The Republicans go negative

Salon's panel of advertising experts takes a look at a new ad from the Republican National Committee attacking Al Gore.

By Alicia Montgomery
September 7, 2000 1:29AM (UTC)
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To those who believed George W. Bush's pledge to improve the tone of the campaign, the latest ad from the Republican National Committee could prove a disappointment. The spot blasts Gore for "claiming to do things he didn't do." "There's Al Gore reinventing himself on television again," the female narrator says. "Like I'm not going to notice. Who's he gonna be today? The Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple? Or the one who now promises campaign finance reform?" The RNC put the ad on heavy rotation during the Labor Day weekend, hoping to poke more holes in Al Gore's credibility. The "Really" spot raised the eyebrows -- and lowered the expectations -- of several members of Salon's political advertising panel. But that doesn't mean that the Republicans' negative couldn't become a positive for Bush, though much of our panel doubts it.

Steve Sandoz is a creative director with Wieden & Kennedy, the advertising agency responsible for Nike's "Mrs. Jones" ad campaign.


Another pathetic attempt to avoid discussing any issues that might actually be relevant to voters. I'm not sure who's advising the RNC and the Bush campaign on these ads, but they clearly have no understanding of how to talk to people through advertising. This ad smells of desperation but offers nothing in the way of telling me why Bush might be a better choice for president. And if we're going to have a campaign where the ads are focused on misstatements, I can hardly wait for the clips of Bush struggling to make a coherent sentence. Now that would be entertaining. The only line in this ad that rang true is the closer by the bemused, finger-wagging female voice-over: "Another round of this and I'll sell my television."

Jennifer Solow is creative director and managing partner at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners West.

Let's go for a minute under the assumption that taking words out of context to create a point is par for the course with political advertising. Let's also go under the assumption that manipulation of words and truth is also fair game. Let's also play by these gray rules that no other company is allowed to play in advertising and judge the work from there.


So the questions then become: "Is it an effective ad? Is it as effective as it could be? Might it sway someone's vacillating opinion to (in our terms) try Brand B instead of Brand A?"

The answers: Yes. I think it is an effective ad using an age-old technique: Put a voice in the ad that touches my inner voice. "Why should I use that other soap, if it's going to be so harsh on my skin?"

The woman is speaking to you or rather echoing what you yourself might have been thinking but never really found the right words to express. "Oh my God, that's what I was thinking!"


Could it have been better? Yes. I think the woman sounds too much like an actress reading her lines. Had it been, say, a husband and wife's voice, bantering naturally back and forth as breakfast is being served at the table, then I relate to it even more. They could have spoken more off the cuff, they could have sounded more like my neighbors, my parents, myself. It was clearly the intention, but those small details could have taken it from merely effective to cut-to-the-bone effective.

Does it sway my opinion? Maybe. If it keeps hitting me on the same subject matter over and over again (if it's possible), otherwise, the next ad from the other guy sways me back again the other way, and so on and so on. So, millions of dollars later, we just vote for the most handsome guy anyway.


Hey, there's an idea for some new ads!

Jean Craig, former advertising executive.

This kind of highly strategic commercial, whether it's addressing the candidate or the candidate's positions, works or doesn't based on the viewer's "take away" rather than the viewers' understanding of the politics behind it. The hoped for take away from this spot is "you can't trust Gore." However, it may turn out to be "Bush goes back on his word" because this commercial, itself, is an example of what Bush said he didn't want this campaign to do. In other words, it may cause a backlash.


Richard Blow is the former executive editor of George magazine, and is writing a book about John F. Kennedy Jr.

Well, that didn't take long. The first time W.'s lead starts to shrink, his promise to elevate the tone of political discourse disappears. Just like his father, W. can't keep his campaign promises.

This ad seems to have two agendas: To reach out to female swing voters (note the TV in the kitchen and the female announcer), and to turn the public's attention away from issues, where Gore's positions are more popular than Bush's, and back to character.


It doesn't work. We already know that Gore has said and done some idiotic things, like fundraising at a Buddhist temple or claiming credit for the Internet. By now we've factored that into our opinion of Gore. This ad looks backward; voters think about the present and the future.

The real problem, though, is that announcer. All sarcasm and sneer, she sounds like a cross between Mary Matalin and Sue from "Survivor." "Another round of this and I'll sell my television," she whines. There goes her credibility.

Who likes such kvetching? With the possible exception of "Crossfire" viewers, not women and not men. What's most unfortunate is that this woman sounds like a female version of George W. when he gets all huffy about something. She sounds, to borrow a phrase, like a major-league asshole.

Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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Al Gore George W. Bush