Political Persuasion

A college student's perspective on the two crazy worlds of PR and politics


Political Campaign Ads

It’s Morning Again in America

Thirty years ago yesterday, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States.  Whether you agree or disagree with Reagan’s distinct political ideology, I think it’s important to acknowledge his power as a communicator. Before becoming President, Reagan was an actor.  Reagan refrained from any roles that portrayed him as “the bad guy.”  As President, he took a similar approach–often preaching “wholesome American values” domestically and abroad.

So what does this all mean in the context of political campaign advertising? For one, Reagan was generally able to instill a sense of confidence among the American people.  This was evident in his “It’s Morning Again in America” advertisement.  Not many incumbent Presidents would dare to ask:

“Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?”

The commercial captures the essence of Reagan’s communication style–simple, optimistic and relatable.   The narrator suggests that it was Reagan’s effective policies that contributed to an improved economy and a lower unemployment rate.  He nonchalantly asks why voters would want to return to the policies of the Democrats.  There was an authenticity in the narrator’s voice that many people would argue, mirrored the authenticity in Reagan’s voice. The montage of images further reiterates an America at peace.  People are back to work, inflation has decreased significantly and families are able to buy new homes.

Was it really morning again in America? That question is debatable, but it was evident that many people were content with Reagan’s public policy agenda.  Charisma and a consistent communication style are key to a successful presidency. Reagan wanted people to recognize that with him, the country was “prouder and stronger and better.”


“I’ll tweet, I’ll text, I’ll do whatever it takes…”

Lately, I’ve written about the classic campaign advertisements (such as LBJ’s daisy ad and JFK’s catchy jingle) that completely changed the political PR landscape. Today, I will take a look at a modern political ad.  Although I would not consider Senator Chuck Grassley’s ad a typical political advertisement, I think you will find it both interesting and for some…extremely entertaining.

So, what was Senator Grassley trying to say? That he’s just like one of us? Maybe.  Purpose aside, there is no doubt that this 77 year-old Senator from Iowa captured the attention of Americans nationwide.  His YouTube videos typically receive a few hundred views, but his new ad has over 70,000 hits!

Recently, the renowned PR firm Burson-Marsteller released a study that found that Republicans are far more active on Twitter than their Democratic counterparts. In fact, eight of the ten most followed Twitter accounts maintained by members of Congress are held by Republicans, the study says.

Whether you find Senator Chuck Grassley’s ad weird (as The Christian Science Monitor does) or innovative, there is no doubt that both Democrats and Republicans need to recognize the importance of social media.  There are millions of conversations going on each day.  You can do one of two things–ignore it or join it!  President Obama’s campaign team, for example, was successful because they drew on the suggestions and insights of Americans from a variety of different backgrounds.

I am curious to see how different age groups interpret Senator Grassley’s new ad.  Are you convinced?

“We stand today on the edge of a new frontier”

Today, I decided to take a look at what inspired me to create this blog–clever campaign advertisements that revolutionized the way we look at PR and politics. There is no denying that JFK completely changed the way Americans view the modern President.  He was an expert at cultivating an image for himself, and gaining the trust of Americans nationwide.

The charismatic Senator from Massachusetts proved to Americans that we were ready for a”new frontier”–one that incorporates intelligence, sophistication and renewed faith in the Presidency.  JFK (with the help of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy) became a fashion icon.  Legend has it that JFK even ended the tradition of men wearing formal hats in the United States.

When you look at the advertisement above, you cannot help but remember the Kennedy name.  As the catchy jingle comes to an end, you are left with an image of JFK and his family.   This image paved the way for future presidential candidates, and showed that Americans DO care about a candidate’s personal life. When President Obama decided to run for office, I remember hearing as much about his family as I did about his public policy agenda.

There are so many factors, especially now with a 24/7 news cycle, that go into creating a successful political campaign.  JFK’s interactions with the media and innovative ad campaign helped us realize the complexity of politics and public opinion.

Twitter and the Midterm Elections

When I first heard about Twitter, I assumed it was a fad.  I would read online about how celebrities were using Twitter as a way to update fans about their daily lives.  I automatically associated Twitter with the guilty-pleasure tabloid magazines I would read at the grocery store checkout counter.  The thought didn’t even cross my mind that Twitter could potentially be a major communication tool in politics. Well, it’s safe to say I was in for a shock.

I’ve been tweeting regularly for about a month.  I’m learning quickly that Twitter is more than 140 character updates; it is a way to ask questions, learn about people’s interests and get a conversation going.  One of the biggest conversations going on right now is about the midterm elections.  Republicans, Democrats and Independents are sharing insights about campaign strategy, healthcare legislation, environmental policy and many other topics affecting the upcoming elections.

Richard Adams of The Guardian has an excellent live blog that features news and insights about the midterm election Twitter conversation:  Campaign advertising is a recurring topic in the twittersphere.

Adams cites polling guru, Nate Silver’s recent tweet:

“There’s a good argument to be made that Whitman and McMahon would be better off if they’d run fewer commercials.”

I could not agree more! When someone runs for office, he or she is representing the people.  Instead of attacking opponents, let’s try to bridge the gap between the “average Joe” and “Senator X.”  There are many candidates who are taking advantage of new media—creating Facebook and Twitter accounts, posting pictures, writing blogs and responding to inquiries at iTownhall meetings.

I’m not completely discrediting traditional media.  Campaign advertisements do have a large effect on certain demographics.  In his blog, Adams cites a Harvard poll that looks at the 18-29 year-old demographic.  Just 40% will definitely vote in November and just 25% say they are politically engaged.  College students are one of the largest groups using social media tools, so why wouldn’t a candidate jump on the Twitter bandwagon? I just feel, especially with young college students, there is a need for authenticity and transparency.  I want to be able to interact with the candidate.  I want to know that someone is listening.

If candidates are looking to motivate young people to get to the polls, then they should do just that—motivate! Motivation is not found in petty attack ads; it is found in authentic conversation that gives a reason as to why it is important to support or oppose a particular candidate.

The Power of Daisy

With midterm elections just around the corner, I thought it be fitting to take a look at one of the most influential campaign advertisements of all time–the 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson daisy ad. The ad was designed to attack Barry Goldwater’s comments about nuclear weapons in Vietnam.  Was it effective? Many would argue, yes.  There’s no denying, however, that it was shocking and it completely revolutionized political campaign advertisements.

Often times, we are confronted with a GIANT either/or fallacy: if you don’t support “Candidate X,” then the entire world will fall apart.  LBJ’s ad may have used an either/or fallacy, but I don’t think it was merely an attack ad–it was a social commentary.  It presented a vital issue in a rather artistic way, while provoking conversation.  LBJ’s press team did not have the luxury (or some would argue, curse) of new media.  There was no way to stir up conversations on twitter or through blogging.  Facebook and sophisticated campaign Web sites did not exist. It was this ad–this single piece of persuasion that created a dialogue among Americans.

So I wonder…do political campaign ads have the same effect on us today?

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