Monday, February 18, 2008

Humor Me: Celebs rule elections, too

By MATT WIXON
The Dallas Morning News

In nine months, another presidential election will be over, and Americans will have made their choice. That choice, judging by the debates, straw polls and number of people who believe Condoleezza Rice is a side dish at Chili’s, will be this:

To not vote.

For a lot of people, anyway, because voter turnout isn’t a highlight of the greatest country in the world. Some of us just don’t appreciate our power to elect leaders who will be our voice in government and work tirelessly to create a proclamation honoring the Tilt-A-Whirl.

But maybe this year will be different. Maybe voter turnout will improve because, well, Oprah Winfrey is involved. She’s publicly supporting Democratic hopeful Barack Obama, who is expected to spend the next two weeks battling Hillary Clinton for most photo opportunities involving Texas barbecue.

Ms. Winfrey isn’t the only celebrity involved, of course. Sen. Clinton has support from Barbra Streisand, and Republican hopeful John McCain has muscle from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. If Mike Huckabee somehow wins the Republican nomination, he’ll have Chuck Norris to lend a hand — and an icy stare and a roundhouse kick.

Those are just a few of the celebrities who made their endorsements public. And, as we all know, celebrities rule our culture. That’s why fans adore them, the paparazzi stalk them and an Internet news site had this headline:

“Pro wrestler Ric Flair endorses Huckabee”

Wow. But have we heard from Hulk Hogan? What about Randy “Macho Man” Savage?

Pretty ridiculous. Celebrities, whether they top the A-list or are begging to be on a cable network reality show, don’t know more about politics than we do. So can they really have any influence?

I would hope not. But then I think back to commercials featuring Donald Trump hawking Pizza Hut. To me, Donald Trump eating something from Pizza Hut is only slightly more believable than Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ dance moves in the commercials for Papa John’s Pizza.

But just being connected with a celebrity is valuable. That’s why Hanes signed up noted underwear expert Michael Jordan. That’s why Paris Hilton once ate a hamburger, which nearly weighed as much as she did, in a Carl’s Jr. ad. That’s why when Victoria’s Secret wanted to sell more lingerie, it reached out to a spooky-looking older guy who resembled Bob Dylan.

What? That really was Bob Dylan?

Yep. And years ago, that really was Joe Namath doing ads for pantyhose and Muhammad Ali talking about D-Con roach spray. And on that billboard next to the Dallas North Tollway, that really is Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens praising a local car dealership.

“My other team,” it says.

Well, I’m glad T.O. is such a team player. But I think car-buying advice from him is as valuable as hip-hop lessons from Jerry Jones or a Pamela Anderson guidebook to a lasting marriage.

Still, celebrities get paid a lot to endorse products, so celebrity branding must be worth something. Even if that product is a candidate for president.

Why not? Whether the product is a soft drink, sneakers or a person seeking to be leader of the free world, it’s the same. Whether the message is “yes we can,” “ready to lead” or “I just saved a bunch of money by switching to Geico,” it’s the same.

It’s all about packaging, positive branding and appealing to everyone. It’s not about saying the right thing, it’s about never saying the wrong thing. Never offending anyone.

With that in mind, I offer the candidates this idea for a commercial that features no words at all:

A picture of you, followed by a tight shot of children eating ice cream, followed by a wide shot of the Statue of Liberty and a flag waving, followed by puppies rolling down a hill into the arms of Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris.

Or maybe Bob Dylan, if he’s ready to move from endorsing lingerie to endorsing candidates.