Metro column: Campaign missing the mark
An election is the ultimate exercise in personal branding.
If you try to be something you are not, people will figure it out pretty quickly and you’ll see your vote totals affected accordingly.
Most of the candidates in this election have this down to a science. Ric McIver for nine years has been the common sense-style conservative. He pledges to cut spending and ensure we are only paying taxes for necessary items. He doesn’t stray from this mould very often.
Barb Higgins is a friendly face who Calgarians have invited into their living rooms nightly for years as a respected newscaster. On the campaign trail, Higgins is friendly and always happy to have a conversation. In the style of a television journalist with only a minute and a half for a story, her manner is very frank and she cuts to the chase.
Naheed Nenshi is the professor, the guy with the ideas. He knows what he’s talking about and how those things apply to Calgarians. He talks about city hall as only an outsider with intense understanding of the inner workings can.
As any first-year marketing student knows, candidates can’t play against their brand. It’s called “going with your strengths.”
This is why the behaviour of the Bob Hawkesworth campaign has been so bizarre this past week.
Even more than Ald. Gord Lowe or Ald. Dale Hodges, Hawkesworth has been city council’s statesman. You may not always agree with him, but he’s always willing to explain his position and why his view is important. In the meantime, he’d pick apart opponents’ positions with sound logic in a stern, matter-of-fact tone. He’ll put his thoughts up against anyone’s and let the best argument win.
He’s our Uncle Bob.
However, this past week his campaign has gone in a direction I doubt anyone saw coming.
They began attacking all three candidates ahead of him in the polls using clipped videos, anti-candidate websites and attempting to boil down complex issues to “you’re either with me, or you’re against me.”
The new direction is so striking that it turned off many election followers. I can only imagine it is turning off some of his long-time fans, too.
The contrast is not the Bob we all have grown to know and respect: A man always willing to listen and explain why he disagrees with you. Now people who disagree get shouted down by his campaign team.
But Hawkesworth himself still isn’t behaving this way. In each forum he’s been a feisty man of grace, steadily setting himself apart from the others by taking principled stands on issues that often don’t prove popular.
One can only hope his campaign finds the right balance soon. Otherwise the election might not be the only thing Uncle Bob loses.