Kerry camp dropped the ball on branding

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It didn't take long after Sen. John Kerry conceded for the recriminations from Democrats about the Kerry campaign's ads.

Three Democratic media consultants said that considering the campaign's situation-a president fighting a bad economy, a war that wasn't popular and millions of dollars of ads from independent groups tearing down George W. Bush-it could have done a better job conveying its message. They also said that fighting a wartime president isn't an easy task.

"There was a cohesion missing in Kerry advertising that was demonstrative of too many cooks in the kitchen," said Bill Hillsman, chief creative officer of North Woods Advertising, Minneapolis, and a veteran of a several political campaigns, including Ralph Nader's in 2000. "Republicans did a great job. They had a game plan and executed it well," he said.

Mr. Hillsman said the campaign was effective in its strategic targeting of battleground states, but was missing part of its message.

Joe Slade White, whose East Aurora, N.Y., firm handled retired four-star Gen. Wesley Clark during the Democratic primaries, said "There wasn't the emotion and soul to [Kerry's] message that they had in the primaries."

"They lost touch with it," he said, suggesting one reason may have been the departure of Jim Margolis of Omnicom's GMMB from the Kerry ad team after the primary. The later ads were handled by Shrum Devine & Donilon, Washington.

He also said the Kerry campaign hadn't adequately learned the lesson of the 1988 Dukakis campaign in responding fast enough to charges: in this case those levied by Swift Boat veterans, but more important, the Bush campaign's charge that Sen. Kerry flip-flopped on several issues.

He added that Kerry's advertising didn't seem to progress. "There didn't seem to be a plan. If they did it logically, they needed an overarching theme, the branding."

no frames

Another Democratic consultant who asked not to be identified said Kerry's camp "never established their positioning statement or their frame" for all communications. "For the president, it was that the president would provide a stronger, safer more secure America and negative was, `what Kerry says [is different] than what Kerry does.' Those two frames supported everything the president said on the positive and negative. The Kerry campaign never developed or established a theme for either a positive or negative message."

Neither the Kerry campaign nor Shrum Devine & Donilon returned calls for comment.

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