Sometimes it pays to keep your creative ideas under wraps

I recently spent two days with a group of design students at a London university and set them a challenging brief. Could they come up with an advertising campaign that would reverse the fortunes of US Presidential candidate, John McCain? I asked them to set aside any preconceptions, as if they held opinions about the US elections, I judged it likely that they would be favourable to McCain’s Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

Behind in the polls, the self-styled ‘maverick’ McCain seems unable to reach out to undecided voters and even has trouble retaining the rock-solid Republican base. He’s battling against the unpopularity of George Bush and a financial crisis on a scale unseen since 1929. Can advertising really make a difference in this kind of context?

Much to my delight – my creative delight, that is – the students came up with range of interesting ideas to boost McCain’s flagging campaign in the dying days of the election. “Nothing comes between me and my country” read one of the lines, showing a picture of former fighter pilot snuggling up in bed with an American flag. Another pair of would-be creatives came up with the slogan “I’ve been there” – demonstrating McCain’s heritage not only as a warrior, but also as a family man and Senator.

Two of the young designers likened the Republican candidate to a trusty pair of denim jeans or the reliable “little black dress” – something that was always there and could always be called upon. Another group changed his name to read McCan, emphasising how his experience could be brought to bear on the problems facing the US today. Perhaps my favourite was line which read “The everyman for everyone”. It was accompanied by a TV storyboard that was plausible enough to be presented to staffers at the McCain-Palin war room tomorrow and reinforced the notion of Obama as an aloof intellectual standing against someone who was just a regular guy.

Enough to turn an election around? Maybe not. But I’d bet my bottom dollar we could knock a point or two off Obama’s lead. My own political leanings mean that I’ve tucked the ideas safely away in a locked drawer until after 4th November.

© Phil Woodford, 2008. All rights reserved.