Monday, May 28, 2012

Ike Vs. Adlai: A lesson in Campaign Videos.

I volunteer at the Newseum, one of the coolest museums in Washington, DC. An interesting exhibit at the Newseum is the big screen showing presidential campaign videos. It starts with the first campaign videos, Adlai Stevenson and Eisenhower, and features some of the key campaign videos in history.

Adlai Stevenson was famously reluctant to get on the political advertising bandwagon saying politics should be about more than just selling soap. Stevenson's hesitance about political advertising is painfully obvious in his 1956 video where he helps his daughter-in-law carry in the groceries and stops on the doorstep to give a straight-to-camera campaign speech. There is only one word to describe this campaign video and that is awkward.

This is in direct contrast to Adlai Stevenson's 1952 ad, 'I Love The Gov.', which is one of my favourite campaign ads. It is very captivating. It features a beautiful, charismatic Jazz Singer singing, 'Adlai, love you madly'. She is an amazing singer and it's a very captivating ad. This ad is much more to my taste than Eisenhower's. It's classy and sophisticated. This may have been part of the probem. If you are seen as being intellectual and elite it's probably not the best idea to confirm this view by featuring Jazz in your ad, a cosmopolitan and metropolitan form of music. Stevenson's ad was up against the blinding simple yet genius, 'I Like Ike' ad written by none other than Irving Berlin!

'I like Ike' has to be one of the best campaign slogans. So simple and catchy. It's very clever especially when you consider that Dwight D. Eisenhower isn't exactly a name which rolls easily off the tongue. It features that ideal American past time, the parade, and features the ideal cross section of 1950s American society, practically the butcher, baker and candlestick-maker. It also features an elephant which looks remarkably like Dumbo. The overall effect is very Disney. It was in fact produced by Disney. Its simplicity reaches people on a subliminal level.

Looking at photos of Eisenhower nowadays it difficult to imagine him as a charismatic leader, he looks like the archetypal 'man in grey', very much a Grandfather figure, especially in contrast to the dazzling brilliance of JFK, but he seemed to cruise to electoral victory against Stevenson. Stevenson is of course, the archetypal Liberal intellectual, Americans seem to have an anti-intellectual bias when it comes to Presidential Politics, case in point, George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore, to quote Toby Ziegler of 'The West Wing', 'nobody likes the smartest kid in the class'.

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