This column is an opinion by Éric Blais, president of Headspace Marketing in Toronto. He has helped build brands for more than 35 years and is a commentator on political marketing for media such as CBC’s Power & Politics. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
The day after a recent game of chicken in the House of Commons that could have brought down the government and sent Canadians to the polls, Elections Canada declared it was ready to run a snap election during a pandemic. However, are Canada’s voters and politicians ready?
Besides being a risky political move, since many Canadians likely wouldn’t be happy about political manoeuvring resulting in an election in the midst of a public-health crisis, there are big questions around how a physically distanced election would affect campaign strategy.
Political parties are in permanent campaign mode these days, and they have already taken steps to adapt to the health requirements of different regions through things such as increased use of phone calls and online meetings. But that’s no substitute for socially-close tactics that are mainstays of political campaigns: rallies, door-to-door canvassing, shaking hands and kissing babies.
If Canada ends up with a federal election battle during the pandemic, the need to reach and engage voters, communicate party platforms and respond to attacks will likely lead to a significant increase in advertising spending. It could also mean the adoption of high-impact campaign strategies that push the limits of what’s acceptable to media providers and the voting public.
For a sign of what Canadians could be in for if there’s an election call in the coming months, look south of the border.
An analysis by the New York Times revealed that more than $1.5 billion US was spent on advertising for the presidential race alone from May 3 to Oct. 15; by contrast, $496 million was spent on ads around the presidential race by that point in the 2016 race. This astronomical increase in ad spending resulted in carpet-bombing of battleground states with, for example, close to 40 different ads for Joe Biden running in a single week in Pennsylvania alone.
Add to this the relentless micro-targeted ads on social media. Voters have never before been exposed to this much advertising from political parties during a campaign.
And it’s mostly nasty.
The same analysis found that roughly 80 per cent of the Donald Trump campaign’s ads have been either negative or what’s called a “contrast ad,” a mix of criticism of the opponent and self-promotion. Of those, 62 per cent were all-out attacks. About 60 per cent of Biden’s campaign ads were negative or contrast, with 7 per cent outright negative.
Political strategists in Canada have generally refrained from adopting the more extreme U.S.-style political ads, but they have sought inspiration and guidance from top Democratic and Republican strategists. Leading up to the 2018 election, for example, the Liberals got advice from Barack Obama’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod, who told them they needed to persuade voters they still represented change. Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush’s two presidential victories, spoke at last year’s Manning Networking Conference, where he advised Canada’s most influential conservative thinkers, strategists and politicians to go beyond simplistic, bumper-sticker sloganeering.
The House8:29Interview – David Axelrod
All this suggests that election campaigning in Canada is increasingly being modelled after strategies in other countries. Here’s a sampling of what we might expect should Canadian political strategists adopt advertising and social media tactics used in the U.S. to grab attention during the pandemic.
‘Intentional wrongness persuasion’
That’s what Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert and author of the book Win Bigly, calls Donald Trump’s persuasion method. First, make a claim that is directionally accurate but has a big exaggeration or factual error. Second, wait for people to notice the exaggeration or error and spend endless hours talking about how wrong it is.
As Adams puts it, “when you dedicate focus and energy to an idea, you remember it. And the things that have the most mental impact on you will irrationally seem as though they are high in priority, even if they are not.”
Or as Jared Kushner told Bob Woodward for his book Rage, “controversy elevates the message.”
Reductio ad absurdum
It’s Latin for “reduction to absurdity,” an argument whereby one seeks to prove one’s position simply by pointing out the absurdity or foolishness of an opponent’s position.
One of the most striking Biden ads doesn’t offer any constructive information about his platform, it’s a 10-second clip posted on Twitter. It shows Trump speaking at a rally: “If I lose to him [Joe Biden], I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I will never speak to you again. You’ll never see me again.” It ends with, “I’m Joe Biden and I approve this message.” It’s been viewed more than 18 million times.
I’m Joe Biden and I approve this message. <a href=”https://t.co/TuRZXPE5xK”>pic.twitter.com/TuRZXPE5xK</a>
Untruths left unchecked
Many voters get their news from their social media feed, where they’ll find a hodgepodge of lies, distortions and “alternate facts,” to borrow from former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway. Fact checkers and those seeking the truth can’t keep up.
Participants in focus groups often say that the ads in particular must be true, because they would not be allowed if they weren’t. That’s generally the case, but there’s one exception: political ads. Advertising Standards Canada vets most advertising, including government advertising, but not political ads during a campaign.
We didn’t say it, they did
Third-party advertisers often say things candidates wouldn’t dare say, and advertising from political action committees in the U.S. has huge influence. Third-party ads have been taken to a new, highly sophisticated level by organizations like the Lincoln Project, a group of Republican operatives who disavowed their own party in order to work against President Donald Trump.
In Canada, we’ve already had a taste of this. True North Strong & Free urged people to vote for the People’s Party of Canada with billboards that read “Say No to Mass Immigration,” while billboards by Alberta Fights Back called for the jailing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The posters were eventually removed, but the decision to accept or refuse these ads lies with the media providers that must navigate delicate issues around free speech and censorship.
Using content in ads without permission or out of context can spell trouble for commercial advertisers, but those crafting political ads in the U.S. appear less concerned about this. The Trump campaign recently ran an ad featuring Dr. Fauci and took his words out of context, for example.
This has already started happening here. A Facebook post by a Conservative riding association in British Columbia in 2019 took an authentic quote from Canadian comedian Rick Mercer about the importance of voting, but changed the final part of the quote from “Vote” to “Vote Conservative.” And the Liberals had to remove a campaign video from Facebook that featured Governor General Julie Payette.
Film star Samuel L. Jackson appeared in an ad for the Biden campaign slamming voter suppression. Sam Elliot and Brad Pitt lent their voices to ads portraying Biden as a uniter, while Martin Sheen voiced a Lincoln Project election day ad. And Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen lent their songs to ads urging Americans to vote and celebrating Biden’s hometown roots.
Canadian celebrities tend to avoid politics, although Quebec’s artistic community can be vocal in its support. Should political operatives in Canada seek star power to drive home their message, they should tread carefully as politics and celebrity culture usually don’t mix well in this country.
Justin Trudeau predicted that the 2019 federal election would be the country’s nastiest. It wasn’t, at least from an advertising standpoint. As we watch how Americans have taken the political discourse to new lows, we should hope for Canadians’ stereotypical niceness and politeness to kick in so we go high after they’ve gone low.
Are You Missing Life’s Moments Because of Social Media?
Recently my wife and I watched the movie Before Sunrise , starring Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine. While travelling on a Eurail train from Budapest, Jesse, an American, sees Celine, who’s French. It’s Jesse’s last day in Europe before returning to the US. Jesse strikes up a conversation with Celine, and they disembark in Vienna to spend the night wandering Austria’s capital city.
Summary: Before Sunrise is a back-and-forth conversation between a romantic [Celine] and a cynic [Jesse].
During the closing credits, I turned to my wife and said, “That wouldn’t have happened today. Jessie and Celine would have been staring at their respective smartphone throughout the train ride, which in 2021 would have free Wi-Fi, not noticing the passing scenery, their fellow passengers or each other, let alone start a conservation.”
How much of real life are we trading to participate in the digital world?
I have this problem; actually, it’s more of an addiction I need to keep in check constantly. I suffer from FOMO [Fear of Missing Out].
You’ve probably heard of FOMO. Odds are you suffer from it to a degree. FOMO is that uneasy feeling you get when you feel other people might be having a good time without you, or worst, living a better life than you. FOMO is why social media participation is as high as it is. FOMO is why you perpetually refresh your social media feeds, so you don’t feel left out—so that you can compare your life. FOMO is what makes social media the dopamine machine it is.
FOMO has become an issue, especially for those under 40. More and more people choose to scroll mindlessly through their social media feeds regardless of whether they’re commuting on public transit, having dinner in a restaurant, or at a sports event. Saying “yes” to the digital world and “no” to real life is now common.
Your soulmate could be sitting a few seats over on the bus (or Eurail train), or at the diner counter, or in the doctor’s waiting room. However, you’re checking your social media to see if Bob’s vacationing in Aruba with Scarlett or if Farid got the new job and may now be making more money than you. Likely, your potential soulmate is probably doing the same.
Look around. Everyone is looking down at the screen in their hand, not up at each other.
We all know Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, et al. [even LinkedIn] doesn’t provide a very well-rounded picture of people’s lives. Most of what people post is cherry-picked to elicit self-affirming responses, such as likes, thumbs-up and hand-clapping emojis, retweets, shares, and those coveted comments of “Congratulations!”, “Way to go!”, “You’re awesome!”, “Looking good!”
The Internet, especially its social media aspect, equates to “Look at me!”
Sometimes I wonder, if bragging and showing off were banned on social media sites, how much would posts decrease?
“Stop paying so much attention to how others around you are doing” was easy advice to follow pre-Internet (the late 90s). Back in the day, it would be only through the grapevine you were a part of that you found out if Bob was in Aruba with Scarlett and that be without pictures. Evidence of how others are doing, strangers included, is pervasive because undeniably, most of us care about status. In 2021 how people are doing is in the palm of our hands, so we tend to give more time to the device we’re holding at the cost of neglecting the real-life happenings within our immediate surroundings.
Social media has made us a restless, anxious bunch underappreciating the present moment. With lockdown restrictions lifting and more social activities taking place, people will be hunkering down on their smartphones more than before to see what others are doing. They’ll see the BBQ they weren’t invited to or people they consider to be friends having a few laughs on the local pub’s patio or camping or at the beach without them. Loneliness, questioning self-worth, depression will be the result.
Trading engaging with those around you to feed your FOMO angst is what we’ve come down to. In my opinion, Guildwood is the GTA’s most walkable neighbourhood. You can choose to take walks around Guildwood, getting exercise, meeting people or stay addicted to the FOMO distress social media is causing you.
Instead of catching up with an old friend or colleague in person over lunch, coffee, or a walk in Guild Park & Gardens, people prefer to text or message each other on social media platforms eliminating face-to-face interactions. Instead of trying to reconnect with old friends verbally, people would rather sit at home with their technology devices and learn what their friends are up to through social media platforms, thus the start of a slippery slope towards anti-social behaviour.
Social media’s irony is it has made us much less social. How Jesse and Celine meet [you’ll have to see the movie] and the resulting in-depth conversation they have as they gradually open up to each other, thus beginning a postmodern romance wouldn’t have happened today. They’d be too preoccupied with their smartphones feeding their FOMO addiction to notice each other.
Social media will always nudge you to give it attention, but that doesn’t mean you have to oblige. Take it from me; there’s more to be had in enjoying life’s moments outside of social media.
Nick Kossovan is the Customer Service Professionals Network’s Director of Social Media (Executive Board Member). You can reach Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org and him on Instagram and Twitter @NKossovan.
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck pictured kissing as ‘Bennifer’ returns
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have been pictured exchanging passionate kisses, apparently confirming weeks of fevered rumors that they have rekindled a romance that dominated celebrity media almost 20 years ago.
Paparazzi photos printed in the New York Post on Monday showed the two actors kissing while enjoying a meal with members of Lopez’s family at Malibu’s posh Nobu sushi restaurant west of Los Angeles on Sunday.
Representatives for Lopez, 51, declined to comment on Monday, while Affleck’s publicists did not return a request for comment.
Lopez and “Argo” director Affleck, dubbed “Bennifer,” became the most talked about couple in the celebrity world in the early 2000s in a romance marked by his-and-her luxury cars and a large 6.1-carat pink diamond engagement ring. They abruptly called off their wedding in 2003 and split up a few months later.
The pair have been pictured together several times in Los Angels and Miami in recent weeks, after Lopez and her former baseball player fiance Alex Rodriguez called off their engagement in mid-April after four years together. Monday’s photos were the first in which Lopez and Affleck were seen kissing this time around.
Celebrity outlet E! News quoted an unidentified source last week as saying Lopez was planning to move from Miami to Los Angeles to spend more time with Affleck, 48, and was looking for schools for her 13-year-old twins Max and Emme.
Max and Emme, along with the singer’s sister Lydia, were also photographed walking into the restaurant in Malibu on Sunday.
Lopez married Latin singer Marc Anthony, her third husband, just five months after her 2004 split with Affleck. Affleck went on to marry, and later was divorced from, actress Jennifer Garner.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
TikTok debuts new voice after Canadian actor sues
After noticing a new female voice narrating the videos on , users of TikTok were baffled as to why. It actually turns out that the Canadian actress behind the old voice filed a lawsuit against the platform for copyright violation as her voice was apparently being used without her permission.
Bev Standing, , is taking China-based ByteDance to court. TikTok’s parent company has since replaced her voice with a new one, with Standing reportedly finding out over email after a tip-off from a journalist. On the matter, Standing said: “They replaced me with another voice. I am so overwhelmed by this whole thing. I’m stumbling for words because I just don’t know what to say.”
TikTok is said to be considering a settlement for Standing outside of the courts, but nobody knows whether or not this is true. According to legal experts, the fact TikTok now has a new voice on the popular social media app suggests they acknowledge Standing’s case and potentially understand that she may have suffered as a result of the company’s actions.
Thanks to the emergence of the powerful smartphone devices of today, alongside taking high-quality images for Instagram, getting lost down YouTube wormholes, and , people are turning to relatively new platforms like TikTok. The service has 689 million monthly active users worldwide and is one of the most downloaded apps in Apple’s iOS App Store. This latest news could harm the platforms future, although many of its younger users potentially aren’t aware that this type of scenario is unfolding.
For Bev Standing, the ordeal is a testing one. She wasn’t informed of the voice change, there is no mention of it in TikTok’s newsroom online, and the development is news to her lawyer also.
This all comes after her case was filed in a New York State court in early May after the voice actor noticed a computer-generated version of her voice had been seen and listened to around the world since 2020. Speculation is rife as to how TikTok managed to obtain the recordings but Standing believes the company acquired them from a project she took part in for the Chinese government in 2018.
The Institute of Acoustics in China reportedly promised her that all of the material she would be recording would be used solely for translation, but they eventually fell into the hands of TikTok and have since been altered and then exposed to a global audience.
According to Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor with Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and an expert in copyright law, the fact that the hugely popular social media platform has now changed Standing’s voice could result in a positive outcome for the distraught voice actor. She said: “It’s a positive step in the way that they are mitigating their damages. And when you’re mitigating, you’re acknowledging that we did something wrong, and you’re trying to make things better.”
When assessing social media etiquette and how both companies and users should act, this type of news can only do more harm than good. Not only does it make the company look bad, but it could have an effect on revenues and, ultimately, TikTok’s reputation.
With a clear desire to move on and put this whole process behind her, Bev Standing is eager for the case to be resolved and get back to the daily work she loves and has been doing for a large part of her life. TikTok has until July 7 to respond to her claim.