The president of the dog food company summoned his chief salesman one day. "Jones," he said, "we hired you because you are the best dog food salesman in the business, our product has been tested by all the independent agencies and found to be the best dog food on the market and we spend more money on advertising than any other dog food company. Now why aren't we selling more dog food?"
"Because," said Jones, "the dogs won't eat it."
In this respect there can be no doubt that dogs are better off than people: They don't buy things they don't need or they don't eat things they don't like and therefore do not have to tolerate salesmen and advertisers.
At this point in the political season, you really have to feel sorry for the voters. Both presidential campaigns have been husbanding their resources so that during the pivotal last two weeks, every nickel can be spent on hurling dog food at the voters. The people, who have been encouraged to believe that theirs is a serious responsibility, will soon be sailing in a cesspool of half-truths, conflicting statements and prodigious oversimplification. Sandwiched between the 30-second Rolaids spot and the latest Dr. Pepper jingle, TV viewers now see Ronald Reagan representing that since nothing terrible happened while he was governor of California, he should be trusted with the presidency, Jimmy Carter suggesting that since he is willing to sit up at odd hours of the night in the Oval Office he must understand the seriousness of the presidency, and Mary Tyler Moore provocatively asking the men in the audience to leave the room.
During the next two weeks, Rolaids and Dr. Pepper will just have to bite their nails about their share of the market, because Reagan and Carter will be pounding each other with the havy artillery -- firing dog food. c
To hard-sell anything is usually to cheapen it and often to corrupt it. This process may serve a useful purpose in the commercial world, where the flow of money from one set of hands to another causes prosperity and creates jobs. But in the political arena you aren't asking people to part with a few dollars in the hope that they will become happier or better looking. You are asking people to trust a man with the power to make decisions that will affect their very lives. Presidential candidates shouldn't even try to convince people of their abilities to perform this awesome responsibility in 30 seconds; they demean themselves by making the attempt.
I might say that my low opinion of the value of television commercials in presidential politics is far from a universally held belief; I will also admit that in races for other offices, or even in presidential primaries, a less well known candidate can use television advertising to raise his name identification, and thus the level of interest in him. I will further admit that it is somewhat useful for purposes of getting out your own vote and making fair comment about the negative aspects of your opponent. But as an effective and positive tool for convincing people to vote for you, television advertising is a failure.
You have to understand that I have become jaded by "Nixon's the One," "Nixon, now more than ever" and a number of others, such as "Ronald Reagan, he'll make this country 'Walk Tall' again," Nixon, the man who stood up to Khrushchev," and "Reagan, he'll slay the federal dragon" -- which, fortunately, never saw the light of day.
Perhaps you have to appreciate what it was like in 1968 when -- after six months of having advertising people underfoot, being available to brief them in the hope they'd understand the complexity of how voters go through the process of making up their minds, trying to impress upon them the seriousness of the venture -- the Nixon staff was called together to view the results. The mysterious story board was finally revealed; all it said was "Nixon's the One." The point was made that the genius of this was that the voters would be encouraged to fill in this unfinished phrase with all the good things they thought of Nixon, such as "Nixon's the One who can bring peace to the world" or "Nixon's the One who can stop inflation."
Walking out of the room afterward, one of my friends and I decided we could make a lot of money marketing a poster of a pregnant woman with our slogan on it. Indeed, someone did precisely that. A reporter who hung around with our advertising people made a lot of money and earned critical acclaim with a book called "The Selling of the President," which I understand is now suggested reading for college students in some locales. Of course, as Humphrey started to gain on us, our polling showed that people were filling in our slogan with all the negative things they could think of and, therefore, every time we ran an ad, we were encouraging this practice. We won in spite of our advertising, and that's not to say that Humphrey's was any better.
It would be nice if television refused to sell ad time to presidential candidates but instead only offered each candidate one half-hour simultaneously on all three networks once a week. Television is capable of giving the voters an honest impression of candidates. You can't fool the people in the course of a half-hour and, if you try, the press will call you on it. Men would be encouraged to say what they would do in office; if they didn't have much to say, this would be noted as well. If a man can't be interesting for half an hour, once a week, he shouldn't be president.
Every time we hold a presidential election there is a lot of breast-beating about why more people don't vote. It certainly isn't because the people don't know there is a campaign going on, and I would strongly argue that it isn't because they don't think it's important. The dogs are simply refusing to eat that stuff. And I can't blame them.