- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Captain Morgan has a sobering party platform. And the Chick-fil-A cows beefed up their campaigning. It’s all part of the election-oriented advertising that companies are using to tap into the presidential election, to be held Nov. 2.

This has been done before, but advertisers tend to score points with Americans for politically charged humor.

The creative work and the industries being promoted run the gamut:

• Chick-fil-A’s cows entered the political arena in August with their “Self-Preservation Party,” which encourages people to “vote” chicken over beef.

• Captain Morgan, fresh off his run for the governor of California last year, has set his sights on the presidency with his party, “Americans for a Better Party.”

• NetZero’s Candidate Zero has been on the campaign trail since June, running on an “Access for all” platform boasting the company’s $9.95-per-month dial-up Internet access.

In addition to election-oriented marketing, many advertisers have incorporated everything from register-to-vote activities, to red, white and blue themes, to elections of their own.

Sorrento Cheese wants consumers to vote for their favorite cheese shape. Smarties candies have released get-out-and-vote wrappers and T-shirts.

Is it all too much? Are consumers starting to see ballot boxes in their sleep?

“It’s a moment of relief from the seriousness of the election,” said John Patterson, senior vice president and co-creative director of MGH Advertising in Owings Mills, Md. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily good advertising because it’s been done before.

“They blend into each other, and I’m not sure they really pop out,” he said.

Nonetheless, advertisers have spent millions to appeal to consumers — particularly this year, when Americans are so interested in the presidential election.

The first presidential debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry on Sept. 30 drew an estimated 62.4 million viewers — 34 percent more than the first presidential debate did in 2000, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Advertisers want to be on consumers’ minds, so they tie their creative strategy to current events.

“Captain Morgan is a brand that’s about being topical and playing into the themes that consumers are interested in,” said Stuart Kirby, a Captain Morgan spokesman.

“This provides us with the topical ground to speak to our consumers,” Mr. Kirby said.

Captain Morgan, who was a presidential candidate in 2000, accepted the presidential nomination for the “Americans for a Better Party” in July.

The rum’s grass-roots effort — which takes the focus off politics and onto partying — has won many supporters nationwide.

“Consumers are really buying into our platform,” Mr. Kirby said. “There’s a time to take politics seriously, but universally everyone is saying, ‘I need a break from it.’ ”

The political spoofs began in the summer, when the campaigning was just starting to heat up.

Candidate Zero — a self-proclaimed “regular guy” — has been traveling across the country for months, pitching NetZero’s unlimited Internet access.

“We put up a candidate that was compelling and timely,” said Mark Goldston, president and chief executive officer of United Online, NetZero’s parent.

“I think the guy’s going to get votes in the election,” Mr. Goldston said.

The “Access for All” campaign will continue through the election with different ads running every week or so. The commercials reflect the news.

Mr. Goldston says Candidate Zero is a “breath of fresh air” from the personal attacks and issues Americans have been bombarded with this year.

Chick-fil-A started its campaign in August, with the chain’s 1,100 fast-food restaurants displaying a mix of signs that featured the bovine marketers and their politically themed, misspelled messages, such as “Conserv Us. Eat Chikin Liberully,” “Weer Pro-Chikin,” and “Chikin. 4 Mor Yeers.”

“Without discounting the importance of the November election, we hope the cows will offer a little comic relief during the height of the presidential race,” said Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s chief marketing officer.

The cows even traveled to nine major markets as part of a monthlong voter-registration drive.

There’s no doubt the promotion helped increase the company’s exposure. Chick-fil-A had print and broadcast media coverage in all the markets.

“We expect the cows’ election-themed humor will help draw new attention to Chick-fil-A,” Mr. Robinson said.

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