Over close to 15 years now, I’ve volunteered and worked on many political campaigns. I’ve been involved in campaigns at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, in three provinces, three leadership campaigns (two of which were national) and I’ve even put my name on the ballot twice. In all that time, I’ve been blessed to learn a lot and to have some amazing mentors who taught me so much about campaigns, from the day to day basics, to the high-level strategy, to everything in between.

When it comes to campaigns, I’ll admit I’m a total geek; I love to study campaigns, see what worked, what didn’t and I’m always interested in new ideas and techniques. I’m a big believer in keeping an open mind to new ideas and technologies because I just believe we never know it all. Maybe it goes back to my training as a teacher, but I’m a big believer in life long learning.

So today I saw two things come through my social media feeds that spoke to both sides of the learning curve; one example of a cool idea from a campaign and another a simple lesson on why certain dirty tricks just don’t work and aren’t worth it. First for the cool innovation, this one coming from the States:

Branding is such a big part of modern campaigns and having brand consistency is something that campaigns really tend to harp on. There is all kinds of evidence to back that approach up, and it’s not one I tend to argue with; frankly I’m a pretty strong adherent to it. But today I saw this story about the campaign of Democratic Presidential Primary Candidate Pete Buttigieg, the young Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. His campaign is one that has been picking up steam has he’s come from nowhere to being firmly on the political radar, raising lots of money and profile. So far, it’s been a well-run campaign.

On Sunday he formally launched his bid, and in doing so, added an interesting twist into his approach. On his website, his team created an online design tool kit that allows people to go and design their own customized signs that can be used for anything; for social media, on lawn signs, or any other way they can come up with to use them. The tool gives people a choice of logos and then different colour pallets to choose from. This approach is one that is revolutionary in a way, as it basically gives up control over some of the biggest parts of a campaigns branding to the people to do as they wish. No central control over the sign you bring to the rally or make a sign for your lawn that fits you better while showing your support.

So, if you prefer your sign to the in “Rust Belt”, “Truman Brown” or any other colour, that’s totally your call. This could be a model that others follow or it could be the modern rule that proves why brand control is so important. Time will tell but this is a very interesting experiment to watch, one that I think has the potential to be successful and sends the right messages about a campaign, the candidate and his approach.

But along with good examples in this world come some pretty bad ones, and todays bad example comes from the Alberta election. One of the constant frustrations in campaigns can be the destruction or theft of campaign signs, big and small. Campaigns spend thousands of dollars on those signs and when they are stolen or destroyed by vandals, it comes at a considerable cost to campaigns to replace them. In the current Alberta election, this has also been the case but just as this election has been very tense with a lot of anger out there, this has also translated over to signs.

Every day in my social media feed I’ve seen pictures from the Wild Rose province of NDP signs being destroyed, defaced with racists and ignorant messages and stories about signs going missing while Conservative ones stay in place. Every campaign I’ve ever been on we’ve seen some variation of these stories, but admittedly not as intense as is happening in Alberta this spring. Of course, because of the value of these signs you can call the police to report it, but normally those calls go nowhere because there is no evidence of who did it, and many times the blame for these cases get laid at the feet of teenagers.

In the past I’ve heard stories of people doing some of this dirty work as a campaign strategy to try to hurt their opponents. When I’ve given training to candidates and campaign workers, I’ve always said to not to this kind of stuff because it will blow up in your face. And it was that training that was running through my head this morning as I saw this social media post from Red Deer, which has seen more than its fair share of sign vandalism in this campaign. This post really does speak for itself:

Hmmm…. You can check out the full video here but it looks like it wasn’t a teenager stealing signs this time, right? Hey, at least a teenager would probably have known about the possibility of homes in the neighbourhood having doorbell cameras to catch them in the act. But that was something that this sign thief obviously didn’t think about, as they were caught in glorious colour. I’m sure that the police will appreciate this video and should go a long way to ensuring that someone gets arrested this time.

But in the meantime, as I said before, when you try to play these kinds of dirty tricks, many times they blow up in your face and do the party you support more damage than any good the trick would have gotten you. We’ll see if this person learns their lesson here, but at least I hope that others see it and decide they don’t want to be “that guy” in the future.