A political advertising contest reveals more about our creative department than its politics.
October 16, 2008
Have you ever had to sell something you didn’t use, wouldn’t use, or, the product being so foul, you couldn’t get behind for love or money? I ask because a provocative contest has tested my creative department’s resolve.
By draw from a hat, participating agencies in Chicago were asked to create propaganda for either Barack Obama or John McCain. The Sun Times would then publish the ads and have an online vote. As fate would have it, Euro RSCG drew the Republican nominee. Relishing a good challenge, I briefed our entire creative department –some 60 souls- beseeching them to “let out their inner Republicans.” I knew few here supported the man for President, but I didn’t think that would stop most of them from participating in the contest.
Based on the turnout, I’m now certain Euro RSCG is not a Republican stronghold. Including me, a grand total of six employees made ads for John McCain.
Working at Leo Burnett, I got briefed to write copy for Phillip Morris. I believe the product was Benson & Hedges. I can’t recall if I still smoked but I knew, as we all did, that smoking cigarettes could kill you. I remember a slight disturbance from my conscience but nothing that prevented me from copywriting. If anything, I was more put off by the unlikelihood of creating good work. For starters, whatever we did was going to have a big honking warning from the Surgeon General (“cancer box”) plastered across it. In the end, we produced a handful of print ads, mostly bad.
But was the act of creating them bad? Should I have refrained from working on a delivery system for nicotine? Should my agency have done the same?
In an interview, Alex Bogusky recently claimed to be a mercenary. Despite using Apple, his agency took on Microsoft as a client. For reasons known only to him, Alex also penned a diet book, even though one of his biggest clients is Burger King. Moral conflict? That’s for pussies. Mercenaries follow the money. Yet, I wonder, would Crispin, Porter & Bogusky (co-creators of the much-ballyhooed anti-smoking “truth” campaign), be caught dead selling cigarettes?
What about Senator John McCain? You see the propaganda I made for him up top, a snide response to Obama’s global appeal. One of my writers called it despicable and offensive. I told her it was only a contest. Of course she’s right; the ad is offensive. Propaganda often is. For what it’s worth, I’m not likely to vote for Senator McCain. I think brand USA needs a more enlightened persona. But does doing the despicable poster make me a mercenary?
Below is the actual ad we submitted to the Chicago Sun Times. Credits: Regan Kline, Jason Tisser