Thursday, Portland-based ad experts Sam Surprise and Brenda Garrand spent some time assessing the quality of ads supporting Questions 1 and 2 on next month's statewide ballot. If approved, Question 1 would authorize a casino for York County, and Question 2 would allow Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Two days ago, ads opposing the Casino measure finally took to the airwaves. Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz reconnected with Surprise, of Surprise Advertising, and Garrand, of Garrand Partners, who joined from Houston.
SURPRISE: I think it's interesting that they have chosen to demonize the personality, Shawn Scott.
GARRAND: their graphic approach is strong. It employs A spy versus spy style guy from Mad magazine days.
SURPRISE: They aren't like past anti-casino ads – they would always go after all the things that were going to erode our culture, our society here in Maine - our classic kind of New England village community. And they have avoided that altogether. They haven't talked about prostitution, drug abuse, mortgage defaults - things like that. They have talked about the evil Shawn Scott and all the money going away to another place other than here. That’s similar from the past, but it almost looks like a Halloween ad, the way they've got it set up the graphics match, the website.
GARRAND: The strength of the campaign is in its graphic simplicity, and its memorability. All pieces fall together. There is a 15-second and a 30-second TV spot, as well as a strong signage campaign that we see on the streets around town.
SURPRISE: Black background, red lettering, big flashy kind of dramatic graphics, which follows the whole ad. I mean you see it you know it. You don't have to see it for 30 seconds - you can see that it could be a four-second ad probably, and do the same damage and be all over the place. But especially with the shady Shawn Scott graphic, it's a great alliteration. You remember it easy. You don't know why, but you think it's bad.
GRATZ: Campaign finance reports show funding for the anti-casino pack have come mostly from the Oxford Casino, which is owned by Churchill Downs. Also appearing late this week: some TV ads that urge voters to vote against Question 2, which would expand Medicaid under former President Obama's Affordable Care Act, and a first ad featuring a woman urging a yes vote on the referendum seeking to merge Lewison in Auburn. I asked Sam about the strategies he'd employ in that race.
SURPRISE: You want people in it. You want nice, tight face shots. You want the local characters. You want it to be positive. You don't want to demonize it in any way. You want to show the benefits. and you want people talking about, you know, maybe it's time, we need to save money so we can work together. All these things that make sense. Do we need two city councils? No, we need one that's more effective and with equal representation. You know these things that, right now, can play very well to say it's time to work together.
GRATZ: So what if you're on the other side?
SURPRISE: The other side, you go right after the fact you're going to lose your autonomy immediately and you pound that.
GRATZ: Sam Surprise of Surprise Advertising in Portland. We'll have more about next month's referendum vote on next week's Morning Edition.