Nevada Newsmakers

36 years ago, Rogich said he was against running most-famous TV ad of his career

Commentary - May 28, 2024

Sig Rogich of Las Vegas has enjoyed a long and outstanding career in political advertising, consulting and international diplomacy.

He's the current president of Rogich Communications, founder of the Las Vegas consulting/advertising juggernaut, R&R Partners, and former U.S. ambassador to Iceland.

One of the better-known episodes of his career was his creation of a highly memorable -- yet devastating -- TV ad when he was the chief media advisor to George H.W. Bush during Bush's successful 1988 presidential campaign.

Rogich directed and produced an ad showing Bush's Democratic opponent, Gov. Michael Dukakis, standing in the commander's hatch of a 68-ton, M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. It was meant to show him in a position of strength, since the 1988 election was held before the fall of the Soviet Union. Projecting American military strength to the world was a big deal for any presidential candidate.

However, the ad that Rogich produced made Dukakis look ridiculous in that tank. And 36 years later, some still see it as one of the best political ads of the 20th century.

The news footage Rogich chose for the ad showed Dukakis in a tanker's helmet that was too large for his head. Dukakis' body was also too small to look imposing in the commander's hatch. He looked comical, like a bobblehead doll, peeking out atop a mighty weapon of war.

Yet Rogich revealed recently on Nevada Newsmakers that he had serious reservations about running the ad in '88, even after he had produced it.

"When we ran the campaign for Ronald Reagan, Morning Again in America, we really didn't criticize anybody," Rogich told host Sam Shad.

"When I ran the campaign advertising for George Bush, we had some tough commercials on policy," Rogich continued. "As a matter of fact, when I filmed and produced Dukakis in the tank, I didn't want to run the spot.

"I knew we were going to win that election," Rogich said. "And I called Washington, DC. I was out filming a closing spot, and, I got Jim Baker (later Bush's secretary of state) on the phone," Rogich said. "And I said, Jim, I just would like us to close on an upbeat (ad). And this (Dukakis/tank) spot is tough."

No one in the campaign -- in a decision-making position -- agreed with him, Rogich remembered.

"Then, Jim (Baker) said, 'Well, we're sitting around the table, Sig. We're having our little G6 meeting and we're taking a vote (on the Dukakis ad)," Rogich recalled.

"And you lost," Baker told Rogich. "He said (the vote was) 6-0. So they ran the spot and then it became an iconic commercial."

Rogich says now the famous ad may have been unnecessary.

Bush's polling had skyrocketed after the GOP national convention. He was running with the benefit of a strong economy, a reduction in crime and the continuation of positive policies of GOP icon, Ronald Reagan, who was leaving the presidency after two terms.

"You know, we didn't need it, though," Rogich said about the famous ad.

Bracing for negative advertising today

Now, Rogich's wife, Lori Rogich, is running for the state senate. He says she is running a positive campaign but is bracing for some negative backlash.

"Her commercials are all positive," Sig Rogich said. "She talks about what we need to do as a state. She talks about education and health care. She talks about how one of her goals is to lead us be the first state in America to announce and build the first modern mental health facility of its kind, in Nevada.

"Who can argue with that?" Rogich said. "I mean, you can't. And you can't, really, measure that kind of messaging compared to what you're seeing other people running sometimes.

"Now, I know it's going to get nasty," Rogich said about his wife's campaign. "I can't imagine what they can say about her that will get nasty. But, someone's going to say something."

He knows. He's been through these political wars before.

"So it is what it is," he said.

In defense of Sam Brown

Of course, if negative ads didn't work, no one would run them, the old saying goes.

Rogich, however, took exception with ads run by Republican U.S. Senate candidate, Dr. Jeff Gunther, in his GOP primary race against U.S. Army vet Sam Brown.

Brown, a West Point graduate, was disfigured, severely burned and almost killed when an IED exploded near him in Kandahar, Afghanistan, during a 2008 U.S. Army tour.

Gunther's ad seems to highlight Brown's facial disfigurement, some could argue. Rogich called the ad, "horrible."

"I don't think they're appealing in any way," Rogich said. "I think here's a man who's wounded and lost so much of his physical being to fire, protecting this country. And they run ads to try to make him look bad. You know, trying to capitalize on the way he has had to live."

Rogich also said: "I think Sam Brown is going to win the primary."

Recent polling in May by the Tarrance Group of Alexandria, Va., showed Brown with a large lead against Gunther, 52 percent to 14 percent.

Brown also does surprisingly well in recent head-to-head polling against Democratic incumbent, Sen. Jacky Rosen.

The New York Times/Siena College Poll had it tied, 41 to 41 percent on May 9.
However, a May 25 poll by the Tyson Group National Research Firm gave Rosen a 14-point advantage, 47 to 33.

"I think that (Rosen vs Brown) will be one of those races that's up for grabs at the end of the day, especially if (former President Donald) Trump wins this state by six, eight, nine points," Rogich said, noting recent polling that Trump leads Biden in polls in Nevada by as much as eight points.

Trump might have "coattails" for Brown to ride, Rogich said.

"If he does (Trump carry Nevada handily), it's going to be tough for people to go into the voting booth and vote for the President and then completely disregard the down ticket, especially for the U.S. Senate and congressional races."

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