Messages Of Some Political Ads Repeat Themselves

Political ads have come a long way from the catchy cartoons that once passed for hip tributes to the candidates.

"Those [early] ads are just like jingles for products like soap and cereal and detergent," David Schwartz, a curator at the Museum of the Moving Image, tells Renee Montagne. The museum just released an updated version of its Web site called "The Living Room Candidate" that's an archive of political ads throughout history.

Early political ads were innocent, sweet and straightforward — with the candidates just talking to the camera.

But ads got a little more sophisticated, Schwartz says, in 1960 when John F. Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon. The ads for JFK were snappier and more visual with shots of Kennedy-for-president posters. The Nixon ads were all about experience and knowing what to do during tough times. Nixon's campaign tried to convey this seriousness by shooting its commercials of Nixon perched on a desk and speaking directly to the camera.

But neither of the candidates' ads was about issues; rather, they were more contrast in styles.

The messages focused on the era as "a dangerous time," says Schwartz.

"It was really an election about change versus experience, which we've been hearing a lot about this year," he adds.

In 1964, a big shift occurred in political advertising when a cutting-edge advertising firm named Doyle Dane Bernbach did ads for President Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign.

One controversial ad never mentioned Johnson's opponent, Barry Goldwater. Instead, it showed a little girl picking petals off a daisy before the camera cut to a nuclear explosion and the ensuing mushroom cloud. The ad ran only once.

In 1988, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis ran similarly dramatic ads when he ran against former President George H. Bush, who had just chosen Dan Quayle as his running mate. In the ads, the sound of a heartbeat plays in the background. And the ads reminded voters that Quayle was just a "heartbeat away from being president."

Some political advertising tricks don't change, Schwartz says. In 2004, for example, the Republicans ran an ad that criticized Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry for supporting Iraq war funding before he voted against it. Obama's campaign recently released a similar type of ad that says that GOP vice presidential pick Sarah Palin supported the "Bridge to Nowhere" before she was against it.

"Just like Hollywood loves to remakes successful movies, I think political consultants like to remake successful commercials," Schwartz adds.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.