Clinton Earns Points for Pennsylvania Tactics

Observers Parse Messages in Wake of Primary Battle

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WASHINGTON ( -- Sen. Hillary Clinton may have been outspent, but she wasn't outgunned, according to some Pennsylvania advertising executives. While many said that separating advertising impact from other factors (such as debate performance and the "bitter" controversy) is impossible, they gave credit to Ms. Clinton for doing a better job at targeting and using the resources she did have and ultimately rendering Sen. Barack Obama's ads largely ineffective.
Sen. Hillary Clinton
Sen. Hillary Clinton Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

"As a creative director, I loved the look of Obama's ads and posters, but what Hillary got right is she got her message down to the most basic thought," said Steve Red, president and chief creative officer of Red Tettemer in Philadelphia. Mr. Red is an Obama supporter.

He said the message she got across is "I am going to help the common man."

He said Mr. Obama's campaign was "definitely hurt" by the Illinois senator's performance in an ABC News debate last week, but added that Mr. Obama's biggest problem was not adequately countering Ms. Clinton's "one of the boys" message.

'Mainstream Americans'
"Mainstream Americans want to know 'What is in it for me?'" he said. "Obama was tremendously inspirational, but she was able to be one of the people. Obama might do well to add specifics [to his advertising] to drive home his message about change. Americans want specifics, but nothing too complex."

But Jason Bergeron, creative director of Engauge, Pittsburgh, said he isn't sure advertising did much for either candidate. "I think their traditional advertising was in large part a non-factor. I'd say the advertising really appeared to do nothing to change the game for either candidate. Obama's huge outspend of Hillary did nothing to close the gap."

Rather, he said, the Clinton campaign, short on cash, communicated in ways beyond traditional media, and took advantage of Mr. Obama's missteps. Mr. Bergeron said he has not taken any candidate's side, Democratic or Republican, but pointed out, "The most powerful thing she did was shine a light on Obama's biggest weaknesses -- his somewhat concerning associations, his condescending attitude [toward] rural Pennsylvanians, his distortions of truth in his advertising [regarding accepting money from oil company executives]."

And the Obama campaign did not effectively counter Ms. Clinton's attack, he added.

Protecting the brand
Gordon Robertson, group creative director, Marc USA, Pittsburgh, and another Obama supporter, said the candidate had to be cautious in order to protect the brand. "You run the risk if you go for the jugular that you are going against the brand," he said. "If he doesn't swing harder, he may not connect, but if you swing harder you may go against the brand."

But by not giving as good as he got, it seems Mr. Obama may have allowed Ms. Clinton to set the tone. Said Mr. Bergeron: "He didn't necessarily do anything wrong. I think the facade is simply now off. People have discovered who Obama is -- and turns out he's just another lying politician."

Mr. Robertson added that the Obama campaign may have been looking ahead to the general election, using most of its ads to deliver a "pretty soft message" and focusing on grass roots and organizing. "I was impressed with the grass-roots and viral work. They were more interested in building a peer-to-peer network that could be used for the general election. But I don't think it closed the deal."

And trying to change minds may have been futile anyway, he suggested. "We have an older population, more working class. My guess is that people solidified their position before the circus came to town, and advertising didn't change that."
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