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'Advertising Age': Appearance of Word 'RATS' in RNC Ad Probably Unintentional

Aired September 12, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The hour's top story is the flap over "RATS." The word "RATS" appears in big, white letters for one- thirtieth of a second in a Republican National Committee ad promoting George W. Bush's prescription drug plan. Here it is in slow motion. "RATS" pops up as part of the phrase "bureaucrats decide," which is a jab at the drug plan of Bush' Democratic rival, Al Gore.

The ad's creator claims that it's totally inadvertent. And facing reporters today in Florida, the candidate said the issue is moot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's coming out of the rotation, Dave. I mean, it's not going to be around. It's scheduled out of the rotation. I want to make it clear to people that the, you know, the idea of putting subliminal messages into ads is -- it's ridiculous. We, you know, need to be debating the issues, talking about the merits. And the idea of one frame out of 900 hardly, in my judgment, makes a conspiracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: The spot already has run more than 4,000 times in 33 cities. Al Gore today called it "very disappointing."

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, even if this was subliminal advertising, and there's no law against it, could it have any real effect?

Joining us from Washington in our Washington bureau, the chief of "Advertising Age" magazine, Ira Teinowitz.

Let me first tell you what George W. Bush said. He dismissed this as "bizarre" and "weird," that any allegation Republicans meant to send a subliminal message by fleetingly inserting the world "RATS" in an ad criticizing Al Gore prescription drug policy.

What do you make of all of this. You're an advertising person, you saw the ad, what do you make of it?

IRA TEINOWITZ, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ADVERTISING AGE": Well, I think the problem here is that if there was actual subliminal advertising in there, it would have been against the law. The FCC has a policy that says stations can't run subliminal advertising. So I would be really suspicious that they did it purposely. On the other hand, it has made the campaign a heck of a lot more interesting.

WATERS: Yes, it certainly has. The illegality you talked about is a regulation by the Federal Communications Commission that makes the stations responsible, not the people who produce a subliminal ad, correct?

TEINOWITZ: That's correct. Under their responsibility to the community, they're not supposed to be running anything with subliminal advertising. So what you have is a situation of where, if this ad was really ruled to have subliminal advertising, the Bush campaign could have pushed -- or I should say the Republican National Committee could have put the stations in jeopardy.

WATERS: OK, now, tell me, if this was intentional, what would have been the objective?

TEINOWITZ: It's hard to believe its object -- it was intended because, I mean, what -- the only thing that it could possibly have done is be intended to give Al Gore a bad name. And it was done in such a short fashion as to be questionable in its effect. When this was tried in the one test of it in a New Jersey theater, they ran "drink Coke" and "eat popcorn" every six seconds in a movie, and it was tried for several weeks. This was one time in a 30-second ad. It's just not as effective.

WATERS: What was the result of the Coke and popcorn deal?

TEINOWITZ: The popcorn and Coke sales went up.

WATERS: Oh, so -- and that's why we have this rule that we can't run subliminal advertising, right?

TEINOWITZ: There was a lot of concern, a lot of attention on it in the late '50s and in the early '60s, and that's what happened, was the FCC came down and said, hey, you run it, you're risking your license.

WATERS: So we have this ad today which has been run 4,000 times -- 4,400 times in 33 cities. It's now being pulled. It's a political football, Al Gore saying it's "disappointing." But can you imagine any advertising people sitting in a room and saying, let's put the word "RATS" over the gore prescription drug policy and expect to get some benefit from that?

TEINOWITZ: It's not a message that you would normally try and get out. In other words, if you were really trying to do subliminal advertising, what you would want is a message that says something: You know, Al Gore is bad, something stronger. The reason I have some problems believing this was really intended is this isn't a strong message, it's just -- it's something that's odd. It's more odd than anything else.

WATERS: And today it's taking the political message away from George Bush as he stands up for his team and against any allegations that this ad was intended. Thanks for helping us out here, Ira Teinowitz. with "Advertising Age" magazine. Appreciate it very much.

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