Good Danielle Smith, from the Widrose TV Ad

Bad Danielle is going to slap you around a bit now for even thinking about voting for Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Then maybe she’ll step out of the room for a smoke.

While she’s gone, Good Danielle may offer you a cup of coffee, apologize for her partner’s behaviour and try to sweet-talk you out of your troubles by getting you to vote for the Wildrose Party she leads.

Yes, we’re about to see the next stage of the right-wing Wildrose Party’s pre-election advertising campaign, and it’s a slick, expensive and carefully thought out version of a good-cop-bad-cop interrogation — and you, Mr. and Ms. Alberta Voter, are the ones sitting in the hard wooden chair under the relentless single light bulb!

It’s said right here that the Wildrose Party is going to throw a heck of a lot of money at this TV advertising campaign — certainly more than the “ambitious” $10,000 they told their supporters in a fund-raising email yesterday they hope to raise “to help share our new ads with thousands of additional Albertans.”

After all, the next Alberta general election is quite literally a do-or-die proposition for the Wildrose Party — if it doesn’t elect enough members to form the official Opposition, the party is likely to quickly wither and disappear.

And the selection as leader and premier of Redford by the governing Progressive Conservatives — a nightmare product of political genetic engineering designed to appeal to exactly the same demographic of voters the Wildrose Party chose Smith to woo — means that they are more likely to die than do.

So given all that, there’s really nothing for the Wildrose Party to do but throw everything they’ve got at Redford’s Tories. Back in the day when it still looked a bit like former Premier Ed Stelmach might be tempted to take another run at raising oil royalties, the Wildrose Party got a lot of money from its friends in the oilpatch. Count on them to spend every dime they have and can scrape together on this campaign.

These two advertisements are a big part of that — and a strong clue about the forked path the Wildrose campaign is likely to take.

Even before the 30-second spots start to ricochet off your TV screen, you can go to right now to see and hear the good version of Danielle Smith explain why she really cares about education and how her party is going to make sure there are enough teachers and classrooms.

“Parents tell me they’re concerned about the choices the government keeps making. Wasteful spending on things we don’t need means less money to hire teachers and build new schools. We need a government that will do a better job of planning for the future, so our kids have the best start in life,” she intones sweetly. “That’s my priority, and it’s a Wildrose commitment.”

Everything about this ad is appealing and thoughtfully put together. Smith seems friendly, alert, trustworthy and focused. Her smile and cheerful voice build confidence — so much so, indeed, that most voters are unlikely to ask, “What programs does she want to cut to pay for all these teachers and schools?” Or, “I thought she was in favour of charter schools, vouchers and privatized education?”

Smith’s mode of dress is just conservative enough seem trustworthy, modish enough that she doesn’t look like a stick-in-the-mud in grey. The lighting is perfect. The classroom scene is comfortably familiar, idealistically tidy. The piano music is restful. Even the leader’s makeup is a work of art.

This ad was made by top advertising people, focus tested within an inch of its life and cost $100,000 if it cost a dime. That’s an opinion, not a leak from the heart of Wildrose Country — but I’ve put together some rather large TV advertising campaigns myself over the years and I’m confident my guess is right.

Bad Danielle is just a voice, a bit like the real Danielle’s — but scratchily different enough there’s no mistaking it for the same person. The only human image is a harsh one — and it’s of Redford.

“Flip-flops are for the beach,” it says, accompanied by a sound track that sounds as if it came from a Warner Brothers cartoon. “Why can’t Alison Redford keep her promises?”

This ad may have cost a little less to produce than the Good Danielle version — but not all that much.

Will there be other ads in this series? Bet on it. They’ll follow the same theme: Good Danielle will always be optimistic, upbeat and positive — even if the details are a little thin on the ground. She’ll always propose solutions, and never say anything negative.

Bad Danielle will be negative, sharp-tongued but a little funny too. She’s the fork in the road, the dark side, the one that goes where Good Danielle never ventures.

And if Bad Danielle doesn’t work out, there may be a Bad Dan waiting outside the room too. He will be accompanied by deeply disturbing music, with frightening undertones. His voice will be deep, paternal and will speak at a hypnotic pace. The pictures of Redford will show her in the most unflattering light — black and white, grainy, with red backgrounds. You get the picture….

How much is this going to cost — well, likely quite a bit more than $10,000. As they say in the advertising industry, “$10,000 is a fart in the breeze!”

How much the Wildrose Party spends on these ads depends on how much the Wildrose Party has to spend, of course. But you can estimate how much they are spending based on how often the ads appear on your television screen.

Think about it this way: One week in moderately heavy rotation costs about $100,000. If it seems like you’re seeing the ads all the time — as often as certain furniture retailers advertise, for example — the party is probably spending about $200,000 a week or even more.

If they run like that for weeks — or months — well, you can do the arithmetic yourself.

Certain conclusions are inevitable from this glimpse of the future the Wildrose Party has provided us. They include:

–    Negative election advertising is here to stay in Alberta.
–    The Wildrose Party is well financed and is using top advertising people, so their campaign must still be taken seriously despite the Tories’ strengths.
–    The government is likely to respond to these ads with similar expensive and high-quality ads of their own.
–    The opposition parties of the centre and left like the NDP and Liberals are really going to have to think carefully about how they present and deploy their leaders with the limited resources they have on hand.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...