Monday, September 7, 1998

Campaign strategy
shows in television

Experts say Fasi is
taking a risk, Lingle and Cayetano
are playing the odds

By Richard Borreca


Pop on the television. Vanna is spinning the wheel, Marino is going back for a pass, or MTV is running the Beastie Boys when suddenly, the campaign for governor invades your living room.

Gov. Ben Cayetano wants your vote because he's slicing the budget like a Benihana chef; Mayor Linda Lingle is working the playground crowd on Maui; while former Mayor Frank Fasi offers screen after screen of scrolling type on the TV.

What is going on?

Those apparently simple television commercials are the product of weeks of study and hours of meetings. Studied carefully, they give an insight into modern political campaigning and the strategies of the candidates.

Campaign '98 "In today's world, TV is an important part of the communication process," said Sen. Mike McCartney, co-chairman of Cayetano's campaign. "It is the major way people form their impressions. . . . It parallels the grass-roots campaign."

Al Hoffman, vice president with Communications Pacific and volunteer with Lingle's campaign, downplays the importance of television in Lingle's campaign, despite his own background as an executive with local television.

"Ours is a grass-roots campaign, so the television complements it, but mostly we are out in the community," Hoffman said.

Fasi's campaign, strapped for money and trailing in the polls, has relied on volunteer help to produce ads.

The message of the campaign, however, comes across in its design and strategy.

For many, the ads may be their only exposure to the candidate. University studies show that many people rely on political advertising to help them make their decision.

John Tedesco, a research specialist with the Political Communication Center at the University of Oklahoma, which has one of the largest collections of television commercials in the nation, explained the importance of television commercial strategy.

"A lot of times candidates think if they are behind, they should cut down the other candidates with attacks," Tedesco said. "But our studies of negative ads show they don't work in every case. Sometimes the best thing is (to) rise above the trenches."

He suggested that candidates who feel they are behind might want to bring in surrogates from the national party, stress the record and "just try to ride a wave."

Truth Contest Waikele Dana Alden, chairman of the marketing department at the University of Hawaii's College of Business Administration, said it is critical to work on the consumer's perception of whatever is being marketed.

"In product marketing, we like having a problem with the perception of something, rather than having a problem with the product," he said.

Alden said it appeared from a review of the Cayetano spots that there was a feeling his administration has not been perceived positively. Indeed, Cayetano says he is concerned that voters don't understand all his administration has done.

Alden says the Cayetano commercials have been low key and informational and use a powerful technique: two-sided advertising.

"First you acknowledge that there is a problem, then you supply what you say is the proper solution. This tends to have a more positive reception," he said.


In marketing classes, Alden said, students are taught that you can predict people's decisions based on three things: their beliefs, the importance of those beliefs and what other people think about those beliefs.

So a strategy for a television commercial aimed at influencing someone, Alden said, would try to increase the importance of a person's beliefs or change the way you think other people perceive your beliefs.

"Just changing beliefs is very hard to do," he said.

For the Lingle campaign, Alden said, the commercials have a different message: They are out to explain "a new concept," that there is someone who is the mayor of Maui running for governor.

When Lingle started the campaign a year ago, one of her stumbling blocks was name recognition. She didn't have the high profile of either Cayetano or Fasi.

"You have to create a level of awareness and knowledge," Alden said.

Women candidates also have to double up their messages, Tedesco said.

"Normally, women candidates, if they are successful, will show both a hard side and soft side of (their) personalities," Tedesco said. "They will capitalize on the fact that women candidates are more successful with social issues like education and health."

But one thing you see in many commercials for women, Tedesco said, is the candidate in a hard hat talking to construction workers or engineers or in another traditional male field.

"It violates the expectation, so some consultants do that routinely because the audience says, 'Wow, she is capable of that,' " he said.

Also important is the timing of the commercials. Both Alden and Tedesco said it was part of the Lingle strategy to introduce herself early to the TV-watching voter.

"If the candidate doesn't identify him(self) or herself, then the opponent will," Tedesco warned.

Alden says the rule of thumb is a viewer needs to see a commercial at least three times and not more than 10 times.

But if the ads are all part of a whole, like the Cayetano campaign -- which McCartney likened to "chapters in a book" -- then it doesn't matter if a viewer sees a spot only a few times.

"The Cayetano ads are all very much connected," Alden said.

The Fasi ads, characterized by simply scrolling text, are a dangerous gamble, Alden said.

"It is just tricky to use only text. The reality is that our words aren't as interesting as we think they are," he said.

Also, they compete with everything else going on in the room, and people aren't used to reading the television, but used to watching it, Alden said.

TV viewers find little to like
in candidates’ commercials

By Richard Borreca


Political consultants spend hours fine-tuning their candidates' messages. Thousands of dollars are spent working up a message, testing it and then sending it out to Hawaii's television-watching public.

How it is perceived, however, may drive those consultants back to their research.

An informal survey at local lunch wagons last week showed that Honolulu's voters are a tough audience and they aren't buying much of it.

Taka Nakano, a retiree, watched the spots for Maui Mayor Linda Lingle and former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi.

He wasn't impressed.

"I saw the Lingle and Fasi commercials. They are all the same. They talk but nothing is done. They talk like hell but nothing is done, every year," he said.

Richard Kalekini, a Roberts Hawaii tour bus driver, complained that the television commercials are negative.

"They are back-slashing everybody," he said. "The people got to get involved. I don't get caught up in this stuff.

"We've got to get somebody who we can trust, because their promises are just meant to be broken."

Susie Rodenkirchen, who works at Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Lab, could recall only one commercial. It was for Fasi, but all she remembered was the scrolling white text on a black background.

"I didn't have much of an opinion on it."

When it comes time to vote, Rodenkirchen makes her decision by finding out about the candidates from talking to friends and reading candidates' ads and informational brochures.

"I really don't watch much TV," she said.

Larry Chun, an installer with AT&T, said he's seen all of the candidates' commercials.

"I really didn't like Cayetano's. I liked the Lingle ones because she didn't attack anyone. But I'm not going to vote for her," he said.

"I already have my mind made up. I'm going to vote for Cayetano," he said, explaining that he was going to vote for Lingle until he decided she wasn't strong enough in opposing the same-sex marriage question.

"I'm for traditional marriage," Chun said.

The governor may win another vote, not because of or despite of his television commercials, but just because of his personality, said Junior Manatad, a state worker.

"They are pretty much all the same," he said of the TV spots.

"But if I vote, I'm voting for Cayetano. I just like the guy," he said.

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