Shaping Canada’s Mood

Former political advertising consultant Bruce Anderson on how the Harper government is using media campaigns such as the war of 1812 commemoration and the threat of marijuana to shape Canadians’ emotional perceptions of the current state of affairs.

“…these days the government seems addicted to spending our money to shape our mood. They want voters to feel good about the way things are. And worried about how they would be if another party was running things.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/conservatives-use-of-government-ads-is-unbelievably-cynical/article22605424/?

Managing the message: Managing emotions

Over four years ago, it was revealed that the Conservative government was taking steps to micro-manage and streamline the government’s messaging at all levels of bureaucracy. By using what are called “message event proposals” or MEPs, the government has been able to influence what topics are covered by the press. MEPs also give the government the advantage of staging performances, carefully planned spectacles, that are sympathetic to particular political positioning within announcements. This extends all the way from high-profile events to local level government officials appearing at community events. All events require an MEP and requests are run through the Privy Council Office to be vetted.1 Although not all events are heavily staged, others are. Like in a theatre piece, the MEPs allow for extensive intervention so that events are designed in ways that elicit particular emotional responses and prepares the audience to receive a particular message – both intellectually and emotionally. Perception management is built into the very delivery of the information content itself, and this is achieved through exercising meticulous control. For instance, “An MEP template typically includes the following subtitles: Event, Event type, Desired headline, Key messages, Media lines, Strategic objectives, Desired soundbite, Ideal speaking backdrop, Ideal event photograph, Tone, Attire, Rollout materials, Background, and Strategic considerations”2. The intentional use of such tactics go far beyond managing straightforward information. The fact that these strategies attend to very subtle aspects of messaging (backdrop, tone etc) speaks to how carefully considered emotional portrayals are taken in this process. The use of such strategies provides a window in to the level of emotional manipulation involved in governmental narratives, and the techniques that are deployed in political messaging campaigns. Examples of MEP forms for a number of issues are included in the CBC article here 3.

1. http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng
http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng
2.http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2010/06/06/documents_expose_harpers_obsession_with_control.html

3. http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/politics/inside-politics-blog/2010/06/from-the-cp-access-to-info-files-the-medium-is-the-message-event-proposal.html