Clinton’s Mellencamp Moment

For most Americans in my generation, John Mellencamp’s music is as iconic of heartland Americana as anything else.  From the high school sweetheart tale of “Jack and Diane” to the rusted tractor charm of “Our Country”, Mellencamp’s music speaks to a middle America that sometimes gets lost in today’s world of WiFi internet connections, i-phones, and shrink-wrapped hybrid vehicles.  There’s an organic, weathered quality to his music that is laced with an oft overlooked down home theme that pervades throughout.

It would seem to be the perfect music for the Straight Talk Express campaign style of John McCain who tries to invoke a kind of pork pie hat quality to campaigning.  A politician on a soapbox with the steel string styling of “Small Town” in the background is exactly the kind of image that McCain would fit best in.  The problem was that while McCain chose Mellencamp, Mellencamp did not choose McCain.

Media drives political campaigns; music, youtube, celebrity endorsements, tv spots, all of it.  But there’s something of a catch–while audio, visual, and print media are used to sculpt an image of the candidate, the components of this image may not necessarily support the candidate themselves.  For McCain this was the embarrassment of having Mellencamp publicly ask the candidate to stop using his songs.

The problem is, using media such as this implies endorsement.  Mellencamp’s endorsement of McCain may or may not have made a big splash, but the very public un-endorsement provided the kind of negative press that no campaign wants.

It’s a slap in the face that candidates bring upon themselves.

And it looks like Hillary may be facing a similar set up thanks to the usage of some stock footage for the “red phone” ad that proved to be so effective in the run up to Texas and Ohio. 

The problem?  The lead little moppet tucked away in her bed turns out to be a hardcore Obama supporter.

Now, there’s some disparity here between the Mellencamp situation and this one. Casey Knowles’ appearance in the ad was from stock footage which is owned by a separate entity and there’s no danger of Casey being able to say she wants the Clinton campaign to stop using the ad.

Nor is Casey a big famous star.

But she’s already suggested doing an answer ad for Obama, and it doesn’t take a marketing genius to script up an ad that would have some serious sting to it.

Roll original footage, then roll new footage of Casey sitting next to Obama and saying something like she wants Obama to be the one to pick up the phone.  Then you deliver the clincher.  Instead of Obama delivering the tag line “I approve this message”, you have them both delivering it together.

“WE approve this message”.

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