Whistle-Stops Add Up for Candidate Zero

LOS ANGELES United Online’s seventh spot featuring its fictitious Candidate Zero breaks today, said the company’s president and CEO.

Called “McMirror,” the 30-second spot is the first of 18 that run through Election Day to highlight Net Zero’s donation of profits from new subscribers to the Ronald McDonald House charity, said Mark R. Goldston. Candidate Zero practices a speech before a mirror and, spotting a McDonald’s bag branded with the Net Zero promotion, adds another reason for buying the service to his spiel.

The creative, by independent Bernstein-Rein, Kansas City, Mo., gets a boost from Brian Woods, evp and chief marketing officer, and Dee Guzzi, vp of advertising, at the company’s Woodland Hills, Calif. office.

Previous spots in the campaign have tested high, per Intermedia Advertising Group, said Goldston. “Our awareness and recall from June to July was behind only Spider-Man and two Oreo spots,” he said. “People are noticing these ads. We wanted to create a clutter-buster. That’s part of the fabric of the company going back to ‘Defenders of the Free World.’ “

Goldston said just as the McDonald’s bag hints at the campaign jogs of former President Clinton (or the Phil Hartman skit on Saturday Night Live), previous spots have alluded to real politics, such as Candidate Zero stumping at a diner in Flint, Mich. (re: Michael Moore) and explaining the value of the Net Zero low-cost service on a chart (Ross Perot). Goldston said the creative in upcoming spots is timed to specific events, such as the election debates. “We’ve synched them to [political] climates,” he said. “We’ll feed new ads every week that are aligned topically.”

“Promotionals are famous for being one-offs that go outside the campaign,” said Goldston. “This one is a direct extension that doesn’t deviate, but integrates our key message. It’s creative as well as promotional, which allows us to avoid the appearance of borrowed interest.”

The spot will run through the third week of September. Goldston said the campaign might be heading toward an unexpected result. “We’ve found an icon in Candidate Zero that people really like,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, like [Alabama football coach] Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1976, Candidate Zero has gotten some actual votes from people really pissed off [by the real candidates].”