By Jeff Balke
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By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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Despite landing a $13 million contract from the Pat Buchanan presidential campaign to create and place political ads for the Reform Party candidate, Houston's little-known Love Advertising seems remarkably reticent about showing off its product to the homefolk.
That may be because some of the TV ads pitch anti-immigration themes that mock the use of Spanish and other foreign languages in American life, as they push Buchanan's "secure the borders" rhetoric. While some similarly themed Buchanan advertising has run on local radio stations, Houstonians have not seen the filmed versions. They are targeted for other states deemed more receptive to the Reform Party message.
An ad titled "Meatballs" (available online at www.buchananreform.com) depicts a man eating while watching TV news. He hears that the president has abolished English as the national language, and begins choking on his meatballs. When he tries to call 911 for help, a taped voice offers a menu of Spanish and other languages. While the recorded message rolls on, the man suffocates with his dog sitting on his chest. The ad's ending line: "Vote for the third party that puts Americans first. Vote Buchanan-Foster."
The obvious implication is that true Americans speak only English.
Candidate Buchanan came through Houston for one shoot outside a local hotel. Rio Bravo Pictures owner Rod Rodriguez received descriptions of that filming from disgusted witnesses.
"They were complaining they would never stoop that low, that they weren't that hungry that they would do work for Buchanan," recounts Rodriguez, after talking to friends in the film industry. "Most of what I heard was about the racist nature of the ad. Everybody was upset about it."
Rodriguez is concerned "that companies in Houston are producing such products that are going out on a national level."
It's a concern that Brenda Love, owner of Love Advertising, does not share. She was all atwitter when the Buchanan contract was announced early last month for the 17-person, $23 million firm. She told ADWEEK's Southwest Edition that, despite the company's small size, it was selected because "they wanted a fresh approach, someone who would do something different both in strategies for the media and the creative."
Refusing to comment is certainly a fresh approach for an advertising company. Love did not return repeated calls from The Insider. David Harrison, who conceived and planned the ads for Love, left an initial message that he was willing to talk about the ad content. After that, he did not respond to numerous Insider calls.
Love Advertising's main client is Gallery Furniture, famous for those ubiquitous "saves you money" pitches by owner Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale. He says Love did not ask his permission before producing the Buchanan ads, and he did not seem offended by the content.
"I saw the ad, but I had nothing to do with it, you know," says McIngvale. Since Buchanan is not a furniture industry competitor, McIngvale had no problems with Love working with the Reform Party. He makes it clear he does not back Buchanan.
"Naw, I'm a [George W.] Bushsupporter," avers the store owner. "I'm far and away from [Buchanan]; I ain't going that route."
The person who connected Love to Buchanan was Houston's Clymer Wright, Buchanan's national finance chairman. Wright is famous for ramrodding the petition drive and referendum that imposed term limits on Houston city government.
"All of the California Hispanic liberal politicians went bananas over it, but obviously it's having the effect that was intended," chuckles Wright.
He dismisses Rodriguez's charge of racism as "ridiculous." "Just somebody looking for a way to stay in business and keep on the payroll."
The production company that filmed the Buchanan commercials is VTTV, owned by Vic Tamborella. His other clients include the Houston Astros and Bob McNair's NFL Houston Texans. Both are image-conscious outfits unlikely to welcome any involvement, however peripheral, in a racial controversy. Tamborella claims no one told him they were offended by the ad content.
"No crew member that worked for us complained to us directly. I have a Hispanic employee here that was one of the key grips on that shoot. He just laughed it off; it didn't bother him at all, and I did ask him."
Astros public relations chief Rob Matwicksays he'd be troubled if one of the team vendors had participated in an ad with anti-Hispanic overtones. "I'd be concerned about that, but I haven't seen the ads, so it would be tough for me to make a judgment on whether I'd consider them to be racist."
Tamborella declined to say whether he was unhappy with the scripts.
"I can't say that I personally have to agree with the content always on any of the productions I do," explains Tamborella. "We're a vendor for the advertising agencies in town, and it's just like any other product where we're doing the commercials for Kmart or whatever. It doesn't mean I endorse the store or the product, and it's the same thing with this campaign."
It's a position that Rio Bravo's Rodriguez calls an abdication of responsibility.
"I think it's one thing to just take money for doing a job," says the filmmaker, "but there's got to be some conscious thinking about the client you accept and the product that you make. We all need to make a living, but there certainly is a point where you have to stand up for something."