Candidate: Pat Buchanan
Agency: Love Advertising, Houston
Ad review rating: Zero stars
Joe sixpack is eating a spaghetti dinner while watching the news, which we join in progress: ". . . has signed an executive order saying that English is no longer America's national language. It's executive order No. 13136 . . ."
At this, our hero chokes on a meatball. Gasping for air, he grabs the phone to dial for help. This is what he gets:
"Thank you for calling 911. Please listen for your language. For Spanish, press 1. For Korean, press 2. For Bengali, press 3. For Russian, press 4. For Swedish press 5. . . ."
Then we hear the voice-over: "Do you ever miss English? Immigration is out of control. Bush and Gore are writing off English for good. What can you do? Vote for the third party that puts Americans first. Vote Buchanan for president."
Then, as a kicker, we hear the rest of the 911 message: ". . . for Swahili, press 12."
Now here's a challenge, trying to evaluate Pat Buchanan's campaign ad by the ordinary standards of advertising quality. It's a head-turner, no question about that. And it's sort of funny, after a fashion, at least to the people it's intended to amuse. And it certainly communicates.
It communicates like crazy, not only framing the issue--i.e., immigrants are funny-talking vermin who threaten our way of life--but also Buchanan's unapologetic stance: Keep them the hell away.
The thing is, the message is also inherently jingoistic, intolerant, divisive and, leave us not forget, racist.
That's interesting, too. Normally, extremists running as third-party candidates try to cloak themselves in the mantle of respectability while communicating their corrosive messages in thinly veiled code words. Not Buchanan.
Hand him that; he goes straight to the point in his fear-mongering. Indeed, instead of renouncing the fascistic America First movement he has been accused of mimicking, he explicitly invokes it in his slogan.
One wonders, though, if the venue for his ad--"WWF Smackdown!"--isn't overshooting in terms of audience intelligence and sophistication. For the mentality Buchanan cultivates, pro wrestling may as well be a Merchant/Ivory production. Let's see . . . where else could he advertise?
Is there a Skinhead Channel?
The other question is this: Knowing he will never again be able to command respect in any respectable political company, why does Buchanan bother? He will never be president. He has surrendered any chance of accumulating political capital to be redeemed for power or influence. The most he can accomplish is to be a hero--or, more likely, a martyr--for the reactionary fringe.
Perhaps he has deluded himself that this ad will strike a populist chord among those who harbor similar fears but dare not express them. We suspect the opposite will happen: He will be understood, once and for all, for the bigoted demagogue he is.
Not since Pennsylvania's auditor general blew his brains out on a live broadcast has there been a more blatant televised political suicide. And therein lies the answer for evaluating the spot.
It's axiomatic: Nothing kills a bad product better than good advertising.
Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.