Kirsten Andersen
kirsten@politicalusa.com


 

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SUBLIMINABLE ADVERTISING, TAKE 2

11/3/2000

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The hotly contested Virginia senate race has taken a turn for the nasty.
Chuck Robb’s campaign has resorted to using (as our next President would
say) ‘subliminable’—or subliminal advertising in Northern Virginia, perhaps
as a last-ditch effort to hold on to a state that is rapidly slipping
through his fingers.

Robb’s opponent George Allen has been maintaining his lead here; statewide
he is ahead by about five points. In Northern Virginia, which is mainly
comprised of Washington, D.C. suburbs, it is a closer race, and the fight is
for Fairfax County, where there are over a million people—about one sixth of
the state’s population.

Robb’s campaign has apparently abandoned the issues in favor of real,
honest to goodness subliminal advertising. Maybe he has to go that route
because he is so out of touch with Virginia voters, but the sneaky
psychological warfare is a bit extreme.

Northern Virginia is a crowded place, with crowded subways, crowded
freeways and crowded streets that move at a frustratingly slow pace.
Someone who lives in Arlington, a city directly across the Potomac from
Washington, could literally walk to his or her workplace in the District
more quickly than that person could drive or commute via train. To make
matters worse, this year is the year of the mixing bowl—everywhere you drive
in the Virginia suburbs, there is nothing but road construction, cement
mixers, men in hard hats, jackhammers, traffic jams…pretty much anything you
can think of to make an already difficult commute even worse. The traffic
problems cause a lot of people to ride the train that normally wouldn’t,
causing more overcrowding on the subway, as well as in the train station
parking lots and the roads surrounding the stations, ultimately adding to
the mess.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous icons of this mixing bowl mess are the portable
orange signs with electronic message screens. These startlingly ugly
contraptions say helpful things like “Construction on 495, Congestion
ahead,” and “Traffic slows at <insert random street here>” when you are
already in the midst of a horrible traffic jam. People hate these signs;
they add a ‘no duh’ annoyance to an already bad situation. This is where
Chuck Robb comes in with his clever, if ethically questionable plan.

Lately, near the entrances to such major Northern Virginia thoroughfares as
the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95, the orange signs are blinking a
different kind of message. They read: “George Allen was Governor…Expect
Delays.” 

On its most basic level, this message makes no sense. George
Allen was Governor…past tense. Even if he used to govern the Commonwealth
of Virginia, he has nothing to do with the current state of the roads in the
D.C. suburbs. Chuck Robb was Governor as well, a Governor who failed to
appropriate enough transportation funds to fix the roads earlier. By the
Robb campaign’s own logic (or lack thereof), the mixing bowl is Robb’s
fault, too. The truth is that the bad roads are really the responsibility
of the legislature and Jim Gilmore, the current Governor. Any idiot can
tell you not to rebuild all of the roads at once, but that was the decision
that was made. George Allen probably hates driving in Northern Virginia
just as much as Chuck Robb or any of the rest of us. And when he sees Robb’
s flashing orange signs, he probably thinks, “Damn that George Allen!” just
like the rest of us.

I admit I was sucked in at first. Those signs look deceptively official,
and they are right there at the entrances to the freeways I so hate to be
stuck on. As one sits in a traffic jam listening to bad radio shows and
looking at other pissed off people for two hours to go ten miles, it’s hard
not to try to blame someone. Robb’s orange highway signs make it very easy
to put a name to the misery, consciously or otherwise.

It is interesting that when someone’s campaign does something so utterly
lacking in usefulness to the voters, something that can only confuse them
and hurt them, it gets virtually no attention form the press. Yet, when an
organization not even connected to a campaign makes a mistake in an
otherwise informative ad (remember the ‘RATS’ debate?), it gets coverage for
three straight nights on every major network. Chuck Robb’s flashing orange
signs have nothing to do with the issues, or reality, for that matter. Why
have the Washington pundits not discussed this slimy tactic?

If I were George Allen, I would rent some flashing signs of my own. They
would sit right next to Chuck Robb’s signs and flash at the same rate. They
would say: “Chuck Robb is desperate…Expect Lies.”

© Kirsten Andersen, 2000

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