Hillary Clinton needs no introduction.
That much should be apparent from her ads, some of which don’t even bother to utter her name.
The ad “Ready for Change,” which is currently airing Iowa and New Hampshire, starts with the roll of a marching drum surrounded by a whirl of muted trumpets. A single horn plays a soaring, heroic theme while a narrator refers to Mrs. Clinton as “her” or “she.” And then there she is, dressed in black then yellow then blue then turquoise then red suit jackets in a barrage of jump cuts. She gives thumbs-up, she points and she shakes hands at a flurry of different events spliced together to enforce the notion that she is an agent of change. The cuts slow only once, to linger on her face in a close-up as she nods meaningfully with her chin on her hand. “She has the experience,” intones the narrator.
The only mention of her name comes from the federally mandated disclaimer at the end of the ad. “I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message,” her voice says.
The media consultants and advertising executives tasked with selling Hillary Clinton—led by former Clinton-Gore advertising director Mandy Grunwald—have had the luxury, essentially, of skipping the tradition biographical material and of getting right to the point, targeting demographic groups, key issues and campaign themes.
And judging by the polls in key primary states and nationally, it’s been working.
“They’ve been absolutely effective because she has been able to skip the introduction phase,” said Evan Tracey, who tracks political advertising as chief operating officer for TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group. “She can go right in on issues and go right in drawing contrasts between her and the current administration. In much the same way McDonald’s rolls out a new sandwich, her campaign was right there with the rollout of her health care plan. And that’s a luxury.”
So while Barack Obama has spent nearly $3 million introducing himself to primary voters and Bill Richardson has spent more than $2 million, Mrs. Clinton has been able to go directly to Phase Two. When she finally rolled out her long awaited health care plan last week, for example, it was followed immediately by a 30-second ad boosting her plan.
According to Mr. Tracey, Mrs. Clinton has bought about $800,000 worth of advertising time so far in Iowa and New Hampshire for her three ads, mostly on local broadcast networks. In other words, she’s just getting started.
Her pitch goes something like this: Mrs. Clinton is a tough-but-caring woman who, alone among the Democratic candidates, has the necessary experience to bring about change from the Bush years. Since media consultants say it takes something in the neighborhood of a dozen viewings before a political message is absorbed, voters in early states can expect to hear a lot of it.
The ads are the work of a creative team headed by Ms. Grunwald, a longtime Clinton loyalist and well-established foothold in the media firmament. (She’s the daughter of the late Henry Grunwald, who edited Time magazine, and the wife of political journalist Matt Cooper.)
About once a week, Ms. Grunwald plots the campaign’s media course in a meeting with communications director Howard Wolfson and chief advisor and pollster Mark Penn. According to campaign aides, the media team is still developing, but currently includes Roy Spence, an advertising executive and longtime friend of the Clintons who coined John Edwards’ resonant “Hope is on the way” slogan in the 2004 election, and Linda Kaplan Thaler, an advertising executive who is known on Madison Avenue for successfully pitching shampoos and hairsprays.
The team also includes relative political newcomers Jimmy Siegel and Danny Levinson, who are partners at the production company Moxie Pictures. (Siegel’s first political ads, which tend to be more cinematic and irreverent than traditional political spots, were shot for Eliot Spitzer when he was running for governor.)
So far, experts in the field have had positive things to say about their work.
“With Hillary it’s always very strategic and very well-timed,” said Ken Wheaton, who follows the marketing aspects of the presidential race as editor of the Campaign Trail blog at Ad Age.
The first ad, titled “Invisibles,” went up in Iowa in August and starts with surging violins playing while Mrs. Clinton, hands dug into the pockets of her blue suit jacket, walks across a field next to a farmer in a wide brimmed hat. It then cuts to her telling voters in a town hall setting how she hears from so many people across America who feel “invisible to their government.” We then see all those invisible people—factory workers, reading children, brawny soldiers—hugging Mrs. Clinton in different settings. A lone clarinet plays a nostalgic Aaron Copland-esque tune that accompanies her as she says Americans “may be invisible to this president, but they’re not invisible to me.”
The ad was basically designed to pick a fight with the Bush administration. By that measure, it was a success: the White House called it “outrageous” and “unconscionable.” Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly sought to seem above the fray of primary politics, and as a result, the inevitable nominee, by casting herself in direct conflict with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. (See her remarks at a Sept. 19 fund-raising event near Times Square, where Mrs. Clinton compared Mr. Cheney to Darth Vader.)
Mrs. Clinton’s second ad, “Ready for Change,” uses a narrator. Obviously geared toward a primary audience, the ad is meant to stave off the insurgence of Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards, who are both running on the premise that Mrs. Clinton is the personification of an old Washington system that need to be changed.
“That’s all poll-driven,” said Mr. Strother. “And I can promise you that they are very effectively and efficiently targeting whomever they decide is their targets.”
Or as Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran New York media consultant who worked on Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign with Mr. Penn, put it, “This is a unified image driven by Mark Penn’s data.”
For the past two weeks, Iowa viewers have also been watching Mrs. Clinton’s third ad, titled “Hillary’s Health Care Plan.” More folksy than the other two, it starts with piano music that sounds vaguely like the score of a Ken Burns Civil War documentary. Mrs. Clinton is shown comforting a girl in a hospital bed (an “Invisible” from the first ad), and then running down steps among a crowd of giddy children.
The narrator tells the viewer, “She changed our way of thinking when she introduced universal health care to America.”
So far, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has limited its more creative spots to the Web, relying on free media publicity to disseminate their message to a broad audience.
Most famously, a hastily produced send-up of a Sopranos episode starring Hillary and Bill Clinton ended up on the front page of New York’s tabloids, and a Web-based contest to pick a campaign song drew favorable reviews for highlighting her easily missable sense of humor. (One of the choices Mrs. Clinton rejects is “Sexy Back.”)
Less talked-about Web-based experiments include video of Mrs. Clinton acting as a nurse for a day, in which she walks around a hospital in a pink apron, doing nursing chores and saying things like “Oh, that is so neat the way that works.” Without changing from her pink apron, Mrs. Clinton then goes to prepare and eat dinner at her mentor nurse’s house. She washes her hands at the sink and prays with her head bowed at the dinner table. She pours Thousand Island dressing on iceberg lettuce. “Your mother worked me to the bone today,” says Mrs. Clinton to the two unresponsive boys sitting across the table.
“The campaign is actively going out and using the Web to purse an agenda of humanizing Hillary Clinton,” said Ira Teinowitz, the Washington bureau chief for Ad Age.
So far, the lesson seems to be that there’s a market for everything the Clinton media shop is producing. Which probably ought to come as a surprise to precisely no one.
“It’s very hard to be too rich or too thin or have too much advertising,” said Mr. Tracey. “You’re always reaching somebody.”
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