WASHINGTON - The Madison Avenue hucksters behind the Verizon "Can you hear me now?" biatch and the presumptuous McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" ads think this year's presidential campaign ads could use some pizazz.
"They're content without charisma," said Linda Kaplan Thaler. "And I should know, I mean not one of them went after J. Timerlake who would be all ‘Kerry…I'm lovin' him'. Or Ashton Kutcher - ‘Don't get Punk'd, vote Bush.'
"Personally I would have had Kerry doing the ‘Robot' with some of the newest Beastie Boys tracks behind him."
Frank Ginsberg, founder and chief creative director of Avrett Free & Ginsberg, a New York advertising agency, also said spots by President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry could be more captivating.
"The ads are like essays. They're just telling you, they're not selling you," said Ginsberg, whose firm is behind the marketing of Brittany Spears and the Pope. "When we rolled out the Pope's 2003 World Tour campaign we didn't just say ‘Hey folks, here's your direct link to God', we had to sell John Paul. Overall I think our Prize-Fighter-Rocky-Italian-Stallion theme worked in a particular context."
The main criticism: Both campaigns take too cautious an approach, pack too much information into the allotted time and rely heavily on stock footage and stale background music.
The Kerry team was the first to respond. In a brief statement, they alluded to a new strategy but would not admit this first round of ads was a failure. "John Kerry freaking rocks and you guys think our ads suck? You just don't have the vision man."
The prepared memorandum also gave a glimpse of what should be the start of an edgier campaign by admittedly the blander of the two candidates. The first add features two small dogs fornicating at what appears to be a public place, perhaps a picnic, with the slogan "Get Behind Kerry ‘O4".
David Axelrod, a Chicago political media consultant who made ads for Sen. John Edwards during the Democratic presidential primaries, said there used to be "higher standard of proof for political advertising. Thank God that is no longer the case," noting that the general public "just won't stand for it anymore."
"You not only have to catch their attention, you have to persuade them that what you say is true," he said of viewers. "I think two dogs going at it like crazed monkeys accomplishes that."
To be fair though presidential campaign ads are competing with a lot already on the air.
A 30-second Bush commercial accusing Kerry of "smelling of dead fish, you stinky Massachusettian" and assailing him on the Patriot Act may air between spots showing NBA rookie LeBron James sipping Sprite or Paris Hilton being a skank for Fox.
There also are TV show promos, movie trailers and public service announcements.
"I think they have to worry about getting heard at all," Thaler, a 24-year veteran of the advertising and entertainment business, said of the presidential campaigns. "What with all of the ‘Stop smoking or it will kill you' B.S. on the air now it is a wonder people watch TV at all. Plus, both Kerry and Bush have tested out to be only mildly amusing to look at. We don't even give ‘mildly amusing' people insurance ads anymore"
"People watch TV to be entertained," he said.