March 29, 2008
 

"1984": Hillary Strikes Back!

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By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor

The Clinton stealth team didn't waste much time in dreaming up its own viral response to the ill-conceived Apple "1984" rip, discussed in yesterday's Madison Avenue Journal. Just log onto the YouTube site where it's now drawn more visitors than attended the original Woodstock festival in 1969, though it's still far shy of the hundred-million plus audience that watched Chiat-Day and director Ridley Scott's Mac tease during the 1984 SuperBowl.

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A number of Madison Avenue veterans are probably getting a kick out of this developing Internet attack and counter-attack. Sal Devito, the brilliant creative director of New York's Devito-Verdi agency, who crafted Hillary Clinton's original positioning for the politicial arena, wasn't the guerilla guy on this one, because he'd never burbank off a legend's legendary campaign. Jerry Della Femina, who created what most Mad Ave historians regard as the second most highly recalled commercial of all time--the Meow-Mix spot in which cat's mouths are digitally manipulated into voicing meow meow meow meow until the announcer wraps with a line about Meow-Mix being the cat food more cats ask for by name--Jerry probably thinks all this is a lot of viral baloney.

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The guys who are surely whistling all the way to the bank are Lee Clow and Steve Jobs, the agency/marketer honchos who agreed to run the Mac teaser in the first place. Apple's garnering millions of dollars worth of new, free airtime and publicity for a commercial that's 23 years old. Is it possible Apple put two stealth teams to work on this project, playing one candidate against the other to throw a little more equity into a maturing brand? Hey, how's your product or company doing on YouTube these days?

Strategically, viral Hillary is smarter than viral Barack. The spot recognizes that one way to defuse an attack is with a humorous counter-attack that paints the attacker as a nobody. And so there's Barack Obama up on the screen, standing in for George Orwell's Big Brother as well as IBM, playing talking head to us, the skinhead zombie audience.

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The same drop-dead blonde comes running down through the auditorium, and this time at least it's the original female runner standing in for the new female candidate, the pro who's going to blow away this windy kid. Barack is warming up this lifeless crowd of stoners for a definitive statement on his political position, and, collapsing with laughter, he finally gives it--and it's that "I'm for the Bears to go all the way, baby!"

Well. We're relieved it's a spoof, and a good thing it is, because Obama has even less personal baggage and fewer real-life programs to attack than Hillary.. Even though Obama's spoken words are a million miles off sync with whatever he's actually saying, Hillary's busy little jammers make the point that he's a lightweight and can't even pick the right team to win. The commercial throws on a closing title "The Bears Lost. So Will Obama." and then clumsily follows that with a Clinton signoff and a strange announcer lift from the original 1984 spot that things won't be like 1984. It's what used to be called 'vampire video' on Madison Avenue--pictures and words and thoughts don't mesh very well throughout this goofy mashup.

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Right now, at this writing, it's a tantilizing mystery, because we don't know the identities of the creators of these two high-profile political satires. It doesn't feel like the SNL gang, or the Vancouver-based culture jammers at AdBusters, or Interference, the Manhattan stuntmen who cooked up the cartoon figures giving the finger to Boston's bridges and tunnels, or even the Bush campaign creep that did the subliminal "RATS" cuts in Al Gore's "DEMOCRATS" super.

How many more usual suspects are there out there? Probably thousands. That's the power of the emerging newer-than-new media, and it looks like they might be just warming up to help us choose the next President of the United States.

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