Bush won the ad war, but at a cost

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A billion dollars here, a billion there, and what did we get? A winner, a loser and a fractured country. The tack and attack flipped (for President Bush) and flopped (for Sen. Kerry). In marketing, there was one fundamental difference: Bush the brand stood for something; Kerry stood for too much (and so nothing).

Theme of the Bush political, marketing and advertising campaign: Winning the war on terror. Kerry? It's varied: "A stronger America," "Hope is on the way," "A fresh start" and other not-so-fresh appeals.

Candidates, parties and advocacy groups spent at least $1.2 billion on the presidential election, estimates the Center for Responsive Politics. That's $10 a vote, the price of a presidential ticket. But scattershot advertising may have cost Sen. Kerry the election.

It's no surprise. Advertising Age wrote the obituary on his failed advertising a month ago ("Big budget busts: Where Kerry's ad team went wrong," Oct. 4).

The president ran a strong offense, with a simple and consistent message, and kept the senator on the defense, with simple and consistent attacks. When one candidate defines us and them, it's hard for them to win.

President Bush won the marketing campaign-at a high cost. His attack ads worked, but they helped further divide a nation. Major combat operations are over; battles in the homeland continue.

Consumer advertising professionals know how to deliver creative that reaches the heart and connects us with the product. Madison Avenue pioneered presidential TV advertising (Ted Bates' Rosser Reeves and BBDO for Eisenhower) and created the best ( DDB's "Daisy" for Lyndon Johnson, the Tuesday Team and Hal Riney's "Morning in America" for Reagan).

But the ad pros were largely sidelined this year, ignored by political strategists who ran amok in the muck. In the hands of brutish political consultants, presidential advertising became a weapon of mass destruction.

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