OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

Imagine a virtually unknown consumer product is the beneficiary of

a launch campaign with an advertising budget of $50-60 million,

to be spent in a single market in less than six months. By the way, that

sum is roughly the equivalent of what was spent across the US in the

first half of 2001 to promote such well-known brands as Campbell's

soups, Prudential insurance, Clorox bleach, Intel microprocessors and

Sprite and Dr Pepper.



Needless to say, you wouldn't be surprised if the product soon overcame

whatever competition it faced to become No. 1 in the market. Well,

that's what happened when the billionaire media magnate Michael

Bloomberg, running on the Republican ticket, emerged victorious in his

first try for political office over the veteran Democratic officeholder,

Mark Green, in the mayoral election of New York.



To be sure, Bloomberg's adspend - every cent his own money and by far a

record for any race for local American office - was only one reason for

his unexpected win. After 11 September, Bloomberg's experience in the

private sector with no public service became a positive to potential

voters, not a liability, on the theory a city haemorrhaging jobs could

use a self-made go-getter who built a company from scratch into an

empire backed by a $4.5 billion bankroll. There were also rifts

among the ethnic groups that reliably back Democrats, depriving Green of

the support on which his party can usually count.



In a demonstration of just how well endorsements can work in real life,

not only in ads, Bloomberg was embraced by the incumbent, Rudy Giuliani,

whose popularity after the terrorist attacks made his thumbs-up more

valuable than those of Michael Jordan, Cindy Crawford and Bill Cosby put

together.



In the end, though, it was Bloomberg's vast personal campaign that made

the difference, from the beginning, when Bloomberg announced his

candidacy not at a traditional rally but in a barrage of TV commercials,

to the end, when Bloomberg was still running spots on election day

evening. The green overwhelmed Green, whose adspend of $15

million would have set the record but for Bloomberg's moneybags.



Green couldn't match his opponent because he agreed to accept municipal

funding under the city's campaign-finance laws, which Bloomberg

ignored.



As an architect of those limits, Green could hardly renounce them.

Bloomberg was spending like a drunken sailor in Times Square.



So Bloomberg was free - funny word, that - to run 6,500 TV commercials

to Green's 2,500, mixing upbeat biographical messages and 60-second

paeans from Giuliani with below-the-belt attacks on Green. Many

Bloomberg spots ran during programmes such as the World Series that

carry premium price tags because of their viewerships.



Bloomberg was also free - that word again - to deluge voters with

brochures and videotapes, pre-recorded telephone calls and newspaper and

websites ads. There were posters and Bloomberg "volunteers", paid to

hand out fliers.



Bloomberg wound up spending $69.59 for each vote he received,

compared with Green's $22.17. But voters seemed oblivious to his

spending his way into City Hall. They equated being independently

wealthy with independence from politics as usual.



Just wait until the new mayor sells naming rights to the city, makes the

highest bid himself and rechristens it Bloomburgh.



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