NDP hits pause on ads, Grits and Tories suspend TV campaigns as pre-election spending cap, summer doldrums kick in

By Peter Mazereeuw

The NDP says it has temporarily stopped running political ads on Facebook and elsewhere fewer than 100 days before the federal election, leading one conservative-tied digital strategist to suggest the party is in deep trouble, and a former NDP national director to predict the party is saving its ammunition for closer to the election.

“The fact that the NDP has done almost nothing, to me, is alarming. It says they don’t have any campaign staff working on this,” said Dean Tester, the founder of Tester Digital, who designs digital ads and websites for provincial conservative parties, and previously worked as a senior digital strategist for the federal Conservatives.

An NDP spokesperson said the pause on advertising is only temporary, following “big advertising campaigns related to all our commitments.”

“We are currently revamping our advertising approach and will be back with campaigns before the end of the month. You’ll see lots of ad campaigns from us until the writ drop and of course throughout the election period. We have a strong presence on digital and will continue pushing out stuff during the upcoming months,” said NDP communications director Mélanie Richer, in an emailed statement.

The Liberals and Conservatives have consistently run political ads on Facebook since before the last election in 2015. The NDP, which has not raised as much money as the other two parties since then, has run fewer ads on Facebook, less consistently. The party’s Facebook page, and that of Leader Jagmeet Singh (Burnaby South, B.C.), now show that they aren’t running any ads to voters. The party often ran at least one or two inexpensive Facebook ads each week in the past year, often focused on affordable housing.

Google, Youtube, and Twitter have all banned political advertising during the pre-election periods, citing the burden of living up to new transparency requirements for those ads brought in by the Liberal government. That makes Facebook the last major venue for social media advertising by the parties, one in which ads can be tailored and targeted much more specifically than those run on TV or radio.

The Liberals and Conservatives have eased up on their political advertising as well, likely a response to the summer vacation season pulling viewers away from their TV sets, and the pre-writ spending cap on political ads kicking in on June 30, said Lindsay Finneran-Gingras, the vice-president of social and digital marketing at Hill and Knowlton Strategies. Neither party is currently running TV ads, after the Liberals ran a campaign in Quebec during the last two weeks of June, and the Conservatives ran TV ads in May.

“I think that’s the same for all parties. You’re going to start seeing a lot more advertising [at] the end of August, when people are paying more attention to the election, and starting to come back from summer holidays,” she said.

Google’s decision to block political Youtube ads is a “significant loss” for the parties, said Ms. Finneran-Gingras. Unlike other social media platforms, Youtube is devoted primarily to video, so users are “primed” for video ads already when they spend time on Youtube, she said.

The Liberals and Conservatives are still running thousands of dollars worth of targeted ads on Facebook, many of them aimed at raising money, building voter contact lists, or defining—negatively for the Liberals, positively for the Conservatives—Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.).

The NDP Facebook page “looks like content that is being driven from Parliament Hill staff,” said Mr. Tester, pointing to consistent re-posting of content from Mr. Singh’s page, and little original content specific to the party.

“It says they’ve got no war room up and running, they’ve got no campaign staff working on digital content right now. This is not how a major party should be acting heading into an election,” said Mr. Tester.

“All those channels seem to be firing for the Conservatives and Liberals, whereas the NDP, they’re invisible,” he said.

“If you’re a party that is struggling to stay afloat in the polls, and your fundraising isn’t what it used to be, and your leader is struggling with profile, [Facebook] is the first place to start. This is the cheapest, best bang for your buck that you’re going to do during a campaign,” he said.

Ms. Richer said the NDP has been running ad campaigns on Twitter and Facebook about its environment, housing, economic, and pharmacare plans.

She said Mr. Tester’s comments about having no campaign staff and not posting original content are “false.”

“We’ve posted content as well as ran ads on the party’s page,” she wrote. “We’ve got a full digital campaign team on the party side, working hard to bring our message to Canadians and they will continue to do so in the upcoming months.”

Former NDP national director Robin Sears said running political ads now, before the writ’s dropped for the Oct. 21 election, allows rival parties time to respond, and reshape voter opinion later in the campaign.

“Branding Scheer as a schlub in July will mean nothing if he has a strong campaign in September—indeed it could be a double negative since you have lowered expectations that he will then exceed,”said Mr. Sears, now working as a lobbyist with Earnscliffe Strategy Group.

“A knockout ad early on gives the opposition the chance to counter precisely. Deliver your knockout punch in heavy rotation in the closing days, and that ability is severely constrained,” he said.

Ms. Finneran-Gingras said she believed a lack of money was the most likely explanation for the NDP’s decision to stop running social media ads in recent weeks.

“I think they’re running out of runway to introduce Jagmeet, and to use advertising where it is effective. But that may also be a factor of money. You make the decision: do you use up all your funds to introduce Jagmeet, and then you’re out of funds in the final 30 days when you know the five or six ridings where you think you need to win?”

The NDP raised $6.3-million over the past five fiscal quarters, since the start of 2018. The Conservative Party raised $32.3-million over the same period, and the Liberals raised $20.4-million.

The Green Party raised $3.9-million over that span. The Greens are challenging the NDP for third place in some horserace polls. The party was running a small number of inexpensive ads on its Facebook page last week.


full story at https://www.hilltimes.com/2019/07/22/ndp-hits-pause-on-ads-grits-and-tories-pause-tv-campaigns-as-pre-election-spending-cap-summer-doldrums-kick-in/208886

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