Representatives of the longtime consumer advocate's campaign are in negotiations with ABC, CBS and NBC to buy national network advertising time this week and next. But the majority will be focused on local TV, planned to begin in at least four markets this week.
While the campaign is interested in using both network and local TV ads, "no checks have been written" for a national buy, said John Blackshaw, president of North Woods Advertising, Minneapolis, the agency handling Mr. Nader's advertising effort. As of press time, the campaign had not committed to national ad time on any of the three major networks.
Local markets to see the first ad will most likely include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. Bill Hillsman, North Woods' chief creative officer and Mr. Nader's media adviser, said the ad would address the oft-repeated charge that Mr. Nader's candidacy will cannibalize support from the Democratic contender, Vice President Al Gore. North Woods executives declined to detail the content of the spot, although Mr. Blackshaw told the Associated Press last week that the ad would be "a little bit of a swipe at the other two parties." The ad will be unveiled today.
Though the election is still three months away, Mr. Nader maintains his ads come at the right time. "I don't think it is too early because we are focusing on the presidential debates," he said, during a stop at the GOP convention last week. Noting that the official debates require a candidate to have a 15% showing in five national polls by October, Mr. Nader hopes the ads will help him get included. As of press time, polls considered by the Commission on Presidential Debates showed he averaged 6% support.
Mr. Hillsman, who has created offbeat, humorous ads for outsider candidates such as Sen. Paul Wellstone (D. Minn.) and Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura, calls the commission's requirements "a complete sham," adding that official polls tap only "likely voters" who are most often members of the two major parties.
Mr. Hillsman hopes the campaign's advertising will rally popular support for Mr. Nader among those dissatisfied with the current political landscape. "There are 90 million people out there who don't vote," he said. "That's a sizable market if you're a marketing guy."
Darrell West, a professor of political science at Brown University and an expert on political advertising, sees promise in the debate-focused strategy. "The most important thing that Nader can do is get into the debates so he can help set the agenda," he said. "Even if he doesn't win, he can argue that he redefined the political debate."
Mr. West cites H. Ross Perot as a previous third-party success story who was able to use his slot in the 1992 presidential debates to establish debt reduction and fiscal responsibility as high-profile national issues.
"In 1992, Ross Perot was in the debates, and in 1996 he was not, and there was a tremendous difference in exposure," he said.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Hillsman will be able to work the same magic for Mr. Nader as he did for Gov. Ventura and Sen. Wellstone, but Mr. West believes the public may be eager for an alternative message. "Third parties have their best opportunity in a long time. Voters are disillusioned, the parties are close together in their public presentation, and neither is making an effort to mobilize its wings," he said.
Contributing: Ira Teinowitz.