MDC's Penn, McCann's Diamond Say Corporations Should Do More Comparative Advertising

Just as news was breaking about the formal impeachment inquiry launched by the Democrats this afternoon, three political pros (two former, one current) sat down at an Advertising Week session in New York to talk about politics and marketing as a bevy of Democratic hopefuls continue to vie for the 2020 presidential nomination.

Mark Penn, CEO of MDC Partners, and Harris Diamond, CEO of McCann Worldgroup, both have devoted significant chunks of their careers advising politicians on issues, constituencies and runs for office.

They sat down with HuffPost editor Lydia Polgreen for a lively discussion on the lead-up to the 2020 election. I couldn’t help but wonder during their talk if any of them knew that House speaker Nancy Pelosi was about to announce the start of a formal impeachment inquiry. It didn’t come up in the conversation.

But one thing I took away from the discussion: This time around, money won’t be an issue for either the Republicans or the Democrats— there will be plenty to go around. Technology has been a leveler in that regard.



Penn expressed the view that none of the Democrats has yet to come up with a breakthrough campaign, with key ingredients like a catchy slogan, a voter segment that can push them over the top, an impeccable bio and a standout issues platform. However, he did suggest Elizabeth Warren was “close.”

Penn also said the American public “likes no one” at this point in time. They express equal disdain for Trump and both parties in recent polls.

Diamond said that once the TV campaigns heat up and start going negative big time, major corporate advertisers will “take a step back” and let the politicos beat themselves silly.

Essentially, he said spending money in that environment is a waste and a bit risky because viewers get tired of hearing all of the back-and-forth name calling. Not to mention the difficulty of breaking through with a brand message amid all the political noise. 

That said, both Diamond and Penn agreed corporations don’t do enough comparative product advertising. Obviously, brands have to have a well thought-out strategy and can’t just call out a competitor as a “piece of garbage,” the way many politicians go at it, noted Diamond. But some products are genuinely better than others. No one is going to make that case but the brands themselves, he added. 

Both executives suggested that while digital media is an important channel to exploit, it may not be as influential as conventional wisdom suggests. “There is a reason that TV is still around,” said Penn, noting that Warren recently announced plans for a $10 million TV ad blitz.

Selfies only go so far, I guess.

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