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The stealth marketing campaign by Vision Vancouver

September 30th, 2014 · 22 Comments

Warning: This post contains a mix of serious analysis and some whimsically imaginary facts mixed with real ones. If you can’t tell them apart or if the juxtaposition creates too much cognitive dissonance for you, STAY AWAY.

The Vancouver election campaign has been so strangely underwhelming so far that it’s allowed many of us in the still-paid-journalist world to muse in our free time about how people are actually going to decide to vote in this campaign-free campaign, if they actually do.

The smaller parties and independents — COPE, Greens, Cedar, independent mayoral candidate Bob Kasting, One City, Vancouver First — have all been labouring away earnestly and mightily to establish comprehensive policies, announce that they are opposed to the two big developer-backed parties (as Vision Vancouver and NPA are now legally required to be labelled). They’ve had a few small breakthroughs in the media and public consciousness but nothing’s really taken off.

And the big guys are nowhere.

The NPA seems to be concentrated on tweeting out pictures of its candidates and supporters at rallies, festivals, beer nights, tractor pulls, strip-poker nights, and so on, with the occasional announcement about another call for complete and utter transparency, including large picture windows, at city hall from mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe. On occasion, a little Twitter war breaks as an NPA candidate makes a snippy little remark about Gregor’s good looks or who has the wisdom to truly understand the city.

Vision, on the other hand, seems to be hiding in the city in camouflage outfits. Only the relentless emails urging us to support them in their stand opposing tankers, lobbying for a subway, solving homelessness, and saving the city from the NPA give a clue that they’re still alive.

But there must be campaigning going on somewhere. It’s unlikely that the sophisticated team Vision has built up is really doing nothing but setting up special polls for election day that are only accessible by bike.

So, I’ve come to realize, we’ve entered the year of the anti-campaign campaign.

It’s all happening in a much more subliminal fashion than we linear thinkers are used to.

The first sign of it was the “cute” little videos for the mayor’s birthday, which was Sept. 18. (Though possibly not. Bob Mackin has FOI’d the mayor’s birth certificate so we’re waiting on that.) Politicians like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, and Vancouver police chief Jim Chu all produced funny videos wishing the mayor a happy birthday. One included police dogs. Sample comment: Trudeau congratulated Robertson on his “transition out of the handsome politician range into the distinguished older gentleman phase.”

The videos promptly got posted to the only news media young people in this town read, HuffPo and VanCityBuzz, to filter their way into the Internet mind cloud. Not campaigning. Just something cute and funny.

Exactly what modern political analysts say makes for the most effective campaign — campaigns where people aren’t asked to vote and aren’t hit over the head with issues. Oh, no, that would be too obvious. Instead, there are all kinds of things that just make them feel good, make them laugh, make them vaguely remember the name of the person who produced the happy buzz. (Remember, two of the most successful videos of the last few campaigns were the David Cadman beard video (2008?) and the relentlessly goofy Tony Tang video (2011)).

Eleanora Pasotti, a California poli sci professor who has studied how mayors around the world have used this kind of soft sell to brand their way to electoral success, says people are more likely to decide who to vote for if they feel if they’ve made an independent choice rather than if they’ve been berated or issue’d into supporting someone. So feel-good activities and messages of all kinds are much more effective.

In that case, kudos to Vision for getting all those politicians to help participate in a little bit of soft branding. Maybe not so kosher to ask someone who’s an employee (Jim Chu) to participate — was he supposed to say no to his boss?

Pasotti said contemporary mayors especially like to use events, festivals, concerts, street parties, and the rest, to do the same kind of soft branding. They’re not about telling you to vote. They’re about making you feel vaguely positive about the person who is linked in some way with putting them on.

And so, how handy is it that Vancouver is holding a “Doors Open Vancouver” thingie this Saturday, where people and their kids get free access, tours, and general merriment at all kinds of city facilities. You’ll be able to frolic around the Orpheum Theatre, the 311 call centre, and the district energy centre at False Creek. Wouldn’t that make you feel great about your city? Think good thoughts about whoever is running it?

Too conspiratorial, you say? As I think many resident groups out there would say, nothing is too conspiratorial these days.

Finally, and here’s the most insidious one of all. Have you noticed how many sunny days Vancouver has had recently? A suspiciously high number. We’re not sure how Penny Ballem is doing it, but she is a doctor, after all. And what happens on sunny days? Well, really, who can build up a decent head of steaming rage about how badly this city is run when the sun is shining, everyone is out on the seawall, and the line-ups for ice cream are down the street.

I’m waiting for the NPA to counter that one. I’ll bet that, by Nov. 15, the billions they’ve raised from all those international oil-tanker consortia will be put to good use, seeding the local clouds with rain, ensuring that everyone is drenched and miserable for a solid week before election day. And angry enough to vote out the bastards. Any bastards.

You mark my words. You heard it here first.



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