One of Gerald R. Ford's most enduring legacies was definitely not his Whip Inflation Now campaign launched by the Advertising Council.
How Gerald Ford's WIN Effort Became a Loser for the Ad Council
Even Council Execs Thought the Anti-Inflation Campaign was Corny
Met with derision
The WIN ads and buttons were derided by talk-show hosts and newspaper columnists, and caused two members of an anti-inflation group called together by Mr. Ford to resign.
There's no doubt inflation was a big problem in the early '70s and worthy of a communications effort to stem the tide. The problem was that the WIN theme, suggested by some old hand connected to the White House, was hustled into the media before it was ready.
'Less than excited'
My old friend Dean Fritchen, who was a VP at the Ad Council in charge of media and public relations, remembers Ad Council President Bob Keim stopping by his office the day after a conference where the WIN campaign was put forth to say that the ads were given urgent status. "He and Ad Council volunteers were less than excited, but a request from the president, as long as it was not political, was priority and almost always honored," Dean told me. He added that Bob sounded "frustrated [and] did not like the concept."
One of the hang-ups was that usual Ad Council campaigns explained what people could do about the problem -- an invitation to take some action, such as send away for a booklet on the subject. The WIN campaign had no advice on how to subdue the double-digit inflation that was ravaging America. Consequently, the ads were "never taken seriously by the American public. They were gimmicky, and inflation is not a gimmicky subject," Dean said.
At first WIN was well-received. As Bob wrote in his book, "A Time in Advertising's Camelot," when the White House released the story of the program, it made the front page of every major newspaper in the country -- "all positive stories at that point."
Sylvia Porter and Ralph Nader
But among the inflation group of 20 or so were syndicated financial columnist Sylvia Porter and Ralph Nader. Ms. Porter, nominated to be chairperson, told Mr. Ford that there couldn't be any politics involved or she would resign.
"I'll never forget the word he used in his response: 'Sylvia, I promise you there will not be a scintilla of politics in this campaign.' That was good enough for me," wrote Bob, "and most of the others."
So Benton & Bowles, which had done the Ad Council's previous work on inflation, designed buttons, bumper stickers, "every promotional idea in the book." The campaign was "universally applauded" in its first days.
Unfortunately, Bob said, "the presidential campaigns were also in full swing. Naively, the president, or one of his speechwriters, put in a simple reference to the WIN campaign in an unrelated political speech. Granted, it wasn't in a political context, but it was mentioned in a political speech during a presidential election, and that was all it took.
"WIN-Whip Inflation Now -- was branded as part of the Ford campaign for president. Nothing we could do or say could possibly help. Talk shows picked it up, columnists had a field day with it and comedians a laugh riot." True to her word, Ms. Porter, along with Mr. Nader, resigned.
"It was Waterloo for Whip Inflation Now," as Bob Keim put it.
Let Dean Fritchen have the last words. WIN "was not a typical Ad Council campaign because we felt it was corny, but Gerry Ford's staff wanted us to do it, and it was forced on us, and not up to our high standards. We loved Gerry Ford, but he had people giving him bum advice."