Campaign ’08: Power Play

The election’s heating up. The presidential candidates and their political parties are bombarding us with ads, most recently with millions of dollars worth of TV advertising during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. So in keeping with the spirit of the times, Adweek gave the assignment of selling the next president to the ad agency professionals.

For some, the exercise proved surprisingly difficult. When invited to participate, a handful of cds declined, saying they felt too strongly about one candidate over the other and couldn’t be objective. Others, despite the equal-opportunity situation, feared there would be repercussions from clients and/or colleagues. Of those who accepted the assignment, quite a few took a tongue-in-cheek approach, creating ads that satirize or mock the candidates and the state of politics today. This approach, says John Butler, executive creative director of Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, became more obvious to him as he dove into the project. “One way or another, someone’s going to get annoyed or offended if you take it seriously,” he says. “When you live out here [in Northern California] and you tell people you’re doing an ad for McCain, even if it’s an assignment for Adweek, you become the invisible man.”

Thanks to those who participated. We hope you enjoy the work in the Community Photo Gallery above and the video player channel on the right-hand side of this page.

CLICK ON THE LINKS TO READ MORE ABOUT EACH EFFORT:

Mike Byrne, Anomaly

John Butler, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

Peter Nicholson, Deutsch

Jamie Barrett, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Tom Amico, The Kaplan Thaler Group

Nick Law, R/GA

Scott Duchon, T.A.G.

Rob Schwartz, TBWA\Chiat\Day

Mike Byrne, Anomaly

“Rather than simply writing two executions on Senator McCain and Senator Obama, we decided to add a bit of this industry’s context in the mix,” says Mike Byrne, executive creative director at Anomaly. Taking a shot at themselves and the “establishment,” the shop drew a parallel between the old vs. new debates swirling around both presidential candidates as well as the ad business to create work for the presidential candidates. The work spoofs the name and logo of its own young shop and that of one of Madison Avenue’s oldest agencies, McCann Erickson. “Over 100 years of experience. It’s lasted a depression. Two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Civil Rights, Vietnam, an oil shock and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall,” explains Byrne. “Obamaly has a funny name, it is born of two continents and is largely untested. Great in the press, gives fantastic conference, and can inspire around the ideals of change and disruption.” Which is better for today? asks Byrne. “Do we need experience, a steady hand and a maverick of a day gone by or do we need new ideas, a serious dose of change, a smarter, sharper democracy, a new model?”

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John Butler, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

Barack “Obama doesn’t really have to run against John McCain,” says John Butler, executive cd at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. “All he has to do is run against the current administration.” So he and his agency team decided to spin the rhetoric of the GOP by creating a video that spoofs “Morning in America,” the famous 1984 ad created by the late Hal Riney for Ronald Reagan. It’s “to make the point that America is in rough shape today,” Butler explains. The spot opens with a sunrise and, like the classic, begins with a voiceover saying, “It’s morning again in America.” But instead of talking about how good the economy is, the ad points to the number of families that will lose their homes, rising unemployment, the number of Americans without healthcare and the cost of the war in Iraq. The spot ends with the voiceover saying, “It’s morning again in America, but it’s not too late to wake up.” For McCain, Butler says, “it’s all about choosing the right running mate.” To help the Republican candidate make that all-important choice, he says, the agency looked at recent history. “The evangelical vote can make or break a candidate,” says Butler. “George W. had 78 percent of the evangelical vote to Kerry’s 21 percent. McCain should just choose God as his running mate. He’d cinch it.” Executions would include a “God is my running mate” bumper sticker and buttons picturing the candidate with God-depicted as a white-haired, bearded old man-and the promise of “Leadership You Can Believe In.”

Credits: John Butler, executive creative director. Obama: Chris Bull, copywriter. McCain: Jay Lorenzini, art director.

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Peter Nicholson, Deutsch

“[Barack] Obama and [John] McCain have a lot in common,” says Peter Nicholson, partner and CCO at Deutsch. “They’ve both done a great job being simplistic candidates, appealing to the hearts not the brains of the American voters.” And both, he adds, have been subtle in their tactics. Which is why he decided to be direct, creating ads that show the candidates, “each in their own way, standing proud for what they believe.” For McCain, his POW status is highlighted in an Uncle Sam Army recruitment-style poster. “McCain has used his experience in Vietnam before for political gain, so why not continue to do it?” asks Nicholson. “There are many Americans who are undecided at this point and sympathy voters are ripe for the picking.” A Facebook application would invite voters to have a deeper interactive experience and join “McCain’s Army of Sympathizers.” As for the Democratic candidate, says Nicholson, he’s “all about popular culture.” The creative, a play on McCain’s “Celeb” ad comparing Obama to Paris Hilton, pairs the two as running mates. “Americans ogle him like a celebrity more than a candidate, and this seems to work for him,” explains Nicholson. “So forget [Hillary] Clinton and any other true politician for a running mate. … Obama/Hilton. That’s the ticket.” Voters would have a chance to choose a fantasy Cabinet through a Facebook app. Nicholson’s suggested celebrity choices for Cabinet posts include: Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Bob Dylan and Kobe Bryant.

Credits: Peter Nicholson, partner, chief creative officer.

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Jamie Barrett, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

“Political ads are stunningly bad, artless, humorless, small-minded, negative and formulaic,” says Jamie Barrett, cd and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Which is why, he explains, the team decided to “do what political advertising has done best, [which is to] use prejudice, bias and fear to great personal advantage.” One of his team’s ads has John McCain arguing that Barack Obama could be a terrorist from the Middle East, the other Obama exposing the “fact” that McCain is actually 174-years-old and, among other things, fought in the Spanish-American War. “We didn’t dig too deep for the two campaign strategies,” Barrett explains. “We just did what most voters do: We looked at pictures of the two candidates.” Two things leapt out at them, he says, which was McCain is old and Obama is not white. “Two attributes-sad, but true-that will cause certain people to vote against them,” Barrett adds. These spots, which can be seen at stunninglybad.com, would be posted on YouTube where “tens of millions of people will recognize their satirical quality and reevaluate how they consume political advertising,” says Barrett, “coming to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, they should pay less attention to the half-truths they see on commercials and think a little more for themselves.”

Credits: Jamie Barrett, creative director; Nick Spahr, art director; James Horner, executive producer.

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Tom Amico, The Kaplan Thaler Group

The team at The Kaplan Thaler Group took three different approaches to the assignment. One of the campaigns, which plays on the criticism both candidates have received regarding their ages, is pictured here. Tom Amico, cd, describes the “Bites”/”Sucks” print work as “the ultimate negative ad reduced to an indelible visual that conjures up each candidate’s vulnerability: youth for Obama and age for McCain.” Yes, he adds, “the ads are negative, but make you don a real un-Cindy McCain-like toothy grin!” Another execution consists of “Nobama” and “McCain’t” bumper stickers. “When you raise existing doubts about a candidate with their own names, it’s hard to not gore … them with it,” explains Amico. A third set of ads-like the first, for print-addresses the issue of race (Obama) and age (McCain). Each shows a portrait of the candidate with repeated copy running alongside it. For Obama the copy reads, over and over, “I’m black.” For McCain, “I’m old.” Near the end of each, in bold, is the line, “If this is all you’re hearing, you’re not listening.” Each directs voters to find out more on the candidates’ Web sites.
 
Credits: Tom Amico, creative director; Gerry Killeen, director of creative services; Eric David,  creative director/art director; Alison Vicidomini, art director; Lauren Taylor, art director.

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Nick Law, R/GA

For the Republican candidate, Nick Law, evp, CCO North America at R/GA, zoned in on the perspective that Barack Obama is a “lightweight celebrity full of hot air, floating above us all.” His idea is to create Overblown Obama, a Macy’s Day Parade-style balloon tethered somewhere in Manhattan, which, he says, is considered a “launching pad for the loony liberal left.” John McCain supporters could make Obama float away by “snipping” the ropes. This could be done by texting “snip” or going online to overblownobama.com,  “home of the Hot-Air Cam,” to personally “snip” via a click. One rope would be snipped for every 1,000 texts sent and clicks made online. For the Democratic candidate, Law zeroed in on Obama’s perception that “this election is a major turning point. We’ll either turn towards the future or turn back the clock.” A motion-sensing digital sign near a subway entrance would show the direction of both paths. People walking one way would see Obama and the line, “Make history.” People walking in the other direction would see McCain with a shadowy President Bush beside him and the line, “Repeat history.” If a person stopped in front of the sign, it would trigger a deeper interactive experience. For example, if you stopped in front of the “repeat history” display, explains Law, “you can relive some of the worst moments of the Bush presidency reenacted by McCain.”

Credits: Nick Law, chief creative officer.

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Scott Duchon, T.A.G.

The hipster vote, suggests Scott Duchon, cd and partner at T.A.G., could help put John McCain in the White House. So his team proposes the Republican candidate drop the “Mc” in his last name “to allow influencers to embrace him on their own terms.” The multi-layered campaign-also known as the “influencer program”-would include: a ‘Cain issue of Vice magazine; a limited-edition Nike ‘Cain loafer; a Brixton Ltd. ‘Cain hat collection and Bearbrick; and the site LastNightsRepublican Party.com, which would document the candidate showing up at parties in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Puerto Rico. For Barack Obama, the team, says Duchon, came up with a visual to take advantage of his “man-of-the-people” stature while simultaneously communicating what he stands for: a “slash,” which would allow the Obama camp to add various “partners” to the campaign whenever and wherever they wanted. “We’d simply start by inserting organizations, local leaders, causes, communities, churches and everyday people who represent what he stands for,” explains Duchon, which would show who he’d “symbolically be partnering with to move the country forward.” For example, it could read “Obama/Steelworkers Union” for a billboard in Ohio or “Obama/South Bronx” in New York. An online campaign would hand the template over to the masses and allow them to create their own Obama/ logo. A digital billboard would allow people to send in their names to be added to the slash. “By the time we were done, people could see on several levels-from work and community to personal-what Obama stands for,” says Duchon. “And that on one or several of those levels he’s standing for them.”

Credits: Scott Duchon, creative director; John Patroulis, creative director; Rey Andrade, art director; Ben Wolan, art director.

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Rob Schwartz, TBWA\Chiat\Day

For Barack Obama, who Rob Schwartz, executive cd at TBWA\Chiat\Day, calls “America’s quarterback,” Schwartz wanted to capture (and capitalize on) the nominee’s global momentum. “The world is behind him the way colleges and high schools rally behind their local heroes,” he explains. The campaign, lettheworlddecide.org, invites people worldwide to vote on who they’d like to see as the next U.S. president. The site would have a variety of components, asking, for instance, “What do you most want to change?” and offering a drop menu that gives people the chance to highlight the issues most important to them. A color-coded world map would show how countries are voting and reveal detailed stats by country. The colors are meant to convey optimism, explains Schwartz, and the graphic portrait, to be used on bumper stickers, T-shirts and a Facebook application, is “a combination of superhero, avatar and icon.” For John McCain, the team was “inspired by both his story-and G.I. Joe,” says Schwartz. To make the 71-year-old candidate seem cooler to young voters, the team envisions a “No McCain. No gain” campaign built around an “Action-Not-Words” action figure to be used on billboards, T-shirts, online, etc. An online video would cast McCain as a tough-talking action figure that single-handedly defeats three Taliban action figures. McCain’s voiceover would include, “Tell the rest of your Taliban boys, this maverick’s cleaning house,” with an announcer adding: “If he can do that to the Taliban, imagine what he can do for the economy. Yes, McCain’s a man of action who tells it like it is. Pull his string and hear a bit of good, old-fashioned American wisdom.”

Credits: Rob Schwartz, executive cd. Obama: Patrick O’Neill, Olivier Rabenschlag, creative directors; Xanthe Hohalek, art director; David Hays, art director. McCain: Brett Craig, creative director; Amanda Sinele, art director; Jennifer O’Brien, copywriter.

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