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Our Humble Marketing Advice for Hillary Clinton

The great Bob Newhart used to perform a comedy routine titled “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue,” which imagined a telephone conversation just before the Gettysburg Address between a slick ad man and the rather dim fellow who had been cast to portray the wholly manufactured and thoroughly market-tested public image of the rail-splitting Great Emancipator. It’s a brilliant bit, the sort of shrewdly observed satire that comedians no longer seem up to, but for sheer laughs about Madison Avenue-style politics even the eerily prescient Newhart would be hard-pressed to beat a recent Washington Post report headlined “The making of Hillary 5.0: Marketing wizards help re-imagine Clinton brand.”
Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has “recruited consumer marketing specialists on to her team of trusted political advisers,” according to the report, and “are sketching ways to refresh the well-established brand for tomorrow’s marketplace.” One of the wizards is taking a leave of absence from her job as a marketing executive for Coca-Cola, and another has previously produced commercials for such corporate giants as Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart. The pair are busy at work on an “H” logo, with the article suggesting it might become as iconic as Coca-Cola’s contour bottles or the McDonald’s golden arches or that three-pointed Mercedes-Benz hood ornament that all the rappers used to wear as jewelry back in the ’90, but they’re also involved in developing a broader campaign message that will reportedly stress “economic fairness.” The authors acknowledge that “authenticity can be a powerful trait,” and note rather ruefully that “despite some raw displays of emotion” in her past failed presidential campaign Clinton “often came across as overly programmed,” but they seem hopeful that the new marketing wizards will solve that problem. They note that the Coca-Cola has a reputation for selling aged brands to youthful consumers, and we’d point out that Wal-Mart has acquired such a reputation for working class authenticity that upper-class liberals such as Clinton won’t allow one in their neighborhoods, so the pair might well be able to work similar magic for their candidate.
It probably isn’t helpful, however, for the Washington Post to make like Toto and draw back the curtain on the wizards as they pull the levers of a smoke-spewing candidate. Democratic primary voters are prone to thinking of “economic fairness” in terms of sticking it to the hated corporations, with manufacturers of sugary drinks and carbon-emitting airlines and minimum-wage-paying Wal-Mart right up there with the Koch Brothers and Monsanto in the liberal hierarchy of villainy, and it might blunt the necessary anti-capitalist message if the audience knew that it was produced by corporate ad agencies on behalf of a board member of numerous corporations. The Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart guy even came up with the “Don’t Mess With Texas” anti-littering slogan that since become a rallying cry of Lone Star State conservatism. A Liz Warren insurgency campaign could easily lure the guys who did the campaigns for Ben & Jerry’s and other hippie businesses, or even the ones who came up with those exceedingly multi-cultural and vaguely homosexual Benniton ads, and make hay of the competition’s corporate connections.
Being untainted by any history of corporate marketing, and eager to avail ourselves of an already formidable campaign chest, we are willing to offer on speculation a few suggestions of our own for the “re-branding” of Clinton.
We would urge that the “new” Clinton be black. Race always trumps sex in the Democrats’ hierarchy of victimology, as Clinton found out to her dismay last time around, and a black Clinton should be able to counter all challenges. Racial transformations are possible, as proved by James Whitmore in “Black Like Me” and Godfrey Cambridge in “Watermelon Man” and Michael Jackson in what was more or less real life, and with help from the most skilled plastic surgeons and Hollywood’s finest make-up artists we think we can get Clinton looking something like Pamela Greer back in the “Cleopatra Jones” days. She’d have to work on that “ain’t no ways tired” minstrel show accent she does, but with help from an ebonics coach and some practice at wagging her hips while waving a finger snap she should do fine.
A black lesbian Clinton might be needed to cover all the bases, along with enough American Indian ancestry to match whatever Liz Warren is claiming, but there’s no telling if the fashion for lesbianism will still be strong come election time. A black and bisexual Clinton seems a surer bet, but that new governor that Oregon installed after the other one was kicked out because of his much-younger fiancee’s phony-baloney “green energy” scams has already staked out that historic “first,” and there’s obviously no way for a Democrat to out-liberal Oregon. In any case, some sort of sexually transgressive tattoo will be required.
The “economic fairness” schtick sounds promising, since only a handful of us doctrinaire libertarians and our puppet masters the Koch Brothers are for economic un-fairness, but it’s always best to not get too specific about such things, since somebody’s ox will inevitably be gored and none of it’s likely to achieve that elusive 3 percent annual growth in the gross domestic product, so we recommend a catchy slogan instead of any policy positions. “Hope and Change” is probably too ’00s, Huey Long’s old “Every Man a King” is too gender-specific, William Jennings Bryan’s “I will not be crucified on a cross of gold” doesn’t make much sense even if you are bold enough to revive the free silver issue, and “You have nothing to lose but your chains” is a bit explicitly Marxist, so we suggest something along the more original lines of “Don’t mess with Hillary.”
Of course, the biography will take some tweaking as well. The “old” Clinton was undistinguished as a lawyer and once chortled about the child-rapist she aided despite knowledge of his guilt, was most famous as a First Lady for pretending that her philandering husband was being framed by a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” her brief tenure in the Senate produced nothing of note, and her tenure as Secretary of State was one deadly blunder after another, so the “new” Clinton will need some accomplishments that the press will be willing to report. Given the willingness of the press, these deeds can be as fanciful as the claims made for Coca-Cola and Southwest Airlines. Our tale would begin with Clinton being born in a little log cabin that she built with her own two hands, then her years at sea with a kindly old Portuguese sailor, followed a storybook marriage written by someone other Jacqueline Susann, more talk about her being “dead broke” from all the lawsuits stemming from problems that we really don’t want to get into, and then her sudden epiphany during a strangely erotic Beyonce concert at the White House that she is and always has been a black woman. Along the way there will be world peace and economic revival achieved and vast right-wing conspiracies quashed, and the focus groups love all that stuff.
Authenticity is what counts most in politics, however, and once we teach Clinton how to fake that we’re sure she’ll be a sure-fire winner in the market place. With our well-remunerated help she could be even bigger than New Coke.

— Bud Norman

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Sex and Obamacare

Obamacare is a tough sell, as the mavens of Madison Avenue might put it, but the American advertising industry seems intent on giving the much-beleaguered health care reform law some sex appeal.
The latest effort comes from Colorado, where an advertising campaign by the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado is saying “thanks Obamacare!” with a series of messages clearly aimed at the libidinous and otherwise healthy youngsters who are needed to pay for over-priced coverage they don’t need with jobs they don’t have in order to subsidize all the erectile-dysfunctional baby-boomer geezers who are about to overwhelm the medical system. Selling such a blatant generational transfer of wealth to the generation whose wealth is being transferred would seem to require a better pitch than the great Walter Johnson ever threw, but apparently the folks at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow Colorado believe it’s as easy as selling anything else. All you have to do, in keeping with a time-honored advertising tradition, is imply that Obamacare will make you cool and cause you to have sexual relations with numerous attractive people.
All of the ads are tied together by a “Got insurance?” slogan, borrowed from the dairy industry’s “Got milk?” and the countless parodies that have rendered it a hackneyed catchphrase, and are as unoriginal in every other aspect. The first was subtitled “brosurance,” yet another of those faddish and annoying portmanteaus with “bro” smashed against some ironically chosen word, and featured an image of three seemingly virile young men executing a “keg stand.” So far as we can tell a “keg stand” is the latest variation on phone-booth-stuffing or goldfish-swallowing or whatever it is those wacky raccoon-coat-wearing and ukulele-playing college kids are up to these days, but at any rate it’s apparently such a popular activity that the ad campaign seems eager to cash in on the craze. “Keg stands are crazy,” the ad explains to its youthful target market, “but not having health insurance is crazier.”
Lest the keg-standing and beer-addled young people of today stop to consider how crazy it is to pay inflated prices for coverage they’re not likely to need, the next ad offered the pleasantly distracting prospect of casual sex. The ad is subtitled “Let’s Get Physical,” which we vaguely recall as a song by Olivia Newton-John way back in the days of leg-warmers and Ronald Reagan, but it has already been dubbed “ho’surance” by a number of internet wags. The picture shows a reasonably attractive young woman showing off her birth control pills as she stands next to a fashionably un-shaven young man in a fashionably un-tucked shirt , and the copy excitedly exclaims “OMG, he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”
Hidebound traditionalists such as ourselves hardly know where to start objecting to such pornographic propaganda. There’s another one of those irritating text-message acronyms, to begin with, but that’s the least of it. More infuriating in the absurd suggestion that enrolling in Obamacare is easier than the absurdly simple task of a reasonably attractive young woman than luring an un-shaven and un-tucked young man “between the covers.” There’s also the unmistakable implication that Obamacare is a good deal for the young folk even if it does transfer the hard-earned wealth of their part-time jobs to a baby-boom generation that screwed everything up because it will encourage their rampant promiscuity and facilitate their loveless one night stands, but such complaints might be construed as a “war on women.”
Most of the young people we know are plenty stupid enough to fall for every word of it, however, and we expect to see more of this seductive salesmanship. The convoluted economics of Obamacare are more complicated than the average young person can comprehend, but the prospect of a consequence-free romp with some comely young Obama voter are more easily understood. Property rights have little meaning to those who have not yet acquired any property, economic freedom is unimportant those with few economic prospects, and freedom of speech means nothing to those with nothing to say, but enough young people intend to exercise the right to fornicate with government-subsidized contraception that it might just seal the deal.

— Bud Norman

Madison Avenue Meets Obamacare

While browsing through the television channels Sunday afternoon during one of those interminable commercial breaks in a professional football game, we happened upon an advertisement for Obamacare. Although the spot didn’t mention Obamacare by name, it was extolling the wonders of the healthcare.gov web site that was intended to bring all the bountiful benefits of President Barack Obama’s namesake health care law to a grateful public. The very perky and pretty people featured in the advertisement seemed grateful, indeed, as they excitedly chanted the ad campaign’s catchphrase of “We’re covered!”
At the risk of sounding cynically suspicious of anything that Madison Avenue and the Washington bureaucracy might join forces to concoct, we’re pretty sure those grateful people are paid actors. They’re all perkier and prettier than any real people of our acquaintance, for one thing, and their gratitude for Obamacare greatly exceeds the normal person’s. They also look quite prosperous and up-to-date and free of any noticeable existing pre-conditions, hardly the sort of involuntarily uninsured hard-luck cases that Obamacare was intended to help, and given the widely-publicized difficulties that people have encountered in slogging through the healtcare.gov web site’s endless glitches, and given how many of those lucky few have experienced sticker shock at the prices posted at the end of the frustrating process, it seems unlikely that a sufficient number of people so very grateful could have been rounded up on such short notice since the law recently went into effect. The odds that these extraordinarily lucky few would all turn out to be so perky, pretty, prosperous, and up-to-date seem staggering. If our suspicions are correct they’re probably dues-paying members of the Screen Actors Guild and are grateful their policies might yet be protected by one of those waivers the government has been handing out to unions, which would explain how they managed to seem so darned sincere when chanting the “We’re covered!” catchphrase.
Still, it was an impressive piece of advertising. The spot had the same expensive look about it as the ones the big corporations were running to make their dubious pitches, with professional graphics and brisk editing and no oleaginous pitchmen wildly swinging their arms as they scream for the viewer to come on down and take advantage of their low, low prices. A peppy and professional soundtrack and the bright lighting and clear cinematography added to the upbeat feelings the ad inspires, much like in the ads intended to make buyers feel good about their choice of dishwashing lotion or cancer treatment center, and the fact that the ad avoided the words “Obamacare” or even the euphemistic “Affordable Care Act” suggests that it was carefully subjected to the scrutiny of countless focus groups.
Even with such formidable marketing, however, Obamacare will likely prove a tough sell. Insurance premiums are going up in most states, millions of people will lose the policies they had been promised they could keep, employers everywhere are offering only part-time work rather than deal with the costs and paperwork that now come with a full-time job, and the whole scheme requires persuading healthy young people with low-paying jobs and bleak prospects to pay higher prices for more insurance than they currently need. The ad we saw seems designed to convince the middle-class people least affected by Obamacare that it’s all for the good, those deficits and unemployment numbers and the potential loss of coverage notwithstanding, but it won’t do much to get that uninsured twenty-something with the rock band tattoo to slog through a computer program designed by the Three Stooges and pay money he doesn’t have for something he doesn’t need. Better ads than Obamacare have failed to create a market for better products than Obamacare, and the ones that make their pitch to the wrong audience always fail.
Perhaps some shrewd ad man can come up with something better suited to the young and healthy and uninsured, but it is hard to for an amateur to imagine what it might be. The pig on some other insurance company’s commercials seems to be popular with the young folk, but we wonder how many of them are signing up for his product, although we’re not sure what it. That “Flo” woman who represents another of the insurance has a youthful appeal and irreverent sense of humor, and looks as if she might even sport a tattoo or two beneath her white uniform, but we’re not sure what company she’s selling. If all else fails there’s also the old honesty shtick, and we can envision an ad with a hip-hop soundtrack and fashionably unshaven spokesmen telling a young audience that they voted for Obama and his hope and change slogans so now it’s time to pay up. Boondoggles such as Obamacare don’t come cheap, the ads could say, and neither do the advertising campaigns required to make you like it.

— Bud Norman

Madison Avenue and the Hipsters

The Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ improbable success in the early rounds of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual championship basketball tournament recently prompted us to tune into prime-time network television for the first time in many years, and the experience has left us struck by the ubiquity of hipster culture. It’s not so much the tattoos and over-sized shorts and tonsorial strangeness of so many of the players, although that is a jarring contrast to the clean-cut and defiantly old-fashioned cagers we recall from the days of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, but rather all those unshaven young fellows with their shirts hanging out who populate the advertisements.
Our limited television viewing is usually devoted to the late-night fare on the low-budget ultra-high-frequency stations, where the programming is dominated by ancient sit-coms and the advertising is mostly on behalf of bail bondsmen, thrift stores, pawn shops, workers’ compensation lawyers, and other businesses catering to a lower-class audience that can’t or won’t shell out for cable’s over-priced fare, so this development took us by surprise. Madison Avenue’s enthusiastic embrace of what used to be called the “slacker” type also seemed somewhat counter-intuitive, as we would not expect the proudly unambitious sorts portrayed in the spots to be the likely consumers of the pricey goods being pitched. Having fashionably disheveled youngsters in the fast food and beer commercials make some sense, as those products are easily affordable by the low-paid denizens of parents’ basements, but it is a most baffling development that these days even most slovenly youngsters are apparently well-equipped with the latest electronic gizmos, sporty cars, and retirement investment plans.
Perhaps the target audience for these high-end advertisements is not the latte-sipping bohemian but instead the hard-working and dutifully conformist company man who quietly yearns for the supposed freedom of the skate-boarding and panhandling youngsters he passes by on his way home from a grueling day at the office. Simply buy our product, the ads seem to promise, and you too can be a youthful rebel and strike a blow against mindless consumerism.
This theory would explain the presence of Iggy Pop, of all people, in an advertisement for Chrysler automobiles, of all things. Pop was once the epitome of punk rock menace, prowling the stage of seedy venues with his emaciated and scarred torso proudly bared as he sang his anthemic “Lust For Life,” snarling its memorable refrain of “Of course I’ve had it in the ear before,” but that was before the punk rockers starring in today’s commercials were born. Only someone edging in the Chrysler demographic is likely to have the slightest idea who Pop is, much less recognize his weathered visage in an advertisement too cool to mention his name, and his tacit endorsement can only be meant to suggest that his equally well-heeled contemporaries can reclaim some of their lost rebelliousness by purchasing a car once stereotypically associated with middle class suburbia. Although we retain a certain fondness for Pop’s music, and cherish memories of Wichita’s original punk rock band, The Lemurs, performing a heartfelt rendition of his “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog,” the ploy leaves us even less interested in owning a Chrysler.
We are disinclined to judge people by their apparel, and indeed are in no position to do so, as the dress code here at The Central Standard Times is notoriously lax, but this celebration of hipster culture has disquieting political implications. Several American cities have banked their futures on an economic theory of the “creative class” which holds that a town can do without an industrial base or noisome children so long as it has enough espresso bars to attract the cool kids, a notion so convoluted  that even its most famous proponent is now expressing doubts about it, and even such a stalwart base of rock-ribbed conservatism as Wichita has devoted a couple of city-subsidized neighborhoods to the hipsters. Worse yet, if the hipster is held up as a social ideal it cannot benefit a Republican party that is routinely and properly associated with its office-working, lawn-mowing, child-bearing antithesis Liberal politics is as essential an accessory to the modern hipster as rectangular spectacles, three days of stubble, and an ironic sense of humor. Perhaps it should also be pointed out that Chrysler was bailed out by Obama, with the bond-holding retirees and politically-unconnected dealers getting the worse of it, so Chrysler might enjoy some hipness after all.
Still, we find some hope out there for the squares. The Wheatshockers’ board-banging forward Carl Hall has shorn his dreadlocks and gone with a slightly Urkel-esque buzz-cut ‘do for the tournament, and now his team finds itself in the “Sweet 16” with a good chance at making the “Elite Eight.” It might be mere coincidence, but we doubt it.

— Bud Norman