Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities

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Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities

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In 1997 Ben Cohen, cofounder of the superpremium ice cream company Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., was shocked to learn that Congress had decreased spending on social programs but had increased the Pentagon's defense budget. The following year Cohen founded Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (BLSP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to transferring 15 percent of the $281 billion defense budget into educational funding. By 1999 he had mobilized more than 500 BLSP members, which included corporate executives, retired generals and admirals, and celebrities. Hoping to make education funding the key issue of the 2000 presidential elections and compel the next U.S. president to transfer money away from defense and into education, BLSP released its "Move Our Money" campaign.

The ad agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. worked pro bono to create one television spot, one radio spot, and four print ads for the campaign. The radio and television spots featured Jack Shanahan, a retired vice admiral of the U.S. Navy, who explained that even though America had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, the U.S. government was still building more. Shanahan explained that the government could allocate a small fraction of its defense budget to help improve America's education system without compromising the country's defense. Print ads created by Hill, Holliday's creative directors Dave Gardiner and Joe Berkeley featured provocative copy, such as "No wonder our bombs are smarter than our students." The campaign ran from December 1999 to January 2000 to target the New Hampshire and Iowa primary elections. It resurfaced in September 2000 to target the general electorate before the presidential election.

The campaign garnered a plethora of ad industry accolades, winning, for example, the Newspaper category at the 2001 International ANDY Awards. According to BLSP, polls tracking public opinion in Des Moines, Iowa, showed that support for shifting 15 percent of the defense budget to education jumped from 45 percent to 72 percent by the Iowa primary's completion. Unfortunately for BLSP, George W. Bush, who won the 2000 presidential election, supported an increase in military spending.


Even though Cohen still served on Ben & Jerry's board of directors in the late 1990s, he was no longer responsible for the business's daily operations. The extra time allowed the entrepreneur to channel his energy into social issues. After he learned of Congress's plans to balance the national budget by cutting back on social programs to increase the Pentagon's defense budget, Cohen rallied support for shifting the country's spending priorities. "Congress had added nine billion more onto the military budget than the Pentagon had even requested," Cohen said in America's Graphic Design Magazine. "And they were going to slip it by in the middle of the night, at the very end of the legislative session."

Cohen established BLSP to mobilize America's business leaders, celebrities, and retired military personnel to help shift 15 percent of the Pentagon's defense budget to education funding. In April 1999 BLSP launched a bus tour titled "U Slice the Pie," a campaign that used pie charts to illustrate the federal government's distribution of funds. Inflatable pie charts, cookies with pie charts in their frosting, and ballpoint pens with pie chart banners were dispensed at political rallies during the 20 months preceding the 2000 presidential election. BLSP was bipartisan and existed in a "pre-9/11 world," noted Berkeley.

Even the ex-Navy Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who ran for president in 2000, explained in the Boston Globe, "Look, we've been buying C-130s for 10 years" (referring to the C-130 Hercules, a military cargo plane). "We're going to have a C-130 in every schoolyard in America; there's no need for much of the equipment we are purchasing."

In 1999 Cohen asked Hill, Holliday to create a pro bono campaign for BLSP. "We talked about doing an emotional visual campaign illustrating school kids who were being cheated by shrinking school funding, but when Ben started giving us the facts about Pentagon spending versus education spending, we were astounded," explained Gardiner. "The Pentagon was still stockpiling arms and still spending at Cold War levels even though the Cold War had ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It made us think that if we could just find a way to present the facts provocatively, people would have the desired emotional reaction."


According to Duane Peterson, the manager of BLSP, the December 1999 to January 2000 leg of "Move Our Money" targeted those living within the presidential primary election states of New Hampshire and Iowa. Republican and Democratic pollsters conducted a survey for BLSP, which determined that 45 percent of the Iowa electorate was willing to reduce defense spending by 15 percent. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, when the same group was told that a 15 percent cut in defense spending would be used to improve education, health care, and other domestic causes, those supporting the defense cut jumped to 59 percent. The majority of those surveyed also agreed that U.S. allies should pay more for their own defense.

In 1999 Preston Daniels, mayor of Des Moines, told Reuters, "As a lifelong Iowan, I know that we do indeed support sensible priorities, given our state's populist spirit and unique role in the presidential election." He went on to state, "Iowans are patriotic, and I do believe we've got to stand behind our fighting troops."

Once "Move Our Money" rematerialized in September 2000 before the presidential election, its target extended to the entire electorate. Gardiner and Berkeley, the campaign's primary architects, designed the campaign to target people who thought about social issues but were misinformed about how the federal budget was distributed. Andrew Greenblatt, a spokesperson for BLSP, explained the general public's misconception in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The public agrees with us," Greenblatt said. "Give them a pie chart and ask them to cut it up the way they think reflects our actual spending, and they give a lot less to the military and a lot more to other pressing domestic needs, including education. When you show them the disparity between what we and other nations spend on our military, and when you show them the disparity between what we spend on the military and what we spend on other needs, they can't believe it."


The journalist Mark Weisbrot wrote in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the Pentagon had historically posed two rationalizations for its exorbitant defense budget. First, defense spending bolstered overall employment and economic growth. Secondly, military research improved the innovation of other industries such as aerospace, computers, and electronics. John W. Douglass, president of the Aerospace Industries Association of America, disputed the "Move Our Money" campaign in the New York Times. "Just to try to say that Americans have two choices, education or Pentagon waste, is just an outrageous oversimplification and unfair statement," Douglass said.

Defense contractors such as the Boeing Company, the Northrop Grumman Corporation, and the Lockheed Martin Corporation never launched advertisement to discredit "Move Our Money." Peterson identified the campaign's main opposition as "latent support for authority, deference to the 'experts,' and the say-nothing approach of some candidates." Some critics blamed the politicians' blasé attitude on the source of their campaign funding. According to Iowa State University's U-Wire, defense contractors spent $32.3 million on political contributions between 1991 and 1997. The world's largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, posted more than $25 billion in sales for 2000, a year of relative global peace.


Along with Hill, Holliday's account executive Stever Aubrey, Berkeley and Gardiner developed the advertising strategy that "if we reduce Pentagon spending a little, we can improve education a lot," according to Gardiner. This concept was derived from information originally provided by Cohen. With a working precept for the campaign, Berkeley and Gardiner set out to create provocative black-and-white newspaper ads that would be ready before the January 2000 New Hampshire primary elections. One newspaper ad featured 1,000 tiny illustrations of nuclear bombs that were divided into 20 rows of 50. The ad's headline read, "The first row obliterates civilization. The rest destroy our schools." Another print ad featured a bar graph that displayed the Pentagon's $300 billion defense budget towering over the $33 billion education budget. The ad's headline read, "If only we could blow them away with our S.A.T. scores."

Berkeley, who wrote the campaign's copy, explained, "We wanted candidates to discuss real issues in the upcoming election instead of focusing on character assassination." The campaign's most awarded print ad, "Smarter Bombs," featured the copy "No wonder our bombs are smarter than our students" above the bar graph comparing the defense and education budgets. All print ads included the tagline "Move Our Money."

In late 1999 Cohen performed one of his BLSP demonstrations for the creatives at Hill, Holliday. Cohen dropped one ball bearing (BB) into a cup for every active U.S. nuclear warhead. Berkeley and Gardiner later cast Shanahan to use the same demonstration for a 60second radio spot. Shanahan began the spot by stating, "I believe we can improve education in America without compromising our national security. To illustrate my point, I have some BBs here. Imagine each BB is a nuclear bomb." After one BB clinked into a metal cup, Shanahan continued, "[that] could destroy Hiroshima 15 times over." After five more clinks, Shanahan explained "[that] wipes out all of Russia. Now, after using those six bombs, this is how many the U.S. has left." The clinking of thousands of BBs followed. Shanahan concluded the spot saying, "By reducing our nuclear weapons, we could save billions of dollars. That money could be educating our kids. Let's get the politicians to talk about the real issues."


The actor Paul Newman was one of the celebrities to join Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (BLSP), a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to decrease defense spending and increase educational funding. Explaining in NEA Today why he joined the organization, Newman stated, "For the cost of one F22 fighter plane—$188 million—we can build 20 new schools. For the $13 billion a year savings we'd gain by reducing nuclear weapons, we could enroll every eligible child in Head Start and cover every uninsured child in America."

Gardiner conceived the campaign's only television spot from his childhood memory of the movie Patton, which starred the actor George C. Scott as General Patton. Berkeley explained, "When [Gardiner] was a kid, he went to see the movie Patton. He was late so the only seats available were in the front row (it was still the era of big movie screens). The movie opens with an extended monologue by General George S. Patton. He makes a speech to unseen troops. He stands on an enormous stage, dwarfed by a gigantic American flag behind him. It's the kind of image that sticks with you." Shanahan starred in the television spot, and much like Scott was in Patton, he was featured on a stage before a large screen. Shanahan then delivered a message that was similar to his radio spot's dialogue about the Pentagon's overstocking of nuclear warheads. Instead of using BBs to vivify America's stockpile of nuclear weapons, the screen behind Shanahan filled with hundreds of nuclear weapons. The commercial ended with the tagline "Move Our Money."


The "Move Our Money" campaign created by Hill, Holliday collected a Gold and Bronze Pencil at the 2000 One Show Awards. One print ad earned a Bronze Lion at the 2001 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. It also garnered awards (two silver and one bronze) at the Clio Awards. At the 2001 International ANDY Awards, the print ad "Smarter Bombs" was the overall winner in the Newspaper category, one of the most prestigious awards in the advertising industry. Poles tracking public opinion in Des Moines, according to BLSP, showed that support for reallocating 15 percent of the defense budget to education jumped from 45 percent to 72 percent by the 2000 Iowa primary's completion.

Unfortunately for BLSP, President-Elect George W. Bush announced plans for increasing military funding before he acceded to office. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, propelled Congress to further increase the Pentagon's budget. In 2002 the Defense Department chose Lockheed Martin as the lead contractor for the Joint Strike Fighter program. The contract was worth an estimated value of $200 billion.


In 1999 the United States spent 17 times more on defense than any potential adversary. It also maintained 12,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy every city in the world 10 times over. Its number of warheads was more than double the number of nuclear weapons maintained by China, Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Cuba combined. By maintaining a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world's cities only four times over, America could save $15 billion a year.


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                                               Kevin Teague