January 14, 2008 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

“Let The Sniping Begin”

One of my favorite quips ever is “It’s a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing Milk-Bone underwear.” You can bet no one is feeling that more than the nine candidates running for the presidency of the United States. Today is a whole new day. The prelims are over. The calendar has turned. And the hounds have been released.

Get ready! This is going to be the most negative year in the history of American politics.

Forget the ridiculousness of the critics and the pundits who are already handicapping who’ll get the Republican and Democratic nominations based on the results in Wyoming, Iowa and New Hampshire and the whopping 14 electoral votes between them. I’m talking about the negative ads that have already started flying and the ones yet to come. The really ugly, nasty, juicy ones. As one of my buddies in the business calls them, the “rib-crackers” that are being held in reserve until the moment they’ll inflict the most damage.

Normally, by now, we’d have a pretty good idea where the nomination trains are heading. But with five viable Republican candidates—Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Huckabee and Thompson—and three on the Democratic side—Hillary, Obama and Edwards—we’re in for a Cage Match Battle Royal unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. It’s inevitable. The candidates on both sides are neck and neck and have already bought more media than ever before. And that’s just to secure the nominations. Wait until after the conventions and the Republicans and Democrats get to start beating up on each other.

Why the need to go negative? Well, for starters, it works. People say they hate negative campaigning, and they probably do. But just as a bell can’t be unrung, a well-timed, well-placed negative ad with factual information can’t be ignored. Like that bell, it also rings in your head long after you’ve heard it. The other thing about going negative is that in today’s political culture, no one’s brave enough to bet their race and place in history on staying positive. If it doesn’t work, you’re done. You win the battle, but you lose the war.

I have to admit, the negative thing intrigues me. I keep waiting for the day it spreads to other non-political campaigns. Can you imagine how funny that could be?

“Orange Juice. Grapefruit Juice. Cranberry Juice. Alcoholics? No one knows for sure. But research has shown that if you go into any bar in America, you will find them there. And not just sometimes. They’re there all the time. Problem? That’s for the people to decide. But answer one question—if these three juices spend so much time mixing with alcohol, how can they possibly have the time to be America’s chosen breakfast juice? I’m Apple Juice, and I approved this message.”

Call it negative. Call it contrast. Call it whatever you want. We’re in for a big snoot full of it for the next 11 months. We can only hope that in the end, something good will come of it. It better.

Our democracy is at stake.

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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