Justin Trudeau 2015 Election Campaign "Hazel"

Capitalising on Curveballs (GOLD)
Limited Resources (SILVER)

Client Credits: Liberal Party of Canada
Gerald Butts, Principle Advisor
Katie Telford, National Campaign Director
Suzanne Cowan, Director of Advertising
David Herle, Strategy and Research - The Gandalph Group

Agency Credits: Bensimon Byrne
Jack Bensimon, President and Strategist
David Rosenberg, Chief Creative Officer and Writer
Jill Engleman, Group Account Director
Katelyn Porter, Project Manager
Maghan Cheesbrough, Agency Broadcast Producer
Thomas Shadoff, Media Director
Alex Gillespie, Media Buyer

Total 1989 Words


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):October 14-18, 2015
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: October 14, 2015
Base Period as a Benchmark: October 1, 2015
Geographic Area: Canada - National
Budget for this effort: $500,000 - $1 million

Why should this case win in the category (ies) you have entered?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been misleading Canadians on the campaign trail, suggesting that Justin Trudeau would cancel pension splitting for seniors – a popular tax saving program that seniors counted on. It simply wasn’t true and Trudeau was working hard to correct the story with the media and on the campaign trail.

Harper had a solid hold on the critical seniors vote. Seniors are an important demographic because they actually make the effort to show up and cast a ballot, more than any other.

Then, two weeks before the election, Harper took his story into TV and radio ads.

After five days of Conservative attack ads running at heavy weights, the Liberal Party decided that it was time to fight back - with advertising.

We were briefed nine days before the election. We developed, produced and seeded a video that was so honest it removed any hint of believability in Harper’s story. It reached further, exposing both the manipulation and the manipulator, for deceiving vulnerable seniors. The “Hazel” ad was funny, which political ads rarely are, and it went viral. In less than 1 week, the polling swung 19 points, moving the important seniors vote from Harper to Trudeau.

a) Describe the Client’s business, competition and relevant history:

Justin Trudeau was a long shot at the outset of the 2015 election.  When Stephen Harper called the election, Trudeau was in third place, behind Tom Mulcair’s NDP and Harper’s Conservatives.  A Conservative campaign had successfully positioned him as “Just Not Ready” to lead. 

Throughout the 78-day election, Trudeau ran a campaign of positive politics and successfully engaged voters with a hopeful plan for a better, more inclusive Canada. 

Trudeau had momentum, but in the last week before an election anything can happen

Harper had a strong hold on the seniors’ vote throughout the campaign.  So when he started running fear-mongering attack ads designed to frighten seniors, there was a very real risk to our campaign.

Seniors are a powerful group because they show up and cast a ballot more reliably than any other demographic. In the 2011 election, 75.1% of seniors, aged 65-74 cast a ballot – more than twice as many as 18-24 year olds, with 38.8% voter participation. 

Fear is a powerful tool. To understand the levers Harper was using, you need to understand seniors in Canada.  According to CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons), 25% of seniors today live in poverty. The mere possibility of more financial stress left pensioners confused and frightened.

Trudeau was working hard to correct the story on the hustings, but most people truly don’t follow politics that closely. As long as Harper was running ads suggesting that Trudeau would put them in worse financial straits, we were in jeopardy. 

b) Describe the Client’s Business Issues/Opportunities to be addressed by the campaign:

Convince voters that Trudeau will not cancel pension splitting for seniors. 

c) Resulting Business Objectives: Include how these will be measured:
Secure seniors support in order to win the election.

a) What new learnings/insights did you uncover?

People complain about the frustration of decoding political messaging.  One candidate says one thing is true; the other candidate says the opposite.  In this case, we were opposing the Right Honourable Stephen Harper.  Whether you like him or not, he carries the credibility of the Office of the Prime Minister.  We had to be more believable than that.

To help people understand the manipulation, we likened it to those phone scams seniors get. This gets to character.  In an election that became a question of values - and defining Canadian values - manipulating vulnerable seniors didn’t meet the values that Canadians had now prioritized. 

We were nine days out from the election, so awareness would have to be built incredibly quickly.  A video that went viral would strategically be our best solution given the time constraints.

Humour was part of the strategic thinking. Humour is used often in other categories for videos that need to be highly sharable, but politicians rarely use humour because of the risks of it not landing or being taken seriously, opening them up to criticism. 

b) What was your Big Idea?

Saturday October 10th, 8:50am. We presented the big idea as the script.  We’d expose Harper’s story as a manipulative deception of seniors, conveyed by trustworthy senior Hazel McCallion. She’d not only call Harper out for being dishonest, she’d ultimately represent seniors’ empowerment.

c) How did your Communication strategy evolve?

Campaign strategy evolved on a real-time basis.  This is how election campaigns work. 

Saturday October 10th, 6:30am (Thanksgiving weekend). The clients sent a brief looking to use advertising to tackle Harper’s deception about pension splitting for seniors. Forty-six percent of Canadians believed that Trudeau said he would cancel pension splitting for seniors. We had to dispel the myth, quickly.

By this point in the 2015 campaign, we’d been working so closely with Trudeau and his team that we had a shared belief of what was required and would be effective with voters.  We agreed humour would be the antidote to lies and manipulation, and could help us quickly break through the clutter. 

d) How did you anticipate the communication would achieve the Business Objectives?

We planned to seed the ad in Trudeau’s strong social media channels.  Humour is a strong determinant of virality, and we expected reach through shares. 

We cast the former Mayor, Hazel McCallion expecting she would be seen as more believable than Stephen Harper and that her authority would rise above political rhetoric and be the last word on the issue.

We expected the video would expose Harper’s lie for seniors, but also more broadly demonstrate for all voters, the manipulative tactics he was using.

Even after all the efforts to expose the deception in earned media and on the campaign trail, we were now relying on the ad to cut through and get our message across: show seniors that Harper was indeed misleading them, that Trudeau could be trusted to leave pension splitting intact. 

Section IV — THE WORK
a) How, where and when did you execute it?

34087_HazelWe spent the weekend and Thanksgiving Monday organizing the shoot and working with Hazel’s team to bring her on-board.  We shot with Hazel in her office on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving … in just 27 minutes! We edited later that evening and tested the ad immediately in Vancouver groups, where the time change worked in our favour.  We posted the ad the next morning, Wednesday, first through Trudeau’s social channels.

We ran on television in Blue Jays baseball playoffs that afternoon.  The Hazel ad became part of the news cycle that night.

c) Media Plan Summary

Wednesday October 14th: seed in Justin Trudeau’s social media channels

Wednesday October 14 – Sunday October 18: available national media to reach a broad group of Canadians watching TV, including baseball.  The Blue Jays were in the playoffs and everyone was watching. They weren’t just Toronto’s team, Canadians were all getting behind the Blue Jays and viewership was high.

a) How did the work impact attitudes and behaviour?

In less than a week, Conservative vote intention by seniors dropped 11%, from 48% to 37%. Liberal vote intention rose 8% from 30% to 38%. An incredible 19-point swing in just one week, from Conservative to Liberal!  After months of handily owning the support of seniors in the election, Trudeau’s Liberals became the preferred party.


b) What Business Results did the work achieve for the client?

Trudeau didn’t just win the election; he won a 184-seat majority and made history. 

It was the first time a third place leader rose to the Prime Minister’s Office in a single election. 

It was the largest ever seat gain in Canada, adding 150 seats to the 34 seats the Liberals had after the 2011 election.

It was the first time in history that a party doubled its share of the popular vote, from 18.9% in 2011 to 39.5%. 

c) Other Pertinent Results

More Canadians voted in 2015, with 69% of Canadians casting a ballot, up from 61% in the 2011. This election reversed a stubborn two-decade long trend, indicating that the crisis of declining civic engagement may in fact have ended.

There’s been much news and excitement about the increase in youth voter participation in 2015, but it was, in fact, a broader trend. Even seniors were more inclined to vote in 2015.  Voter participation rose from the 2011 election from 75.1% to 78.8% among those 65-74.

d) What was the campaign’s Return on Investment?

It is impossible to calculate an ROI for a political campaign.   The impact of a successful election can’t be measured in share-gains or cases-shipped.  It’s less than a year since Trudeau’s unexpected victory.  In this time, he boldly defined by example what it means to be fair and inclusive.  He introduced a gender-balanced cabinet, a wake-up call to governments and boardrooms alike - because its 2016

To help Canada’s struggling middle-class, he introduced his planned middle-class tax cut, the new Canada Child Benefit and increased taxes for the wealthiest Canadians.

The government is actively investing billions with the provinces to fix our aging infrastructure and boost our economy.

Trudeau welcomed our newest Canadians, 25,000 Syrian refugees, personally greeting many of them.  At the same time, he prioritized re-setting relations with Canada’s indigenous communities, launching the Missing Murdered and Indigenous Women inquiry, accepting recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, investing in indigenous education, health and badly-needed infrastructure. 

And, he didn’t cancel pension splitting for seniors, just as he promised.

Trudeau’s popularity has continued to climb. A Forum Poll released this month showed that “if an election were held today”, Trudeau would have 50% support, 72% of the seats in the House of Commons and an unbeatable super-majority of 246 seats.


We have to dispense with the idea of a honeymoon romance between Canadians and their new government; this has become a stable marriage, one in which both parties are well past the blushing bride and groom stage, and are starting to work together for a secure future" said Forum Research President, Dr. Lorne Bozinoff.


Section VI — Proof of Campaign Effectiveness
a) Illustrate the direct cause and effect between the campaign and the results

We tested the ad in research groups in Mississauga and Vancouver. By the evening Vancouver group, we had a final edited ad.  It did exactly what we hoped.

A third to a half of Vancouverites were familiar with the former Mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, but truly it didn’t matter.  They saw her as a feisty senior calling out Harper for lying. “Just a nice old lady who is telling me things I should know.” It was well understood, not as an attack, but as a clarification. 

And, they understood it on two levels, that Harper wasn’t telling the truth about pension-splitting for seniors, and also that he might be lying about more things. 

The Hazel ad did indeed go viral.  It gained over 50,000 unpaid social views in the first half hour.  It became the first or second trending topic on Facebook for almost 3 days. All views were organic. And, to date, it has well over 6 million total unpaid social media views.


The media and pollsters who were closely observing the campaign noted the Hazel effect:

In a major development, the weekend’s surveys reveal a late but significant movement to the Liberals, particularly by seniors.


At 36 points, the Liberals have a four-point lead over the Conservatives nationally, but with strong support in Ontario, the party appears poised to recapture power. It may end up being that Hurricane Hazel — former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion — was a key force in both of these movements. She became a force in the last days of the election campaign with a widely televised advertisement staring down “Stephen” and saying she’s not scared.

Source: iPolitics, Frank Graves, October 19, 2015


b) Prove the results were not driven by other factors
Campaign spend vs. history and competition:

It would be a terrible thing for democracy if advertising was the only factor that contributed to an election win.

There was certainly building momentum for Trudeau overall in those last weeks. And yes, Trudeau was making his case for not canceling pension splitting as he had been through the campaign, but there had been  no, or little change in seniors’ vote intention. But during those last 5 days, Wedneday October 14th to Sunday October 18th, something different began to happen. It was the “Hazel” ad that really broke through.

There was really no other factor that could have contributed to such a massive swing in the senior vote in a span of just a few days.  

Pre-existing Brand momentum:




Changes in Distribution/Availability:


Unusual Promotional Activity:


Any other factors: