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Ad campaign emphasizes candidate's uniqueness.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

Steve Novick figures that if an ad agency can help get a little-known challenger elected to the Senate with a spot contrasting his modest home with the other candidates' swanky digs, it might help pave his own way to the Senate.

So the Milwaukee firm whose quirky ads helped Sen. Russ Feingold capture a Wisconsin Senate seat is trying to do the same for Novick in Oregon.

The first ad debuted two weeks ago. Novick's latest commercial will launch today on the Web and may appear soon on TV.

What Novick and Eichenbaum & Associates are trying to do is weave a serious message of progressive change with humor.

In the latest ad, called "Beer With Steve," the candidate answers the voice over guy's question "...but would you want to have a beer with him?" by showing that the hook where his left hand should be provides a handy feature: It doubles as a bottle opener.

All the while, the ad emphasizes that Novick is a different kind of candidate who will find a way to get things done.

The first commercial, which aired on TV as well as the Web two weeks ago, was a takeoff of the old "To Tell The Truth" game show. When the camera panned from the fake "Steve Novicks" to the real one, it also tilted down to put the 4-foot-9 Novick's head in the frame.

Neal Bardele, a partner with Eichenbaum & Associates, said it was clear immediately in meetings with Novick and his campaign committee that the candidate's unique physical attributes should be "nothing to hide, nothing to be embarrassed about." The ads' creators agreed.

"We want to get the real person across in the advertising, and that's part of it," Bardele said. "The height and the hook - that's part of who he is, so let's use it."

Novick was born without the lower part of his left arm and the leg bones between his knees and his feet. His birth defects were caused by a drug prescribed to his mother during her pregnancy. The candidate said he has spent his life using direct humor to put people at ease and help them get past his height and his hook. So why not do the same with his "politics as unusual" theme?

"I've been saying that to beat Gordon Smith, it's going to take somebody who's a little different," Novick said. "The first ad emphasized the little part and the second ad elaborates on the different part."

University of Oregon professor Kim Sheehan, an expert in advertising, said she's intrigued by Novick's use of the Web to post, distribute, and raise money for his ads. He generated a little more than $9,000 with a very specific online fund-raising appeal: Help pay to put the "Tell the Truth" ad on specific programming, including The Late Show with David Letterman and Oprah. Sheehan said it makes sense that potential donors like the idea of putting their dollars toward spreading the word about Novick to a broader audience.

"It's a very specific call to action," she said. " `Let's get this on David Letterman.' And it's an ad that has the same ironic wink as the show."

But Sheehan said she wondered whether the emphasis on Novick's shortness would have the same effect on others it had on her at first viewing: to cause confusion about the campaign's intended message.

For a candidate willing to inject such quirkiness into his ads, the firm Novick hired to produce them seems perfect.

Eichenbaum & Associates does primarily corporate advertising. But its work for Feingold and a few other political clients drew favorable mention in "Crashing the Gates," the book by national lefty bloggers Markos Moulitas and Jerome Armstrong. "I was reading this book, thinking, `Huh. I should call these Eichenbaum people," Novick said.

But that's not what brought his campaign together with the Milwaukee firm. About the same time last summer, a former Harvard law classmate of Novick's was attending a wedding in Wisconsin. The friend mentioned Novick's candidacy to others at the reception, including the mother of Eichenbaum & Associates founder, Steve Eichenbaum.

Eventually, the agency called Novick's campaign, and his campaign manager met with representatives of the firm at nearby Chicago's O'Hare Airport during a trip to the Midwest. And so far, both sides seem happy to be working together, and optimistic that the venture might help bring about the same outcome as came from the Eichenbaum-Feingold liaison.

Novick can't help but see parallels.

"They're one of the few firms in the country," he said, "that has direct experience electing short, Jewish underdogs to the U.S. Senate."

Check out David Steves' Capitol Notebook blog at
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Title Annotation:City/Region; U.S. Senate hopeful employs the same agency that helped get Sen. Russ Feingold elected
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 28, 2008
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