Campaign Commercials

By Courtney Hall, Paul Bronke, and Trevor Molkenbuhr


The Evolution of Campaigns


The first campaigns in America's history were run not by the candidates, who considered it shameful to advocate for themselves, but by supporters of each candidate. The electorate that these early candidates had to appeal to were much more limited than the voters of today; in the late 1700s, only white male landowners could vote. Over time, women, African Americans, immigrants and those over the age of 18 were permitted to vote. This changed the ways in which candidates had to appear to the masses in order to attract more voters.

The first truly competitive election was in 1796. Two parties formed: the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. The election of 1800 was the first time in the new country's history that power changed hands peacefully between the two parties. These early elections had fundamental differences from today's elections but they did share some aspects of a modern campaign. Although the media was not as heavily influencing a factor in the process as it is today, political cartoons were created to attack the candidates and newspapers were the primary source of information for a widely disconnected electorate. Many of the voters would never see, meet, or hear the candidate they voted for; in isolated, rural areas, the only image one might see of a nominee or President would be a sketch (that could be altered to flatter the subject) published in the local newspaper. Newspapers ran editorials and articles on the progression of the race, and much of the information presented was highly biased. Because there was little to no restriction in regards to free speech at the time, it was possible for newspapers to publish articles written as "yellow journalism," which grossly exaggerated the facts, or even downright lies. Candidates did not outwardly campaign for themselves but their supporters did and often ran attack ads on the other candidate. Candidates' religious beliefs were popular issues of debate, much as the financial standing or personal history of a candidate might be an issue of speculation today.

As technology advanced, so did the manner in which campaigns were conducted. As the world grew less conservative, it became acceptable for candidates to advocate for themselves. In time, women, African Americans, immigrants and those over the age of 18 were allowed to vote and so candidates had to adjust their campaigning styles to attract these new voters. With the expansion of the railroad system, candidates were able to meet more of their supporters in person, and the campaign style changed from a candidate's prowess at being convincing through their campaign literature to being a strong public speaker. It introduced a new style of campaigning, called the "grassroots campaign," which focused on voters as individuals. William McKinley was the first to conduct what has become known as "front porch campaigning" by utilizing the country's newly-built railroad system to bring thousands of supporters to his home in Ohio, and giving speeches to them from his front porch. This style of campaigning allowed voters to connect more closely with the candidates. As cameras became more widely used, photographs of candidates were published for the public's viewing. People could see what their President or favored nominee actually looked like, and physical appearance became a factor in the race. Radios were invented, and now people across the country were able to hear the voices of the candidates. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous Fireside Chats helped him gain support among the electorate, because people felt closer than ever to the President. Then came the television.

The invention of the television transformed the election process like no other technology had. Common people were able to watch debates between the candidates and hear for themselves the stances presented. Physical appearance became more important than ever; some attribute John Kennedy's success in his 1960 campaign to the very first televised debate he entered against Richard Nixon. Kennedy was young, tanned from campaigning in California, and allowed the TV station to apply makeup to enhance his appearance. In contrast, Nixon, who had refused to wear makeup, seemed old, tired, washed-out, and sweating from the bright studio lights. Although the candidates were an even match in their intellectual properties and policies, Kennedy came out of the appearance a clear favorite among the electorate no doubt in part due to his physical appearance. Candidates were held responsible for any definitive statement they made (previously, candidates could tell one region that their policy on an issue was this, and another region that their policy on the same issue was that) so political stances became more vague. Candidates were also able to run full-length commercials.

The first televised commercials were run during the election of 1952 and were much more pleasant than today's standards. Candidates at first did not appear in their commercials, using instead cartoons or voice-overs. Campaign songs were very popular, such as in President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower's commercial featuring an upbeat and catchy tune of people singing "I like Ike / You like Ike / Everybody likes Ike for President!" Politicians quickly realized that the electorate responded more positively to commercials with the candidate, or his cartoon likeness, speaking to them, and campaigns were adjusted accordingly. Some commercials also featured others singing the praises of the candidate, but the most effective commercials were short, catchy, and up-beat. As time went on, candidates began running negative campaign ads against their competitors, stating different claims against their persona, history, stances on issues, and other topics. These negative campaigns ads grew more hostile over time, until they eventually evolved into today's cutthroat world of politics. Commercials are also shaped by the people and technologies that make them possible. For example, a commercial set to air after the evening news may focus more on a candidate's issue stances while a commercial aired on YouTube will be trying to reach younger voters and so would probably focus on social politics instead. The internet has allowed candidates to campaign in new ways, such as the use of social networking and YouTube videos. These propaganda techniques allow campaigns to reach more people more effectively and in less time than before.
Campaign commercials have quickly grown to be one of the most important mediums through which ideas of a candidate or party flow through to the people. As more and more people being to vote and the electorate base is expanded, many do fewer and fewer research themselves and instead rely on what campaigns produce for them. Since the invention of the television and increasing use of technology, so much of the presidential election is based solely off of appearance and the electorates perception, whether it be true or false, of each candidate. Campaign commercials play a huge role in that they do their best to paint each candidate as the American leader this country needs. So much emphasis has been put on the 'presidentiallity' of a president, mainly starting after the televised debate between Nixon and John F. Kennedy. This has carried over into how each campaign portrays its candidate as they make their case for why their man should get the job.

Types of Campaign Commercials

Since the first television aired campaign commercial in 1952, being the presidential race between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, commercials have been informing voters about the positions of a candidate, portraying the image of candidate, or simply defaming the very existence of candidate through negative advertisements. Campaigns are usually not neutral or random and have a purpose or message being conveyed. Commercials can now be made and aired by interest groups, Super PACs, and other groups who are not supposed to be in direct contact with the candidate in which they support. These groups, who are able to funnel enormous amounts of money, can create every which type of advertisement or commercial promoting their candidate and defaming others as they are said to not be directly associated with a particular candidate.

The first type of campaign commercials include positive campaigns in which look to bolster a positive image of candidates. Positive commercials and advertisements have historically started at the beginning of campaigns to look to introduce the candidate in a positive light to voting constituents. This is important for a positive first impression to attract and sustain voters until election day.
This image shows two celebrities, Katy Perry and Kid Rock, endorsing the Obama, Biden and Romney, Ryan 2012 Campaigns respectively.  This is an example of the testimonial based advertisement if in a commercial. Is it right that celebrities serve as icons in political culture as well? Why?
This image shows two celebrities, Katy Perry and Kid Rock, endorsing the Obama, Biden and Romney, Ryan 2012 Campaigns respectively. This is an example of the testimonial based advertisement if in a commercial. Is it right that celebrities serve as icons in political culture as well? Why?


  • Testimonial based advertisements or commercials are endorsements from celebrities and other well-known people. These testimonials, if from a very respected and viable source, can bolster the image and generally attract voters who either respect the endorser or the idea that the endorser support the ideals of a candidate.
  • A “Commander-in-Chief” themed ad campaign commercial is a commercial that presents the candidate as a competent leader, soldier, and person of authority that can lead the country. This method can be very effective for a public approved incumbent candidate who has proven themselves as a good leader.
  • Generally in campaign commercials, there is a theme or a short phrase in which represents the idea behind the campaign. For example, the Barack Obama Campaign came up with the phrase "Yes We Can" which stood as a basis and theme for the entire Presidential Campaign and was featured in commercials to portray the general message above.
  • Real People themed commercials depict candidates in society doing normal things with other Americans in an attempt to appeal to the common person. This shows a sense of humanity for candidates.
  • Musical or jingle based commercials and advertisements use a catchy and appealing song or jingle to draw in voters. These songs are meant to be remembered and be clearly associated with a certain candidate. The aforementioned, “I Like Ike” jingle was one of the catchy jingles in the Eisenhower campaign. See video of the "I Like Ike" musical jingle below:




Negative Campaigns are used to defame and discredit a candidate to raise questions about policy, personal qualities, and qualifications that might portray the candidate of not being up to par or fit to lead.


  • Attack ads and commercials, which the act of making is commonly referred to as “mudslinging”, attempts to portray the opposition in a negative light. Name-calling and other radical assertions made by a campaign sometimes can be ruthless and some say go too far. But, with the influence of Super PACs in the campaign process, candidates may claim that they are not associated with these PACs and do not approve of the message conveyed. Meanwhile, these PACs raise exponential amounts of money and can use that money to do whatever make all types of commercials. These commercials can be as vile as possible which then can be aired as the candidate can be said to not be “associated” with the PAC.
  • Backfire commercials show a candidate’s own words backfiring on him or her to show a lack of consistency or pandering that is done only in hope of alienating voters to vote for the other candidate.
  • Similar to a backfire themed commercial, the flip flopping advertisement shows a candidate changing views on policy or topics multiple times throughout a campaign. Mitt Romney, a 2012 presidential hopeful, was one of the most flip-flopping candidate, some say, in history with his constantly changing views.
  • Fear Advertisements and commercials are made to expose unpopular things about candidates in hope of scaring voters to not vote for a certain candidate due to the consequences that would result. Fear advertisements are usually drastic and extreme in the attempt to discredit or completely dishonor a candidate. See "Daisy" video below.
  • “Dirty Tricks” is a method in which a campaign leaks sensitive information about an opposing candidate and uncovers information which will sometimes prompt a candidate to bow out of a campaign.
  • The use of factual advertisements or commercials can have positive and negative connotations. First, positive implications can include reports of voting records that promote the creation of good American jobs as well as other scenarios that leave no room for a negative twist. But, negative effects of facts, such as those used by Linda McMahon in the 2012 Senate Campaign illustrated opposition Chris Murphy as someone who supposedly did not show up to Congressional hearings.
    • These supposed “facts” used in campaigns could be false and therefore not facts. The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act addressed the issue of “soft money” contributions through political action committees regarding campaign finance, while raising the legal limits of hard money that could be raised for a candidate. These provisions set limits on what funds could be spent on election broadcasts, but did nothing to challenge the lack of truth in political campaign advertising.
  • Other types of campaign advertisements made by a particular party, cross the line. One example of which was an ad in the 2012 Connecticut Senate race by the Linda McMahon campaign in which in the ad, the face of Chris Murphy was clearly photo-shopped onto the body of another human. This ad alienated some Linda supporters as the ad was unnecessary, and while not gruesome, just plain weird and unprofessional.






The most notable of negative commercials, using the method of instilling fear, in history is the “Daisy” advertisement by the campaign of Lyndon B. Johnson in which successfully depicted the opposition, Barry Goldwater, as a serious proponent of a nuclear war. This campaign ad, also referred to as “Daisy Girl” or “Peace, Little Girl”, depicts a young girl counting daisies, appearing as innocent as can be, then the camera zooms into the eye of the child while counting down as in a missile launch, and out of the darkness, a nuclear explosion is seen. The effects of this video were widespread. This 1964 commercial was so effective because it was only aired once. Also, this video was aired in the midst of the Goldwater campaign platform to cut social programs and limit aggressive military action. Johnson used dialogue from Goldwater’s speeches to imply that he was willing to wage a nuclear war and the “Daisy” advertisement was used as a dramatic depiction to reiterate the theme.

Vocabulary

  • Constituents-Serving to compose or make up a thing; an electorate.










Assessment

1. What infamous commercial aired in the 1964 Presidential Election, by the campaign of Lyndon B. Johnson, attacked Barry Goldwater for his supposed interest in starting a nuclear war?
a. "Daisy"
b. "Cats in the Cradle"
c. "I Like Ike"
d. "JFK Jingle"

2. What type of negative campaign advertisement exposes negative information about a candidate which, in some cases, prompts the withdrawal of a candidate?
a. Fear
b. Attack Ad
c. "Dirty Tricks"
d. "Flip-Flopping"

3. In what year was the first televised presidential debate?

a. 1906
b. 1996
c. 1954
d. 1960

4. In what year did the first television campaign commercial air?

a. 1948
b. 1952
c. 1964
d. 2008

5. Over the years which commercial type has not been used in comparison to the others?
a. Attack
b. testimonials
c. Jingles
d. Real people themed

6. In our country's first campaigns in history, campaigns were not run by the candidate, True or False?

a. True
b. False

7. The first truly competitive election in which power changed hands peacefully between parties was in the year 1800, while in the election before, two parties formed: the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. True or False?

a. True
b. False

Open Ended Questions


1. What did the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act do in terms of campaign finance and factual statements in commercials?

2. Who was the first candidate to conduct "front porch campaigning" and how did he use this to connect with voting constituents?


Answers for Assessment


1. A
2. C
3. D
4. B
5. C
6. A; True
7. A; True

Answers for Open Ended


1. The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act addressed the issue of “soft money” contributions through political action committees regarding campaign finance, while raising the legal limits of hard money that could be raised for a candidate. These provisions set limits on what funds could be spent on election broadcasts, but did nothing to challenge the lack of truth in political campaign advertising.

2. William McKinley was the first to conduct what has become known as "front porch campaigning" by utilizing the country's newly-built railroad system to bring thousands of supporters to his home in Ohio, and giving speeches to them from his front porch. This style of campaigning allowed voters to connect more closely with the candidates.




Bibliography