Reagan in 1984: a last hurrah

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Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign didn't end Madison Avenue's involvement in the presidential campaigns, but those who worked on it remember it as one of the final presidential campaigns in which Madison Avenue played a dominant role and captured a big-picture vision.

Commentators last week recalled President Reagan, who died last week at the age of 93, as "the great communicator"-a reputation he earned due to the speaking ability he honed through years as an actor, TV host and pitchman for products that included cigarettes. His natural optimism enhanced his ability to authentically encapsulate what it means to be American. (See Work, P. 34)

Marketing executives also reminisced about the Tuesday Team of superstar ad execs brought together for his final election campaign, and noted how dramatically political advertising has changed since.

The growth of political ad agencies, the increase in attack ads, spending by independent groups, and the targeting of battleground states at the expense of the rest of the nation has altered political marketing today, and several executives said they weren't entirely happy with the changes. Political observers were less judgmental but agreed that the campaign represented a different era.

"Now there are more political people doing Madison Avenue stuff than Madison Avenue people doing political stuff," said Ken Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin associate professor who tracks political advertising. He noted that some of the 1984 campaign's spots are still pointed to as among the most influential presidential campaigns of all time.

The idea of pulling together some of the brightest talents on Madison Avenue for the 1984 marketing push was not part of the Reagan team's initial plans. Democrats were using Roy Spence for Vice President Walter Mondale's campaign, and Republicans, too, intended to hire a single agency.

The idea of amalgamating agency execs into a team came about when several ad execs, among them Jerry Della Femina, expressed concern about the campaign's desire to cut the 15% agency commission to 11%, and the amount of time needed to do the $25 million to $30 million effort. That spending was for the whole campaign. (The Bush campaign this year is expected to spend about $190 million on ads before the GOP convention.)

Brainstorm troupers

Sig Rogich, a Las Vegas ad agency exec who now heads Rogich Communications Group and once was a White House aide, was one of the three directors of the Tuesday Team-another was James Travis of Mr. Della Femina's agency. Roger Ailes, then a top GOP consultant and now a top executive of Fox News, acted as media consultant. Finally, Phil Dusenberry of BBDO, Edward N. Ney of Young & Rubicam and Kenneth Roman of Ogilvy & Mather headed an advisory committee overseeing creative. Others on board included Tom Messner.

Mr. Rogich isn't shy about giving the team that resulted great credit, though he also said that the ability to do mostly positive advertising-Mr. Mondale didn't mount a very effective opposition-also helped. "It raised the bar to a level never seen before," he said last week. "The assemblage of talent was pretty overwhelming. It had a quality to it that was hard to imagine in this day of the 24-hour sound bite."

Some ads were produced on 33mm film, and some featured Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful" at the GOP convention. Others used Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be an American," which Mr. Greenwood licensed free.

One of the most famous, "Bear in the Woods," featured a bear rambling through the woods as an announcer, who was Hal Riney, said, "Will this bear turn vicious and attack, or just amble on its way?" in a reference to the Cold War. Another spot, ranked by Advertising Age as one of the 100 Greatest Campaigns of the century, "Morning in America," started, "It's morning again in America," and then referenced thousands of people getting married and other emotional upbeat events occurring in a single day.

cowboy charisma

Mr. Riney, who created the "Morning" and "Bear" spots along with a third, said they were produced with few questions from the campaign and at great cost-$700,000 for the three-"a hell of a lot of money then and 10 times what anyone spent on political advertising."

Mr. Riney never met Mr. Reagan, but described him-like John F. Kennedy-as "attractive, with an appealing personality and a lot of charisma." He had "a great smile, a simple cowboy warmth I think people liked. He always was quick with an amusing quip, which was useful," he said. Those traits eased Mr. Reagan through difficult moments and gave the populace "a sense of perspective."

Pundits' predictions that "Morning" and other ads would change politics were off the mark, Mr. Riney said. "After that, political advertising got worse," he said (see story, P. 4).

`icing on the cake'

He said these days, good ad people who get involved in doing political ads find themselves in a snake pit with "experts, pollsters and once you're in that mix, it can be very unrewarding and very unpleasant."

Mr. Dusenberry last week said the advertising wasn't necessary because Mr. Reagan won with 59% of the vote. "The advertising was just icing on the cake." He said "Morning" worked because it was "all about [Reagan] and what he had begun to do in his first term as president."

Mr. Dusenberry also said the Tuesday Team grew out of Reagan adviser Michael Deaver's 1983 request that BBDO get involved in the re-election effort. Mr. Reagan, earlier in his career, worked for BBDO when he was a pitchman for General Electric Co. "I explained to Mike that we, as a large agency, really couldn't take it on because it's probably not wise for a large agency to do a political campaign. You have to assume half your clients are Republicans and half are Democrats, and you'll probably tick off half of your client roster."

When his recommendation that Mr. Della Femina handle it fell through, the Tuesday Team was formed. It was named for Election Day, the first Tuesday in November.

contributing: alice z. cuneo, bradley johnson

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