1984, the year. Not the Orwell novel.
Timing was all-important: “When to go positive, when to go negative.”
The pros I met then were more comfortable with the negative, but we were working on President Reagan’s re-election and we (ad agency people on a sabbatical from Mad Ave) were brought in to do positive stuff. Upbeat pictures, stories, elevating music, calm authoritative voice overs.
We ventured outside that only once to do what the pros referred to as comparative advertising, the “gentle” medium 'tween the negative and the positive. The pros liked this Mondalenomics number for the content and the production cost which at less than 500 bucks shocked them all that Madison Avenue had a low rent district too.
Today, races — even local ones, as I reported on here last week — instantly “go negative.”
No sooner had I written that then Greg Kraut, a candidate for Connecticut's general assembly, was pictured as a predatory real estate developer looking to destroy a beloved local movie theater, i.e., the old “defining opponents before they can define themselves.”
Until I saw that attack, I thought Kraut has some ideas that could be adopted even if he lost. But it now appears his opponent is so offended by his treatment of this movie theater that no rapprochement on issues is possible.
And some of his proposals seem reasonable. For one, he wants to eliminate state income taxes on pensions and social security. (Might keep some fleeing Connecticutians from grabbing a Greyhound to Florida.)
He details a plan to improve the train service, even bring WiFi to the cars. (Bar cars are long gone, but commuters are still commuting.)
He also gets out some negative-comparative stuff himself, but factual and obvious. Namely that the incumbent supported Governor Malloy (less popular than, oh, anyone in the state) whose tax increases and reduced school funding made him even more unpopular in Westport than some folks in Washington.
He uses his ubiquitous lawn signs as his favored medium.
It is not the perfect medium for dealing with attacks though.
I mean how would Reagan deal with an attack on him? One that alleges “he is a predatory developer who is demolishing a beloved neighborhood theater despite the pleas and protests of that community.”
He’d probably ask first off if the theater was Grauman’s Chinese or Radio City Music Hall or The Waverly and once he found out the theater was part of a large chain that couldn’t get a liquor license, he’d chuckle, grab a jelly bean and say:
“The company found another location that worked, and there is another movie theater down the street that Nancy and I go to all the time and get some Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and find a nice place in the balcony. Oh yes, we are also building an office structure on the site of the old movie theater that will bring jobs to the community. Jobs are even more popular than second features.”
But that was another time and another place.
Tom Messner worked forever in advertising. In politics, he avoided the predictable negative bent and did positive ads for Reagan in 1984 and for Bush in 1988 along with Bush’s convention film. The agency he co-founded created NASDAQ’s first branding, Volvo’s comeback, and Fox News’s "We Report. You Decide." Then learning from the pols he partnered with (Roger Ailes in particular), they brought attack ads to such formerly benign areas such as telecom (MCI). At 73, he’s doing two things he never did before: Blogging here on wildly unconnected subjects coming on the heels of last year’s adventure: the writing of his first play, a musical "Dogs" destined now for either Broadway or The Pound. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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