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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, center, talks with residents as he visits a storm-damaged area in Chattanooga back in April after tornadoes struck. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's administration is spending $4.32 million on the state's "Face It" multimedia ad campaign in which the governor is betting on persuasion over a statewide mask mandate to convince Tennesseans to proactively curb spread of the coronavirus.

The campaign, which includes broadcast television and cable as well as radio and digital ads, began July 23. It continues through the end of the year.

Lee administration officials provided the costs and other details of the effort in response to a Times Free Press request.

The ad begins with an announcer saying "this is the face of a fighter" and features a man donning a mask before segueing to a series of six speakers, all wearing masks, including University of Tennessee Volunteers offensive lineman Trey Smith.

"I'm fighting for football this fall," Smith says.

A man in worker's clothing says he is fighting to keep Tennesseans working, followed by a teacher saying she's "fighting to see my students back in the classroom." A young woman says, "I'm fighting for time with my friend" while a couple in a bakery say, "we're fighting for our small business." A younger man with children and seniors standing behind him says, "I'm fighting to keep my family safe."

Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said Knoxville-based DesignSensory produced the ad for $24,475. VMLY&R, a national firm, is serving the state as its media planner and buyer for $313,500.

"Our media strategy is to execute a holistic media campaign targeting Tennessee adults and young adults that builds awareness with effective reach and frequency to achieve greater participation utilizing face coverings," Ferguson said of the campaign, which is to include billboards and print ads.

As to what the state is doing to monitor the spot's effectiveness, Ferguson said, "we utilize traditional marketing metrics that one can tie directly to advertising like impressions and reach for digital, and Total Rating Points for television."

The state likely will update the spot after Oct. 2, Ferguson added, noting, "we're exploring utilizing some recognizable faces/personalities in future creative."

During the pandemic, Lee has come under fire from some Democrats who say he should have issued a statewide mask mandate. At the same time, some of his fellow Republicans think he's doing too much, and the GOP-dominated body has created an "ad hoc" committee to explore the boundaries of Lee's authority.

Last week, that committee met for the first time with a former Tennessee Supreme Court chief justice and a former U.S. attorney general testifying Lee indeed has the authority under current law. The committee meets again on Thursday.

Although Lee has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate or resume the stay-at-home-style order or other restrictions he issued back in April, he is allowing the state's 95 county mayors to mandate mask usage, impose restrictions on businesses, restrict restaurant seating and take other actions they believe meet their individual circumstances and immediate needs.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is among county chief executives implementing a mask mandate. Just this week, county health officials filed their first lawsuit against a business, alleging it violated the directive repeatedly.

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said that although he would have preferred Lee issue a statewide mandate, "the fact that he allowed counties to utilize it I think speaks well of him."

The public announcement effort on masks will help counter claims by some they aren't needed, he noted.

"Sometimes if people are not adhering to it, I think PR is a way of getting to people. Because they're getting messages that it doesn't matter or that it's not good for them as far as masks are concerned," Hakeem said.

Last week, attorneys for two conservative groups and individuals filed suit in state court challenging Lee's authority to delegate powers to counties to issue COVID-19 related orders on their own.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

 

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