Failures On The Grey Edge: The NPA

November 19, 2014

The main problem for the NPA in the 2014 Vancouver municipal election was the fact that they had wasted a year, at least, of getting ready.  The brand has had a bit of a bad smell for a decade. The Sullivan-Anton-Michael Davis years were full of terrible decisions, oppressive policies, and electoral decline.  The unexpected BC Liberal election victory swept up Sam Sullivan and Suzanne Anton, leaving the battered NPA free to rebuild.

It should have been obvious that they needed to rebrand right then and there, especially as the left opposition was failing to regroup as an anti-Vision bloc in advance of the election, and many were looking to place their support. It is not like the NPA were not told. But they didn’t do anything.

They waited through last winter and then through the first half of this year, and did nothing.They were told over and over again that to beat Gregor Robertson, the NPA needed to get their person into the field early and running for name recognition.  No, they said. We don’t want to give Vision the chance to maul our candidate over so many months.

By this summer, during that rather embarrasing period when the still un-named new mayoral candidate took time to look over his team, they were still the old NPA that no-one wanted to touch with a barge pole. And when they announced the name of their choice, it was Kirk who?  He was interesting but not immediately mesmerizing — and completely unknown. So now they had two months to sell a worthy but unexciting unknown to a population that thinks civic campaigns should start just a day or two before the polls open.  So the early sales pitches for Kirk went unheard by those who needed to be moved.

Kirk LaPointe and Doug Leung and others behind the campaign did the best they could. They managed to raise a fighting fund large enough to match Vision;s advertizing, and Kirk did well in the debates — but not well enough.

Kirk came across as earnest, well-meaning, intelligent and a quick learner, But he never did learn how to give a rousing speech. I went to one event where the speech was exciting and well written and should have been given like a triumphant gospel preacher.  Instead, Kirk delivered it in a rather low-key way, with lowered tones where roaring crescendos were called for.

The failure to get a candidate out there early and often was a strategic error.  Another was the apparent lack of concern about the Vancouver First Party.  The NPA were clearly worried about the effect of Bob Kasting’s candidacy for Mayor. In fact, as the October 17th deadline approached for candidates to withdraw from the race, the NPA put on a full court press to try to get Kasting to pull the plug (which he did anyway later, to little effect).  As an early endorser of Kasting for Mayor, I was subject to a lot of pressure to get Bob to pull out of the contest. I know others were too.

But when the NPA were asked at the same time what they were doing about Vancouver First, they generally pooh-poohed the very idea that V1 was an issue at all.  But in the end, it was conservative vote splitting, from the NPA to the more radical Van First, that lost them a share of controlling Council.


  • the use of the angry white man’s voice on some TV ads was a mistake.  The ads were much improved with Kirk’s more moderate tone;
  • the overall need to concentrate on Kirk LaPointe’s lack of recognition led to a downplaying of the rest of the NPA Council team. In my opinion, they each should have been given a campaign plank to sell; something to hang their hat on and get known for.  The difference in votes between the last few Vision successes and the highest of the NPA failures was quite small.  Had more work been done on selling the members of the team, that might have been eradicated;
  • the release of the campaign donors did no real harm to the NPA, but didn’t help it either:  Peter Armstrong was simply this year’s Rob McDonald in people’s minds.

In the end, according to a lot of people I have talked to since the election, a lot of it came down to trust and optimism.  So many told me that they just couldn’t hold their nose long enough to vote for NPA, there was a lack of trust in the brand.  They also seemed swayed by Vision’s optimism which they compared — unfairly in my judgement — to NPA more dour expression.

Kirk LaPointe made a lot of promises about how a new NPA administration would work, stressing transparency, accountability, collaboration with the neighbourhoods.  If the NPA of 2018 want to break through the trust barrier, their reps on City Council had better live up to the LaPointe hype.  However, if we see a lot of 10 – 1 votes (with the NPA bloc voting with Vision) on controversial developments, their future is guaranteed to be as flawed as their past.

Pizza Branding

November 19, 2014

pizza hutI was in marketing for quite a while before I retired. I still have a fascination with the art of marketing, and applaud when it is done well.  So I am a sucker for “insider” stories about major brand renewals, such as that happening at market-leader but aging Pizza Hut. has a great piece on how Pizza Hut is moving to a fourth rebranding in less than two decades. The campaign is being led by Deutsch LA, the same group that just completed the Taco Bell revamp.

The logo, the menu, the customer audience, black as the new red, even the buildings themselves have come under the re-design microscope. Jared Drinkwater, Pizza Hut’s VP of Marketing says:

“If you look at the trends in food among young consumers, it’s about flavor exploration. We felt like nobody was doing that in pizza.”

He shakes off any idea that Pizza Hut is going upscale:

“If you think about the cast iron in the pans in the back of our restaurant, it has that gritty look. And we think, from a design perspective, the food pops really nicely.”

Time will tell.

How Will We Die?

November 19, 2014

I was drawn to the World Health Organization’s recently published “The Global Burden of Disease:  2004 Update” through David Kenner’s review article in Foreign Policy.    The WHO’s report is a snapshot of the world’s health as of 2004.  From that, “using projections of economic growth and advances in medical treatment”, they extrapolate the leading causes of death in 2030.


It is interesting to me that the three causes expected to kill more people (heart disease, lung disease and traffic accidents) are each deaths by consumer choice in the use of fatty foods, tobacco, and automobiles.

I was surprised to see that tobacco consumption is expected to rise.  But then again, it is reasonable that developing nations should buckle under the full weight of tobacco advertising just as we did.  It is a pity that they can’t seem to skip that bit of our experience.  But Big Tobacco can make the stuff for as little as it needs to keep the wholesale price low, and governments quickly become addicted to the tobacco sales taxes they collect.  The guy on the street hardly stands a chance.

A final thought:  when you add up the cost of the world’s military, the tobacco and road transportation industries, and the unhealthy parts of agribusiness, it quickly becomes apparent that modern capitalism is in large part an economy of death.  I’m certain that is something we could change if we really wanted to.


First published:  December 2008

Echoes of Childhood

November 19, 2014

Echoes of Childhood_web