Originally Published: 4 June, 2012.
The counterpart to my previous blog post on negative campaign ads is this one on positive ads. Every candidate wants to symbolise hope and optimism. It’s the winning combination. Successful presidential candidates from FDR to JFK to Obama have rode to power on a wave of optimism. Nothing spells loser and nothing smells of desperation more than resorting to negative campaigning. Going negative is synonymous with the losing candidate.
One of the most successful positive campaign ads and one of my personal favourite is the Kennedy Jingle from 1960. It is a catchy jingle with the countless repetition of Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy creating an hypnotic effect. It has the headlines a ‘Time For Greatness’ and ‘Leadership For the 60’s’. JFK was the candidate of Hope and Change 50 years before President Obama! The ad states Kennedy is ‘A Change That’s Overdue’ and ‘Do You Want A Man For President Who’s Seasoned Through and Through, But Not So Dargone Seasoned That He Won’t Try Something New’. It cleverly addresses one of Kennedy’s biggest weaknesses, his youth and inexperience, with the line, ‘A Man Who’s Old Enough To know, And Young Enough To Do’ (a double-entrendre if ever there was one!).
Another successful positive ad is Ronald Reagan’s 1984, ‘Morning in America’. It paints an idyllic view of America, the America you want to believe in. Straight away it tackles the most important factor to voters; jobs. It states ‘Today More Men and Women Will Go To Work Than Ever Before In Our History’. It cleverly contains images of both the metropolis and suburbia. It hits the family values button with the image of a couple getting married. One of the most significant trends in modern political history is how the Republican Party has been able to hijack the star-spangled banner to make it synonymous with the Republican Party. Many a Republican has been elected by wrapping themselves around the flag. The overall effect of the ad is one of confidence in the future.
Bill Clinton cleverly played on his hometown, ‘Hope’, to sell himself as the candidate of ‘Hope and Change’ in his 1992 ad. The ad presents Clinton as the American Dream personified. The man from a small town who could be the next President of the United States. It’s very ‘Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.’ Clinton presents himself as the second coming of JFK. Footage of a young Clinton meeting President Kennedy is milked for all it’s worth. Crucially Clinton appears to be everything his opponent George H. Bush wasn’t; a man of the people, a symbol of hope and the bastion of change.
Positive ads make us feel good about ourselves and our country. They tell us want we want to hear. They are comforting. This is why they are so successful.