Oddly, considering our tube-reliant times, national TV advertising seems to have played a less important role in this presidential election than it has in the last 40 years.
There were no big, memorable ad images invading our collective consciousness, like the ticking daisy for LBJ or even the notorious "revolving door" for George H.W. Bush. Nor was there a noteworthy phrase that seemed to capture our imaginations, like Reagan's "It's morning again in America.'' Quick, can you name one tagline for either guy? ("Fuzzy math'' and "lockbox'' don't count.)
Here in non-swing New York City, we saw only the Hillary-Lazio wars; otherwise, it was Bush-Gore, zip. But I reviewed a reel of 20 spots that have run in the rest of the country in the last month—10 for Bush, 10 for Gore—and I'm hard-pressed to recall one that didn't seem like a regulation political ad. Whether the standard attack ad (and the prescription drugs for seniors/HMO smackdowns on both sides get numbing) or attack/contrast or cuts of the candidate out with the people (schoolchildren/seniors/bowlers/welders) underscored by lump-in-the-throat music, each spot could have been a setup for the drum-banging Energizer bunny.
Al Gore has been hammering hard at local strategies for swing states. One of his better spots shows the Seattle skyline obscured by fog to approximate Texas-level pollution. (This recalls a strategy used by the elder Bush to defeat Dukakis, showing the pollution in Boston Harbor.)
An ad running in Las Vegas talks about nuclear waste and quotes a newspaper headline blaring "Bush would hasten the dump's arrival.''
Another, in Cleveland, announces that "George W. Bush wants to bring Texas ideas to Ohio,'' claiming the minimum wage in Texas for manufacturing is $3.35 per hour.
By contrast, Bush relies more on Republican National Committee stuff that pounds away at the basic points of his stump speech: Under the current administration there is an "education recession''; "reading is the new civil right''; "Al Gore opposed strict accountability"; Gore "trusts government, I trust you. I trust you with some of the budget surplus."
Another newish trend is for both candidates to rely more on free media. This fits in with the general Oprahfication of our culture.
To me, the nadir of all free media visits was Bush's appearance on Live with Regis. The joke was that he appeared in Regiswear—a black shirt and black satin tie. He looked good, if a bit like Nathan Detroit. (Good thing Kathie Lee wasn't still around; Bush would have had to appear in Wal-Mart culottes.)
Regis' big question, and I'm not making this up, was "Now, many people call you the W. Why?'' It so happened that Regis' co-host that day was Susan Hawk, the Midwestern truck driver from CBS' hit Survivor. Bush answered, in a kindly fashion, and then we got to hear Susan talk about how much she likes the TV show Walker, Texas Ranger. It was Susan who gave the famous speech about the remaining two survivors being a "rat and a snake.''
On reflection, there was one memorable ad. The presidential commercial that got the most attention was Bush's spot demonizing the bureaucrats who decide on prescription drugs. Remember the four-letter "rats"? It brought back the old hoary subliminal advertising (OK, subliminable ad) debate.
Considering the paucity of big ad ideas, where are those breasts in the mountaintops when you need them? Sex in ice cubes, anyone? Al Gore ads
Democratic Victory 2000/The Democratic National Committee The Campaign
Committee for Gore/
George W. Bush ads
Republican National Committee
Maverick Media Bush/Cheney