Monday, September 21, 2009

Suddenly, H1N1 ads to appear after Harper government embarrassed on its ad spending

Update II (9:00 p.m.) below.

Update (7:00 p.m.) below.

After being publicly embarrassed by the media, the Harper Conservatives have said they will act on H1N1 television advertising. After the CP report on the government's spending five times more on its economic action plan ads than H1N1 preparation loudly made the rounds Sunday afternoon, the Conservatives started the damage control Sunday night. It's not a tough concept to grasp, after all. Nobody likes a government spending money in its own interest to the detriment of a major public health issue:
Government officials didn't respond to a specific query from The Canadian Press last week on whether television ads were in the works to combat swine flu.

But a government spokesman said Sunday evening that television ads are to be launched Monday across the country to raise public awareness about H1N1.

The official said the government had planned for some time to launch the ad campaign.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it has a total marketing budget of $6.5 million to inform Canadians about the H1N1 virus and how to avoid infection.

Some $4.5 million of that was spent on ads in newspapers, public transit ads and on the web that ran from April to August.

The health agency has committed another $2 million to radio spots that began airing last week, just as new swine flu outbreaks were being reported.
Monday! H1N1 ads are apparently at the ready. How very, very strange the timing on that piece of information in the wake of Sunday's story. If they're so ready, what's been the hold up? Is it that the H1N1 ads have been held back so that public attention could be fixated on the more political action plan ads? Particularly during this past week when the prospect of an election was at a heightened pitch and such ads seemed to enjoy a heavy rotation? And during said week we saw new and improved lengthy economic action plan ads. Circumstantial evidence points to yes, that the H1N1 ads were held back for political reasons.

So this news that they actually have such H1N1 ads at the ready while the action plan campaign has been favoured doesn't really help them on the altruistic meter. It just affirms cynicism about this government's competence. What a way to undermine confidence that they have the right priorities in order in terms of managing the H1N1 crisis on behalf of Canadians. They can't seem to keep political considerations out of anything they do no matter how serious the issue.

It's also not clear that the Conservatives have devoted enough resources to this H1N1 campaign. The above mentioned figures pale in comparison to the $34 million spent on the action plan ads. It looks like there's about $2 million for the H1N1 television campaign. $34 million...$2 million. It's not looking like a proper reflection of the seriousness of the H1N1 issue.

For the record, CP also obtained an explanation for all the pictures (40) of Harper on the action plan website:
As for all those photos of Harper, "The Prime Minister is the chief spokesperson in the Government of Canada for the (action plan)," wrote Massabki.
That's fine. But it doesn't mean megalomania is in order. Look at the U.S. site and see if you can find one picture of President Obama. You can't. Ours has been a Harper cartoon in comparison to the quite serious U.S. site. That is, until today. Because it looks like in the wake of yesterday's report, they've taken down a bunch of Harper photos and replaced them with various minister photos. Public embarrassment, that's what it takes for them to de-Harperize the site. Here's what Chantal Hebert had to say about the former version of the site (you can see a screen shot there) on this point:

In less politically mature countries, it could be construed as an effort to substitute a cult of the personality for solid policy dialogue. Here, it is just the latest silly production of a muddled Conservative brain trust.

Every link leads to more pictures of the Prime Minister.

On the page devoted to so-called real action, the government's web masters have actually managed to fit in a dozen postage-stamp-size shots of Harper.


The Conservatives were caught, exposed handily on this embarrassing inattention to a significant public health need. And they moved immediately into damage control, as they always do when the bright lights are shone on what they've been doing in the dark. But they just can't erase their lopsided spending. They're playing catch up again.

Update (7:00 p.m.): Old friend CanPolitico thinks my math is bad. I may have read too much into the word "another" in this sentence, "The health agency has committed another $2 million to radio spots that began airing last week, just as new swine flu outbreaks were being reported." I read that as being beyond the total $6.5 million budget. Perhaps that is wrong. In which case, they've got no money for television ads. Which would be a neat trick then since the government spokesman says they're coming yet they are not budgeted for. Who knows with this lot, Deficit Jim is on their team, after all.

Update (9:00 p.m.): Looks like my original interpretation on the budget numbers is what the government was in fact doing:
The Public Health Agency of Canada now says it has a marketing budget of $8.5 million to inform Canadians about the virus and how to best avoid infection. That's up from the $6.5 million it reported last week.