Carroll: Boston Mayoral Ads Mash Up Old, New School

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Despite polls showing Boston Mayor Thomas Menino with a commanding lead over his three challengers, Menino has launched an unusually early advertising campaign in his bid for reelection. The traditional ad approach stands in stark contrast to his opponents’ new-media marketing efforts.

In any election year, incumbents have a built-in advantage in both fundraising and publicity. The latter, however, has always been a mixed blessing for Boston Mayor Tom Menino, whose every public appearance is an adventure.

Here, for example, is Menino at last month’s Urban Improv charity fundraiser, in a skit where he plays Abe Lincoln — don’t ask — visiting Michelle Obama:

“Hey Michelle. How bout a little Sam Adams? And some guaca-mala?” the mayor asked.

When Menino’s not askin’ for guaca-mala, he’s askin’ for votes in a hundred-thousand dollar advertising campaign. One TV spot has Menino talking about safe-streets programs, gun control and, of course, education.

“My goal is to have every kid in Boston have an opportunity to go to an after-school program,” he says. “When other cities are going the wrong way, we’re going the right way.”

Yes, if by the right way you mean Boston has an actual mayoral race this year, instead of the mismatches of the past two elections. If politics had a mercy rule, Menino’s contests with Peggy Davis Mullen and Maura Hennigan would have been stopped well before election day.

This year, though, Menino has three – count ’em, three – opponents, none of whom have yet launched an old-media ad campaign, but all of whom are working the new-media margins.

Start with City Council President Michael Flaherty, who is sort of Web 1.0, with a bare-bones Internet site that features little more than a video of his airplane-banner ad flying over Fenway Park on opening day. Flaherty does, however, have 2,500 friends on Facebook.

Real-estate developer and mayoral candidate Kevin McCrea is Web 1.5. His site has – wait for it – Kevin’s Blog, as well as videos on YouTube like this one.

“Hello, I’m Kevin McCrea, and I’m running for mayor of Boston, to end the waste and abuse at City Hall.”

Boston mayoral challenger No. 3 is City Councilor Sam Yoon, and he’s definitely Web 2.0. Yoon is hooked up with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube — where he’s uploaded lots of testimonials, along with his campaign announcement.

“Welcome. I’m Sam Yoon, and I’m running to be the next mayor of Boston. I’m proud to be a Bostonian, and I love this city.”

Yes, well, don’t they all. They just don’t have the money to profess their love in the mainstream media instead of only on the Web.

As the election grows nearer, though, it’s likely all the Boston mayoral candidates will settle on some old-media/new-media mashup. But if Tom Menino’s track record is any indication, the accent will be on mash.

John Carroll is senior media analyst for WBUR and a mass communication professor at Boston University.

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