MARKETER:Topp Telecom's Tracfone
AGENCY:The Blum Group, New York
RATING:Three and a half stars
The Blum Group
57 West 28th St.
New York, N.Y. 10001
It has come to ourattention that you are in receipt of a sharply worded letter from our neighbor, the White House, regarding your 30-second TV commercial for Tracfone prepaid cellular service.
The letter cites "longstanding White House policy prohibiting the use of the president's name, likeness, words or activities in any advertising or commercial promotion" and asks you to refrain from airing the ad.
We have seen this commercial, one of 10 spots touting the benefits of prepaid cellular vs. telco subscriber deals, and we were frankly shocked that you would expropriate the pictures of not one, not two, but three presidents without their approval.
In the first unauthorized clip, as you are well aware, viewers will see Richard M. Nixon, in the thick of Watergate, assuring the American people, "I'm not a crook." May he rest in peace.
This is followed immediately by President George H.W. Bush sounding his own political death knell: "Read my lips . . . no new taxes!" And then President Bill Clinton famously setting the record straight on the liberal media's irresponsible rumormongering: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."
Then a title card drops onto the screen with the following disrespectful message: TALK IS CHEAP.
Perhaps, gentlemen, this is your idea of a joke, replaying the glib dissembling of our nation's leaders to engage in mean-spirited wordplay. Well, if it is not your idea of a joke, it certainly is ours. We therefore implore you:
No matter what legal sabers the White House rattles, do not cease and do not desist.
Notwithstanding how this and previous administrations have intimidated advertisers with similar warnings, it is finally obvious that there are times when the administration policy does not apply.
The policy prohibits using presidential imagery "in any way that suggests a connection between the president, his family or the White House and the product or service . . ." Excuse the legal hairsplitting, but clearly the proscription is rooted entirely in the desire not to imply presidential endorsement.
This spot, of course, implies no such thing. No rational viewer, nor even a House Republican, could infer any connection whatsoever between these presidents and the advertised brand, because the advertised brand is excoriating them for the liars and fools they are. It is called satire. It is political speech within commercial speech, and--in our legal opinion, based on literally dozens of hours watching Court TV--beyond the White House's reach.
The fact that the political mockery falls within a commercial is irrelevant. It is our understanding that "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," to name one example, is not a pro bono enterprise.
Please do not misconstrue our intent here. We would be most disheartened if every advertiser and his loser half-brother decided to use presidential news clips as a cheap attention-getting device. But in this particular instance, the ad is both trenchant satire and a clear, potent communication of the advertising claim. (The rest of the campaign is excellent, too.)
So, we respectfully request, don't surrender this spot until they claw it from your cold, dead hands.
Thank you for attention, and God bless America.
Copyright February 1999, Crain Communications Inc. ; ;