My old boss and mentor, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, was once quoted as saying, in relation to the brilliant Willie Horton attack ad he and political partner-in-crime, Lee Atwater, made (which sunk the Michael Dukakis campaign against George H.W. Bush): “The only question was whether to depict Horton with a knife in his hand.” Or something like that.
A lot of people have asked me over the past week whether the Hillary Clinton campaign would score some damage in allegedly (at least as reported by Matt Drudge) circulating a photo of Barack Obama in traditional Somali gear. My answer was that negative visuals like this work when they do, and backfire when they don’t. Often it’s a very fine line and tough to gage. If the Clinton campaign did release it, I would have focus grouped the heck out if it before doing so rather than making a blind prediction. (Then again, Clinton’s desperate, and angry — a characteristic which, however unfair, looks horrible on women in politics — enough at the moment that she really has nothing to lose.)
My take? I would imagine that the photo would only have an impact on people who wouldn’t have ever voted for Barack Hussein Obama anyway, and I suspect that it would do far more damage in a general election campaign than in a Democratic Party primary.
But images, in both political and corporate PR campaigns, can backfire. And sometimes in ways that aren’t even foreseen. In other cases – eh, not so much.
Entrepreneur Richard Branson’s brilliant and edgy “Flick Off” campaign for the unfortunate crock of an issue that is “manmade glowbull warming” is illustrated, here:
But this particular depiction by a Toronto-based politician who wasn’t paying enough attention to detail and the potential power of imagery, landed her on the backbench:
And here’s Bush, making it “cunt”:
It works for him, though, because he strikes people as the kind of guy who would do this as a joke. It would be harder to weather for “Jesus Gold Star” recipient and moral high-ground staker like Mike Huckabee, though.