Fight the Propaganda

As an industry, we are very good at what we do. We are professionals, we work hard, and we care deeply. We help clients establish their identities and make a profit. We help fuel the economy. This is all powerful stuff, but in the end not as important as electing the next president of the United States, who will truly have a profound effect on our lives.

With the elections so close, it’s time for me to suggest that our industry stay away from political advertising. It’s just too easy for politicians to hide behind a 30-second commercial. This format does not allow for any depth or insight into our country’s problems. It allows candidates to simplify complicated solutions into a cliché.

People who are running for office should stand up to the public’s scrutiny alone. They need to sell themselves. The only way to achieve this is through debates. But they must be the real thing—no pre-screened questions, no rules written for their protection.

I remember as a kid feeling the power of the Nixon-Kennedy debates. One-on-one, exposed for the world to see. It’s ironic that Nixon’s performance changed debates forever. No more would handlers allow candidates to be so exposed. We must insist that they return to this forum.

Political advertising is a form of propaganda, and we should have nothing to do with it. It’s just too easy for candidates to make inflammatory commercials. The Tuesday Team did a brilliant job for Ronald Reagan with commercials that dramatized an idealized community with lots of white people parading down Main Street. This idealizing lies at the heart of the problem. Political advertising offers sound bites with no real substance. First-level slogans that appeal to the lowest common denominator.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson’s people made a spot that showed a girl picking flowers superimposed with an atomic bomb. It struck a nerve with an America concerned that Barry Goldwater might lead us into war, and it helped elect Johnson. But it was a dishonest piece of propaganda, made to exploit our fears and prejudices.

Shouldn’t we elect people who can communicate on their own, who can think on their feet and aren’t a creation of their handlers?

The most galling thing is the apparent lack of a filter at the networks. It’s harder to get a soap ad on the air than Willie Horton.

I have enormous respect for our industry and its power to define our culture and persuade minds. That is why I believe so strongly that political advertising should not be used to determine our country’s future.

Whoops! Stop the presses! I’m having second thoughts!

When I wrote this article a few weeks ago, Kerry hadn’t won Iowa and New Hampshire. Bush’s chief weapons inspector hadn’t said there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in recent memory. In his State of the Union address, George W. allotted $1 billion for saving American marriages—as long as they’re marriages he approves of. The deficit will total $1.9 trillion in the next decade. More American soldiers are dying in Iraq.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there has to be a regime change. Does anybody want to do a few good commercials that treat the American public with respect and make some damn good points about why Bush should look for a new job? Give me a call.

For the Record: A news story about two Connecticut casinos referred to The Kaplan Thaler Group as an Interpublic Group agency. It is owned by Publicis Groupe [Jan. 26]. Barbara Lippert’s Critique mistakenly credited Arnold for creating Monster’s famed “When I Grow Up” Super Bowl spot. It was done by Mullen [Jan. 26]. A chart listing this year’s Super Bowl advertisers should have named Young & Rubicam, not Leo Burnett, as the agency doing Philip Morris’ ad. Also, Monster will have two in-game ads, not three [Jan. 26].