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Bill, Barry and Fear-Driven Advertising

An ad hit the airwaves this week featuring Bill Clinton talking about Obama’s moment of courage, in ordering the “get Bin Laden” operation. What does it signify?

They don’t really like each other, Bill and Barry. Pundits like Chris Matthews, stuck with President Obama, are openly, eagerly, speculating about a 2016 presidential run by Hillary, a proxy for Bill. Surely if he had his druthers, President Obama would prefer that Bill Clinton was very quietly retired to a rocking chair. But here it is, barely the start of the campaign, and Obama has gone to the bench, and made Clinton the star of his very first ad.

I’m an advertising guy by trade and background. I understand full well the power of celebrity, celebrity endorsers and celebrity surrogates in advertising. But this president is himself a proud peacock celebrity. He got elected as a celebrity, a rock concert star with fainting fans. He revels in it, breaking out into his Al Green imitation, making the late night TV rounds (where Clinton played saxophone). He’s the most speech-making President ever. So why does such a star need a different celebrity to shill for him, to be the star of his commercial? 

We can safely wager the biggest steak in Texas that this was not Slick Willie’s idea. The chances that he came knocking on the Oval Office door, volunteering to be Obama’s Salesman In Chief are about the same as holding a winning Mega-Millions ticket and being hit by lightning twice en-route to cashing it in. There’s even less chance that Hillary having suggested it, as a version of her own “midnight call” ad once used against Obama, and dragged Bill by ear-lobe in to do it. The chances that Obama himself dreamt this up are also skinnier than the profits made by his green energy company investments. This is not a humble man eager to display need for Clinton

A team of theoretically very smart and highly paid political operatives and advertising professionals drove this decision. It’s an odd one. If you own a star, and that star is the person or product you’re selling, you don’t get a rent-a-star to take the lead. It’s very odd.

In my mind, it can mean only two things.

One, that there is a secret fear and desperation within the Re-Elect Obama campaign, perhaps akin to that which had Nixon so fearful of McGovern that dirty tricks and two-bit burglary occurred. That there may be insider polling data and information the media has no clue of, that is so worrisome that Obama’s campaign’s wise men felt need to reduce their star to silent still pictures, and bring in THE Big Dog. If this is the explanation, there may be more Hope for Change than many conservatives feel at the moment.

Or, the only other explanation, astutely suggested by my wife: the Obama people wanted to get Clinton locked in to visible, vocal endorsement of their product as early as possible, to make it harder for him to engage in mischief, as he’s wont to do. It makes sense to head off any subtle or overt undermining of their candidate in coming months. This, too, reveals some surprising fear and trepidation about the campaign ahead. Why worry about Clinton if you aren’t worried about something more?

The “He Got Bin Laden” ad not starring the man who (in his own telling) got Bin Laden, but, ironically, instead starring the former president who had his opportunity to do so and muffed it, has some hidden, insiders’ message. I smell fear, but I can’t see why.