Political Advertising

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A new web site by Ben and Jerry's is lobbying against corporate lobbyists and big money donors.

A new web site by Ben and Jerry's is lobbying against corporate lobbyists and big money donors.

A week after ranting about the politicization of absolutely everything, I find myself ranting again. My Facebook page hasn’t gotten any less political, but it has gotten muddled. Tonight I noticed a paid Facebook ad, promoted by Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, asking for help to Get The Dough Out of Politics. Admirable, Don Quixotic thought, but also a little like trying to make water less wet. What’s more, there are a few contradictions here.

There has been a lot of sound and fury lately about whether corporations are people. The video for Get The Dough Out of Politics helps answer this. A lot of passionate individuals, men and women, young and old, speak to the issue of campaign finance reform. They all are employees who work for two guys named Ben and Jerry, who happen to be a decent sized corporation that makes really fine ice cream. So, yes, corporations are people who have livelihoods tied to common business interests. Sometimes companies or entire industries hire lobbyists and contribute funds to political campaigns to support candidates and programs that advance their business interests.

Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that Ben and Jerry’s would like to see overturned by constitutional amendment, ruled that such corporate efforts, including paid lobbying and political advertising, is free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Ben and Jerry’s and I share a common opinion that it is imperative to protect the free speech of U.S. citizens. Ben and Jerry’s thinks to do so, we must drive money out of the equation. However, they are paying for ads and videos to advance that cause. I am glad to see them exercising their own right to corporate free speech as protected by Citizens United. Actually, I am glad to see anyone investing in anything at the moment.

As Ben and Jerry’s would quickly point out, they are just two peace-loving guys who also love to make ice cream and occasional questionable marketing decisions. In other words, there is a world of difference between them and the Koch Brothers, who the Left is convinced is capable of buying elections. The Koch Brothers are popular targets — Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow play thinly veiled versions of them in the wildly funny film, The Campaign. Meanwhile, those on the Right lodge the same complaints about George Soros.

Money does buy political messaging and it is ripe for abuse. But it costs a lot to run political campaigns. And not all political messaging is bad. I am sure Ben and Jerry’s is convinced of the purity of its purpose. The problem is that every time Washington DC introduces campaign finance reform, they seldom get it right. They make the process cumbersome. Political committees figure out workarounds (Super Pacs).  And the danger grows that free speech will be eliminated (it can’t be for just the other guy — federal laws cut both ways). I’ve heard others suggest that the way to approach this is to introduce full transparency — make it a requirement to disclose who is contributing to which candidates and how much. However, to that thought, in this political season, personal contributors (not corporations) to one candidate have been targeted in advertising and with questionable allegations about them made by the other candidate. Naturally, the result has been personal harrassment. Money, power, full disclosure, and dirty politics. What a mess.

Might be time for some new Ben and Jerry’s flavors — Campaign Cashew and Freedom Brittle.

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Last week, I wrote about how even something that we could seemingly all agree upon — fighting cancer —has become politicized. Specifically, how cancer has been divided between cancer types in an effort to attract the most fundraising. Here is the latest on the Susan G. Komen fund’s attempt to recover from its dust-up with Planned Parenthood.

This week, I was struck by a different realization. It used to be that politics and religion were the two off-limit subjects that most people kept in different compartments. Separation of church and state. But since part of the health care debate over the Affordable Care Act has meant staking out coverages and beliefs on sensitive social issues such as birth control and abortion, including at religious-based employers, things have gotten a lot messier.

Personally, I follow politics and don’t mind the free flow of information, but I am suddenly finding myself completely campaign fatigued by the sheer volume of messages, including in some unlikely places. Technically the unofficial start of the Presidential race isn’t until after Labor Day. Right.

Here’s a rundown of places that have now become fair game to insert politics.

Mailbox — Been that way for a long time, but the number of political mailings between now and Election Day will become a tidal wave. And a boon for recycling centers.

Emailbox — The fundraising appeals keep piling up in direct proportion to all the forwarded hot button emailings from friends and family. Some of these are gems. But others turn out to be purposely slanted by their original creators, passed along by hordes of others, and easily dispelled via Snopes.com and similar sites.  The flip side of viral is that too often it is accompanied by a fever and aches and pains.

Airports (And Diners, Restaurants, Bars, etc.) — Because of its 24-hour news format, CNN has become the de facto wallpaper of digital screens everywhere. Even as its overall ratings are in decline. When a major news event actually occurs, people tune in. Otherwise, the round-the-clock talking heads nature of CNN gets into perpetual politics and tends to lead many places to turn the sound way down.

Cabs, Gas Pumps, Bank Drive-Throughs — More screens everywhere. And most play syndicated networks featuring comedy, entertainment news, and sometimes community events. However, I found it really odd that my bank drive-through recently featured news about the Occupy Wall Street movement, given that one of the movement’s goals is to bash and punish banks.

Home Phones, Mobile Phones— The robocalls are coming. If you haven’t heard from candidates or pollsters, it must be because you keep your phones unplugged, on silent, and out of earshot.

Warning: Morning Joe has been politicized and I don't mean Scarborough.

Warning: Morning Joe has been politicized and I don't mean Scarborough.

Beverages — My stop for coffee on the way to the office led to the following eye-opener as pictured in this week’s blog. 7-Eleven has evidently been running this unique promotion during the last three Presidential campaigns. (I must have strictly been hitting Wawa and Starbucks four years ago, because I don’t remember it).  Anyway, now when you purchase a cup with your candidate’s name on it, you are voting in the convenience store chain’s mock election (forget delegates, primaries, registered voters, and Electoral College — this is as much caffeine/ballot box stuffing as you can handle for the next two months). According to 7-Eleven, their coffee cup voting promotion has been right in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Maybe we should give up on voter ID and just register with our favorite barista.

With apologies to Green Day, wake me when November ends.



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Advertising is all about beautiful people (aka supermodels), looking beautiful, acting beautiful, and being beautiful while using the sponsor’s product. While this type of advertising is easy on the eyes, there is so much, it can become like wallpaper, blending into the background, barely attracting attention. This week, a new presidential campaign tv ad launched that so jarringly broke the beauty mold that it was all that every media pundit has focused on ever since. I’m talking about Herman Cain’s Smoking Man spot.

The Smoking Man (not to be confused with that mysterious X Files figure) is actually Cain’s Chief of Staff, Mark Block, who while delivering a weirdly cadenced but believably impassioned endorsement of his boss, proceeds to literally blow smoke, because he is enjoying a cigarette outside.

What is going on here? How can a man responsible for helping his boss project a positive, electable image allow himself to be videotaped matter-of-factly puffing on a cigarette. Commentators across the political spectrum, almost in unison, wondered aloud why he would set such a bad example for young people. Hint: it wasn’t by accident!

It is hard to stun people in 2011, but amazingly, this ad has managed to move the meter off the chart. The question is why? Cigarettes are a legal product. They appear often in popular entertainment (films, tv shows, and music videos). Our current president has been known to sneak outside the White House to light up. So, why is this ad so surprising?

It’s been a ridiculously long time since anyone in a tv ad smoked (except for an anti-smoking PSA). And cigarettes while legal are perhaps the most heavily regulated products on the market (with even more regulations proposed). And now, we’re getting to the crux of this message — the current regulatory and capriciously restrictive environment of the United States. At a time when people on the right, left, and in the center are fed up with feelings of powerlessness, it is strangely liberating to see a man in a tv ad smoking a cigarette. It is un-PC. It is unhealthy. It is unnervingly appealing in a defy the nanny-state way.

Already the spot’s YouTube page has attracted nearly one million visitors. Less than 10,000 have weighed in to “like” or “dislike”, but the dislikes are running well ahead, not exactly a scientific poll, but a trend nonetheless.

It is too early to tell whether this is a spark for the Cain campaign or just a weird reminder that America is still free even if the Marlboro Man isn’t allowed to ride the broadcast range anymore.

Update: Election year news cycles are notoriously short. It’s exactly one week later and Mr. Cain is dealing with fire instead of smoke this week. So far, the sexual harassment allegations are sketchy, but the candidate’s handling of the media questioning has been spotty at best. Consistency and accuracy of story is critical when it comes to crisis PR.  If you believe the old adage that this is no BAD PR, Mr. Cain has had two news-dominating weeks.

When is the last time you saw a man smoke a cigarette in a TV spot?

When is the last time you saw a man smoke a cigarette in a TV spot?

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One horse town? Philadelphia is a one party town.

One horse town? Philadelphia is a one party town.

This has been quite a week for political junkies, locally and nationally.  I haven’t found much that is entertaining in politics for quite awhile. However, two separate video clips really lifted my spirits with humor, intentional and otherwise.

First up is a major shakeup in an otherwise predictable mayoral race in Philadelphia. That is the intent of the ad — to undermine the status quo of a one-party town and the slumber of the opposition, which phones it in every election cycle. Well, John Featherman wanted to be sure that people knew he was running as a Republican and that he is interested in helping to bringing about change. His campaign team has put together a satirical viral video that may never see a broadcast buy. It has already done its job, though, generating coverage on all the local media and national exposure through the Drudge Report.

Kudos to Mr. Featherman. If you can remember the last time Philadelphia and Republican were mentioned in the same sentence, you know that this video has delivered the goods. I am sure Mr. Featherman knows that it is by itself not a game changer (there is barely a mention of the candidate, his platform, his bio, etc.), but he is now on everyone’s radar screen.

As for the national 2012 presidential campaign, which has begun in early and bizarre fashion with Donald Trump trumping the other prospective Republican candidates by grabbing daily headlines over President Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (or lack thereof). That story has had its own strange trajectory, including news from the governor of Hawaii promising to put this matter to rest once and for all earlier this year (he didn’t, thus setting up the Donald to revive it).

Regardless of what you think of the birth certificate angle, or the real estate mogul’s presidential chances, Trump could not have been too excited by this announcement via YouTube Video.

This may be Gary Busey’s revenge for getting fired on The Apprentice last week.  Or the launch of a new show, “When Reality Stars Attack.”

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Our agency has never done political advertising (maybe because our principals are split evenly along Republican and Democratic lines), but political campaigns have long been an interest of mine. In my junior high years, I won a social studies class contest by coming closest to guessing the electoral college results for the Nixon-Humphrey race. My prize? A Hershey bar, which I regrettably put in my pocket for later (I was always better at history than science).
Around that time, three of us had solidified our friendship by hanging around the Ardmore business district, collecting giveaways from the local campaign offices of both parties and visiting a small shop on a side street that sold a curious mix of hippie gear and collectibles from yesteryear, including what we found instantly fascinating — political buttons. It was the launch of a new pastime — collecting political buttons, a passion that I haven’t kept up in adult life, but I still have the small collection as a connection to my youth.
Among the gems my friends and I uncovered were a Landon-Knox sunflower button from 1936, a lucky (no one indicated good or bad luck) Hoover coin from just before the Depression (good for four more years of posterity), and many political statements from the time (a Nixon “Now More Than Ever” button and a photo button of Spiro Agnew, which simply read “Keep Nixon Alive”). Later, family friends and relatives learned of my interest and gave me great additions. My favorite was from my Uncle Jack, who was Commissioner of Port Everglades at the time. He brought back a delegate key from the Republican National Convention of 1972.

Campaigning For President

Campaigning For President

Recently, I acknowledged (I no longer celebrate) my birthday and my family gave me a terrific gift — Campaigning for President, subtitled Memorabilia From The Nation’s Finest Private Collection, by Jordan M. Wright. Clearly, the button-collecting bug bit Jordan in a much more serious way than it did me. I highly recommend this Smithsonian Books edition, because it is full of rich and colorful history. Every page vividly illustrates that we have always been dealing with many of the same issues we still deal with today. As they say, politics ain’t beanbag, and the gloves haven’t recently come off, because they were never on in the first place. The battle for the American presidency has always been a bare-knuckled brawl.
Here are a few entertaining examples. Buy Mr. Wright’s book and enliven your coffee table (and dinner table conversations):

William McKinley, 1896.

This flip-over doll purported to answer the question whether William McKinley fathered a child out of wedlock.

William Garfield, 1880

A William Garfield mechanical toy thumbing his nose at the opposition.

William McKinley again, 1896.

This paper hanger oddly links William McKinley with a little girl looking none-too-happy perched on a chamber pot.

William Jennings Bryan, 1896.

William Taft went after William Jennings Bryan for his endless, deadly-dull speeches using this toy coffin.

William Taft, 1908.

Forget debating weighty issues. Go after your heavier opponent like William Jennings Bryan did running against a rotund William Taft.

Franklin Roosevelt, 1936.

Thirty years before Mad magazine adopted and named him, Alfred E. Newman was created to illustrate the obliviousness of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s supporters.

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