Last Updated: February 12, 2010 by ldanielson

THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING — ADDENDA; Top Effie Award Goes for Humorous Ads That Helped Win Senate Seat
The New York Times | Published: June 13, 1991
Link to article

New York Times LogoAN advertising award honoring results, as well as creativity, has been presented for an unusual series of humorous ads that achieved the ultimate result in politics: They helped a candidate for the United States Senate win election.

The New York chapter of the American Marketing Association last night presented its Grand Effie Award, for the most effective advertising of 1990, to the Wellstone for Senate campaign (that’s campaign as in series of ads, not as in stump for office). The chapter is calling the award — previously won by product-selling pitches for Absolut vodka, Quaker oatmeal, Pizza Hut and other consumer marketers — the first such national honor bestowed on political advertising.

“It really was a masterful campaign,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. “That level of creativity is something we ought to be rewarding.” Most impressive, she added, was the advertising’s ability to be “effective without being deceptive.”

She admires the campaign’s television spots for avoiding the prevailing practice in political advertising of doing what the consultants call “going negative.” For instance, a two-minute commercial dubbed “Looking for Rudy” showed a folksy Paul D. Wellstone roaming the state in a futile attempt to find Rudy Boschwitz, the Republican incumbent, and debate him. “Saying ‘My opponent won’t debate me’ is a perfectly legitimate argument,” she said.

The campaign’s print, television and radio ads, which appeared in Minnesota last fall, were created by North Woods Advertising, a volunteer group comprising Minneapolis-area ad professionals from agencies like Fallon McElligott. The group was led by Bill Hillsman, creative director of a small Minneapolis agency, Kauffman Stewart Advertising Inc. The arrangement was noteworthy because it has become far more common for candidates to hire Washington-based political consultants than to rely on locally based advertising executives to produce their image-crafting ads.

The campaign made a star of Mr. Wellstone, a Democratic liberal college professor who was all but written off when he began his race against Senator Boschwitz. When Mr. Wellstone edged out the two-term Republican in November, he was the only challenger in the country to defeat an incumbent senator.

Political analysts gave a good deal of the credit to his ads, which used whimsical humor as a weapon to persuade voters to turn out Senator Boschwitz.

Other factors also assisted Mr. Wellstone in his come-from-behind victory, the analysts noted, like a public backlash against a negative Boschwitz ad that injected religious issues into the campaign, as well as turmoil within the Republican Party in Minnesota because of a sex scandal that affected the gubernatorial race.

Still, the analysts predicted that by softening negative advertising with a smile, the Wellstone strategy could become popular among candidates in the 1992 elections.

The premise of a 30-second spot called “Fast-Paced Paul” was that Mr. Wellstone, who spent less than $500,000 on his advertising, could not afford to match Mr. Boschwitz’s war chest of $7 million. The result: quickly cut camera shots were used to jam detailed information about Mr. Wellstone’s background and record into the commercial. Ms. Jamieson praised that effort as “technically innovative” for using MTV production values to condense into a single spot material that normally would fill several.

In honoring the Wellstone campaign, the advertising community is “sending a message” to the political community, Ms. Jamieson said, adding, “They are saying, ‘There is fair and accurate political advertising, so don’t condemn us for everything else.’ ”

The Grand Effie was the highlight of the 23d annual presentation of the Effies, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan. A total of 130 gold, silver and bronze Effies were presented, in 43 categories.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 13, 1991, on page D22 of the New York edition.

Tags: , , , , , ,