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Madison Avenue Campaigns to Find a Spot on Presidential Bandwagon

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When the telephone rings at the Michael Dukakis campaign headquarters in Boston, the calls aren’t just from political job-seekers. These days, Madison Avenue is also on the horn.

In fact, over the past several weeks, more than 50 advertising executives have offered to personally donate their time to the Democratic hopeful’s camp. Similarly, those manning the Republican presidential campaign for Vice President George Bush also report a flurry of interest from advertising wizards.

Just how important is advertising to a presidential candidate? “No one knows for sure,” said Tom Kiley, Dukakis’ chief campaign strategist. “But in a race as close as this one, you don’t want to run the risk of not putting forth a full effort, only to find out in the end that it did make the difference.”

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Like a new product with a limited shelf life, the candidates must advertise hard and fast. Each presidential candidate created about 30 commercials for the primary elections and an estimated 50 ads each are expected for the national race. Before one of the candidates lands in the White House, both Dukakis and Bush will spend an estimated $30 million to $40 million each on their commercials--primarily buying television network time.

The lingering question remains: How to sell a little known Duke and a very familiar Bush? The top advertising strategists for both Dukakis and Bush refuse to discuss the strategies behind the commercials that they will be filming over the next several weeks--and airing by Labor Day. But they were willing to discuss the biggest problem in creating ads for presidential candidates: time.

“Speed, unfortunately, is one of the fundamental needs here,” said Ed McCabe, a New York consultant overseeing Dukakis’ ad campaign. “Unlike other kinds of advertising, you don’t have time to churn out tons of stuff, winnow it down and then gloat over those ads you like.” Likewise, said Thomas Messner, whose New York agency, Messner, Vetere, Berger, Carey is creating ads for the Bush campaign: “There’s just not enough time.” Indeed, even while talking with a reporter on the telephone, he was simultaneously editing a commercial that will feature a video-taped interview with Bush’s wife, Barbara.

Despite the veil of secrecy surrounding the candidates’ upcoming advertising, hints of Bush’s potential strategy may be seen in several ads that Messner’s agency created in recent weeks for the Republican National Committee. The ads conjure up images of the failed policies of the Carter Administration.

Messner refused to state if these same techniques will be used in the commercials he creates for Bush. But some of the nation’s top advertising executives were willing to discuss the kinds of commercials that they would create for both Dukakis and Bush.

Agency chiefs generally agreed that both Bush and Dukakis will be tough to sell. In a word, said Joseph W. O’Donnell, chief executive of the New York ad firm Campbell Mithun Esty, which handles the Kool cigarette and Texaco accounts, “They’re dull.”

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That, of course, presents another problem, said Marvin Sloves, chairman of the New York ad firm Scali, McCabe, Sloves, which creates ads for Volvo. “You can’t make a guy something he’s not.”

Of course, much political advertising tries to do just that. In many cases, it attempts to reverse the negative perceptions that some voters have of the candidates.

“Ads with George Bush should show him where he is most comfortable--intermingling with small groups of people,” said Charles Peebler, chairman of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, the New York ad firm that oversees Chrysler’s account. “And if I were Bush, I would attempt to create ads that raise the issue that many people fear most--what could happen to the U.S. economy under an administration led by Dukakis?”

At the same time, Dukakis should hammer away at the issues of honesty and integrity, said John M. Connors, Jr., president of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc., the Boston agency whose clients include John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance and Wang Laboratories.

“People are fed up with everything from the Iranscam (arms controversy) to (U.S. Atty. Gen.) Ed Meese to the Pentagon scandal. The ads should say it’s time for a change--a huge dose of honesty.”

Meanwhile, Connors said, Bush campaign officials might want to make some commercials that use film clips of Bush’s strong defense of the recent U.S. downing of an Iranian passenger jet. “You have to take Bush out of the ‘wimp’ mode,” Connors said. “Someone has to paint some hair on his knuckles.”

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Beyond that, the Bush commercials should clearly point out any major areas where the vice president differs from President Reagan, said John Bowen, chairman of the New York ad firm D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, which creates ads for both Pontiac and Cadillac. “The ads should all show Bush talking specifically on the issues,” said Bowen. “In this election, general malarkey will not be a successful ad approach.”

Both candidates, meanwhile, should determine who the “swing voters” are and fashion ads that directly appeal to them, said Spencer Plavoukos, chairman of Lintas: USA, a New York ad firm in charge of Diet Coke ads. “Somehow,” Plavoukos said, “George Bush has to be seen as less of a technocrat and more of a people’s candidate.”

Some Madison Avenue executives, however, don’t think the presidential candidates should be advertising at all. “An advertisement might convince you to buy a product, but if you discover that the product’s no good, you can always take it back or just stop buying it,” said O’Donnell. “But if an advertisement convinces you to vote for someone who turns out to be a lousy president, you’re still stuck with them for four years.”

A Print Promotion Some Can’t Stomach

If you’ve ever had that urge to tickle Cher’s tummy, now’s your big chance.

The August issues of the magazine Cable Guide--except those distributed in the California market--feature a scratch-and-see ad for Health & Tennis Corp. of America. The scratch-off portion of the ad is strategically located below a photo of Cher’s stomach.

“Cher was nice enough to lend us her tummy so we could make you a special offer,” the ad says. “Take any coin, give Cher’s abdomen a good rub right below her navel and, ta-da!, you’ve got your offer.”

Well, that was more than TV Guide could stomach. It turned the ad down flat. “We don’t give reasons why,” said Robert Brooks, West Coast ad manager. “A responsible magazine will not accept every ad that comes in.”

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And that has upset Arthur Quinby, director of marketing at Health & Tennis Corp., who said he thought of the ad concept while taking a shower. “We went to war on this,” Quinby said, “all the way up to the publisher’s office.” But when TV Guide said no, he said his company turned to the next alternative, Cable Guide.

Oddly enough, the ad, which was created by the Los Angeles office of J. Walter Thompson, was not placed in the California market because local Holiday Spa operators did not want to take part in the offer. Health & Tennis Corp. is a Los Angeles company that operates Holiday Spas and Vic Tanny Health & Racquet Clubs nationwide.

The print advertisement is a promotional bid to drum up new business. And just what are those magic words hidden below Cher’s belly button? “One week free.”

Rugged Efforts Pay Off for 2 L.A. Agencies

Three uphill struggles: bicycling, skiing and scraping up new ad business in Los Angeles.

All three came together last week when one local ad shop landed the advertising business for Bear Mountain Ski Resort (formerly Goldmine ski area near Big Bear Lake); and another picked up the ad account for the makers of Lifecycle, the computerized stationary bicycle.

The Los Angeles office of J. Walter Thompson will handle the $8-million account for Life Fitness, a Bally company that is headquartered in Irvine. And Ketchum Advertising’s Los Angeles office will create ads for Bear Mountain, which has pumped $9 million into upgrading the facility. Although the ads are still in production, the theme will stress “quality skiing in Southern California,” said Craig Mathiesen, president of Ketchum’s Los Angeles office. And is Mathiesen a quality skier? “Please,” he said, “don’t ask.”

Agency Insists Track Wagering Ad Not Racy

“Have the time of your life without going all the way.”

That might sound like the punch line to some off-color joke. Instead, it is a headline on a print advertisement for Inter-Track Wagering, a new satellite TV service from Del Mar race track that just began to beam thoroughbred races to various Southern California betting locations. The $1-million ad campaign, which broke last week, was created by the San Diego ad firm, Phillips-Ramsey.

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Executives at the ad firm insist the line isn’t all that racy. “It’s really kind of mild,” said Bob Kwait, the agency’s creative director. “Nowadays, you go to movies and hear much more suggestive lines.” There is, however, one other headline on an upcoming ad for Inter-Track Wagering that may also raise a few eyebrows: Wanna get lucky?

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