is a bit more aggressive," Veroni said.

He said expect the party to be targeting these various advertisements to different segments of the population.


Even with the latest party fundraising figures indicating a multimillion-dollar edge over the Liberals, on Tuesday afternoon, a fundraising email went out to Conservative Party supporters announcing the new national campaign, seeking donations for the party's advertising "fund." 

"You may have now heard, but we are launching a massive nationwide advertising campaign to bring Pierre Poilievre’s Common Sense message to millions of Canadians from coast to coast, and share with them who he is, and what he has always stood for," it read in part.

Husny said flush Conservative coffers are a clear asset to the party, and it's "good that they're actually spending it."

Asked whether now is the time for Team Trudeau to try to counterprogram, Veroni said the Liberal party would have been better off pre-empting a campaign like this.

"I would have already had been defining Poilievre months ago," Veroni said. He thinks the Liberals have "missed the boat" on trying to define their main political opponent before the Conservatives had a chance to present their version to Canadians.

"It is surprising to me, but they're going to have to now wait because it'll look too reactive," Veroni said. "The goal has changed now … Three months ago, four months ago, it would have been defining who he is. Now they're gonna have to redefine who he is, it's a different job."  



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