BOB DOLE PROVES TO BE A MAN OF THE (AD) PEOPLE: EX-CANDIDATE'S DEADPAN HUMOR IS MAKING HIM A WINNING TICKET IN COMMERCIALS

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In less than a year, he has been an ad spokesman for an airline, a credit card, a discount store and a fast-food chain. But success isn't changing America's newest star endorser: Bob Dole.

Ten months after losing his run for the U.S. presidency, the Republican candidate once portrayed as mean-spirited by comedians is having a rebirth as a tongue-in-cheek straight man in four different major-marketer ad campaigns.

"It's the last thing I ever thought of," said Mr. Dole in an interview with Advertising Age of his work for Air France, Visa USA, Target Stores and Dunkin' Donuts. "I didn't realize there was any market out there in that at all."

'PAPER OR PLASTIC?'

In Target's ad from Martin/

Williams, Minneapolis, marking the mass merchandiser's expansion into Kansas, the 28-year veteran U.S. senator from that state is pictured in his study, speaking about his concern for economic opportunity and choice. The issue Mr. Dole reveals, in due time: "Paper or plastic?"

In Visa's commercial, which recently won a Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival for BBDO Worldwide, New York, Mr. Dole returns to his Russell, Kan., hometown to warm greetings until he tries to pay by check.

"I just can't win," says Mr. Dole.

Mr. Dole's deadpan humor-also exhibited in a new Dunkin' Donuts spot from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/

Euro RSCG and in a print ad for Air France from Blum/Herbstreith-was a side of Mr. Dole seen often in stump speeches over the years and, lately, in TV appearances with David Letterman. But it rarely came out in the presidential campaign.

"If he had that presence during the campaign, it would have been a lot closer," said Andy Berlin, chairman-chief creative officer of Fallon McElligott Berlin and producer of the GOP campaign's film on Mr. Dole. "He is at his best when he is having fun. He is uproariously, dryly funny-very funny."

RENOVATION OF DOLE'S IMAGE

Mr. Berlin said that in a way the advertising is a sort of public renovation of Mr. Dole's image.

"We are now finally getting to see the real Bob Dole," Mr. Berlin said. "It's a kind of public closure to the campaign. Without having to get involved with the cynical working of party politics, it's a way to keep in the public eye."

Mr. Berlin said Mr. Dole might continue to get ad spokesman duties.

"Bob Dole represents a lot of stuff and he is a pretty rich public figure who could be used for a number of points," Mr. Berlin said, jokingly citing Nike's current campaign about Joe Namath's comeback.

He also noted Mr. Dole's image could also work for more serious concerns.

END LINE WITH A TWIST

The retired politician's countenance and his deadpan expression make him an ideal spokesman in delivering an end line with a twist, said Tom Weyl, chief creative officer at Martin/Williams.

"That's part of his humor, that dour exterior and then funny things come out of his mouth," Mr. Weyl said.

Mr. Dole admitted his comic timing made him a sought-after political speaker. He just said the comedy didn't fit into the presidential campaign.

'FUNNIEST GUY' IN D.C.

"In my years in the Senate, I was known as a guy with humor and the funniest guy in town," Mr Dole said. "But the [general] election isn't the place for a comedian."

He called the latest turn of events in his career a surprise, but a nice one.

"I could have used some of these [advertising] people in the campaign," he said.

Mr. Dole added: "I've gotten a lot of mail saying, 'I wish I'd known you were like this. I would have voted for you.'

"

ROYALTIES FOR KANSANS

Mr. Dole noted that he also gets calls sometimes from hometown friends who appeared in the Visa spot, pleased with the $50 royalty fees they get whenever the Visa spot runs.

Mr. Dole has donated most of his fees so far to charity, and he said he isn't pushing himself as an endorser.

"I am not out there soliciting" the work, Mr. Dole said, adding that doing ads takes less time than the various newspaper columns and TV show possibilities he has been presented.

Mr. Dole also noted that only the Visa commercial ran nationally, and he said he is realistic about his chances as a commercial spokesman.

"I don't think there is a big harvest for Bob Dole," he said. "Maybe we have dunked our last doughnut."

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