Monday, March 08, 2010

James Cameron: just another butt-kicking Canuck

All of Hollywood seethes at kid from . . . Kapuskasing?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for directing. Though I’m relieved she won only two Oscars: because had she won a third I’m afraid she would be thanking toll-booth attendants and airport security officers in her speech. And I am amazed that Barbra Streisand agreed to hand out the directing award, after the academy ostentatiously declined to nominate her for directing Prince of Tides years ago. (Who knew Babs was so forgiving?)

But I must admit to being tickled (though baffled) for some weeks now at the low-level hatred Hollywood seems to have for James Cameron, the director who spent his formative years in Kapuskasing and Niagara Falls (the good side).

It’s an odd hatred, because if there’s one thing Hollywood loves above all else, it’s financial success. Cameron has directed two of the highest-grossing films of all time, Titanic and Avatar.

Even if you are hooked on drugs, cheating on your wife and mistress at the same time, and a lousy parent, no matter: so long as you deliver at the box office – and can be insured – you will keep getting hired in Hollywood.

But it seemed to me last night that every time an Avatar nomination was announced, or the camera alit on its director James Cameron, there was a certain hostile quiet, a froideur, if you will, in the Kodak Theater.

Why is Cameron despised? Because he’s divorced four wives? I doubt it. Or maybe it’s because he’s an unrepentant, demanding a**hole on set, and because actors seem secondary or even tertiary in his films. But is Cameron the first SOB to fart in a director’s chair? Are the makers of animated films despised like Cameron is? Don’t think so.

Even if the reasons made sense, I’m not sure I would ever get over the fact that a kid from Northern Ontario can become the object of such resentment in one of the most competitive and wealthy industries in the world. Do you know what the main economic activities of Northern Ontario are? Scraping minerals out of the ground, cutting down then grinding up trees, and tourism centered around guns and fishing rods. Oh – and government.

Almost a century ago, the most successful Canadian in Hollywood was Mary Pickford, America’s sweetheart (born in Toronto). Today, it is James Cameron. I don’t quite get it: but I’m still tickled.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Earned Advertising

Another communications game-changer from the Harper Conservatives?

“Earned media” is a concept familiar to anyone who has become involved enough in political campaigning to endure some basic communications reading and/or training. For the uninitiated, “earned media” is what a politician, party or government gets when a news story follows from a planned event or media release.

Earned media is highly prized and great efforts are put into getting it, because (1) it doesn’t cost the campaign/party/government much, and (2) being reported as a “news” item gives the initiative an imprimatur of credibility and/or truth, e.g. “Daycare tops Liberal agenda” on the front page of the Toronto Star (well, some earned media stories have more credibility than others, but you get the picture). Earned media is in contrast to paid media, i.e. advertising during or between campaigns.

What the Harper government has managed to achieve, however, is something I don’t recall ever seeing in my 25-plus years following politics: earned advertising.

It struck me as I walked by the Home Hardware in Creemore on Christmas Eve: In the window was a poster – designed, produced and displayed by Home Hardware – promoting the government’s Home Renovation tax Credit. “Holy Christmas,” I realized. A private company is using its own marketing resources to promote a government initiative. This is crazy. Like a fox.

We also saw this when many banks advertised the Tax-Free Savings Accounts enacted in a previous federal budget, through TV and other ads.

Maybe I’m late to the party on this, but to my knowledge, the media still hasn’t figured out the party is on. I’ve seen no acknowledgement of this phenomenon in the political press. It’s not like they’re blind. They’ve given grudging respect to Harper for his achievements as a strategist and communicator, particularly in the branding of Liberal leaders Dion and Ignatieff (which, not coincidentally, fits with the “mean Harper” narrative). But I have yet to see any pick-up on the earned advertising.

In a way, that the Harper government has implemented policies that attract consumer and hence business enthusiasm are not surprising. The folklore around the GST cut is that it was “inspired” by the Harris government’s generous 30% and 20% income tax cuts in Ontario. They were huge, but few voters noticed, meaning the Harris PCs got little credit for them. Harper, so the story goes, was not about to make the same mistake. If your tax cut is a tree that falls in the forest, no one hears it. Hence the very simple yet highly visible GST cut.

But the question with this advertising, as with any advertising, is: yes, it’s clever – but is it effective? Do consumers connect the advertising to a Harper government initiative? And does it improve their impressions of the Harper government and possibly influence their vote? Those are questions for the Muttarts, Brodies and Flanagans of the world, but I hope they are finding out.

Contrast this with the much-fetishized, big-ticket, public-sector initiatives of the Liberals, both federal and provincial. Dalton McGuinty is dropping a major chunk of our change implementing full-day Junior Kindergarten, which will keep teachers employed in an era of stagnant and declining pupil enrolment. (And put toddlers on school buses, something Mike Harris warned was a bad idea.)

Do you think the Elementary Teachers’ Federation is going to buy ads thanking McGuinty for his (read: our) generosity? Don’t hold your breath. The same goes for Ignatieff, should he ever manage to implement the Liberals’ now 17-year-old promise of government day care.

Public sector unions expect a continually expanding government, with greater employment, pay and benefits for their members. Look at the TTC union’s backlash against TTC customers for fingering their less conscientious (and less conscious) brothers and sisters. Why would unions waste their precious steakhouse and convention money thanking taxpayers and politicians for something that is theirs by right?

Well-chosen, appealing Conservative policies may leverage earned advertising from a business-hungry private sector, while the Liberals and New Democrats are left choking on the fart cloud of their insatiable, ungrateful, public-sector partners. Something to think about.