Category Archives: Obama

a tale of two spokespeople

The use of celebrity spokespeople in ad campaigns in lieu of a real idea seems to be on the wane, which is a good thing. Chalk it up to the growing sophistication of the audience, which would rather know what their friends and peers think of a product than a bought and paid for shill.

Still, you see them, and if you watch Mad Men, you see them a lot. Especially John Slattery (Roger Sterling) for Lincoln. On paper (or PowerPoint) this looks like a good choice: guy who used to be dusty, now of the moment; solid Establishment type with a rebellious streak; a guy who you could plausibly see behind the wheel of this car (unlike, say, the crazy-ass choice of Tiger Woods for Buick a few years back).

But what a waste. Basically, they use Slattery as the world’s most expensive extra and hand-model. He has almost no lines. We see him in the distance, in shadow, from behind–like he was in a Witness Protection program, not starring in a TV commercial. Here’s a few examples:

Who is that guy? What is he hiding?

That very tiny man on the left would be Roger.

Underexposure is not Sam Waterston‘s problem in the TD Ameritrade campaign. He is the campaign–him and a big honking logo. No, his problem is that the company’s owner, Joe Ricketts, was revealed to be a batshit-crazy, hate-mongering wingnut. Eager to join such great Americans as the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, Ricketts was ready to open up his checkbook to run a rancid screed linking President Obama to Rev. Wright–a spot so noxious and inflammatory that even Mitt Romney felt compelled to condemn it (after the storyboard was leaked to the New York Times).

In a delicious reversal from the usual order of things, client bad behavior was dinging the spokesperson’s brand rather than the other way around. A brief read of Waterston’s bio suggests that he himself is sane, educated and moderately progressive in his views. And his other advertising activities include work for the Nation. Waterston, obviously recruited to TD Ameritrade as the rock-ribbed symbol of virtue and probity, must have had his lawyers looking closely to see if there was an escape clause in his contract last week. Even in these morally ambivalent times, this cannot be what he signed up for .

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Compared to what?

Watching McCain last night demanding regime change from the status quo when the status quo was standing right in front of him, got me thinking about comparisons.

Advertisers love comparisons, and with good reason: they work. Comparing your product to something else puts its worth in context. It’s what consumers do anyway–you’re just helping them along.

Less sophisticated marketers do literal and heavy-handed comparisons to branded competitors, accompanied by lawyered-up copy and disclaimers, and consumers hate them for it. Even the incredibly deft Mac/PC ads get their share of blowback from people who consider them mean-spirited. (BTW–it’s amazing to me no one’s done the Obama/McCain version of these would seem like a YouTube no-brainer…)

But the most sophisticated marketers, like P&G and some (largely Republican) political strategists, have grasped the deeper, more insidious truth:

It doesn’t matter who or what you compare yourself to, as long as the comparison is in your favor.

Years ago, I worked on P&G’s Puffs Tissues business. The client was absolutely insistent on a side-by-side demo in the advertising for their “new and improved” product, even though Puffs had no visible, demonstrable difference vs. Kleenex. We didn’t even have a good comparison to the older, “unimproved” version of Puffs. Finally, the R&D folks at Procter pointed out that Puffs were, in fact, puffed up with air as their final step in manufacturing, so why not compare them to the unpuffed (that is to say, the unfinished) version? The result: a visual of a stack of Puffs towering over a sad short stack of unpuffed Puffs. And of course, it worked like a charm.

John McCain’s handlers hope the same will hold true with their candidate. Comparisons with Barack Obama are not necessarily advantageous, so why not use the departing administration, which very nicely fits the “big-spending, me-first, do-nothing” requirements, as the foil? Who cares if they’re Republican? They’re un-Puffed!

Thanks to AD Kim “Crazy Fingers” Magher for the Photoshop work.