So what will it be as you settle down in front of your TV Wednesday night? “Pushing Daises,” “America’s Next Top Model,” or Sen. Barack Obama’s half-hour ad? Those are pretty much your only 8 p.m. viewing choices—unless of course you count the 300 or so cable channels you probably have.
Even the World Series is waiting for Obama. Game 5 will resume just after the senator’s final TV pitch to voters. Obama has an entire half-hour Wednesday night in network prime time. The half-hour ad will air on CBS, NBC, FOX and a Spanish-language version will air on Univision. It’s the first buy of its kind since Ross Perot made several half-hour TV buys during the 1992 presidential campaign.
Republican media strategist Tom Edmonds says he’s not sure the Obama ad will do much of anything for the Democrat, noting that similar ad appeals were a favorite of presidential candidates “in the early days.” Edmonds says most of them didn’t sway all that many people then, and he doesn’t think they will now.
But he did get me wondering about the history of half-hour presidential ad buys, especially after he recalled Barry Goldwater’s “Brunch with Barry.” It was basically a half-hour infomercial targeting women voters, and it pretty much flopped according to Edmonds.
The living room candidate (the online political ad database from the Museum of the Moving Image) gives a great history of some of these ads. Goldwater actually did a series of other half-hour advertisements in 1964, one featuring an endorsement speech from Ronald Reagan. In 1952, Democrat Adlai Stevenson did 18 half-hour televised speeches. The speeches aired twice a week, and they formed the basis of the campaign for Stevenson, who had a disdain for spot advertising. His non-30 minute offerings were all pretty similar to this one…
Just substitute “John” and “George” for “Ike” and “Bob” and that spot’s even funnier. The proliferation of the half-hour ad buys pretty much ended by 1956, which saw the evolution of the “5 minute spot.” Candidates still used the extended ads, though, just not as much as Stevenson did in ’52. In addition to Goldwater in 1964, John F. Kennedy used the half-hour in 1960. Richard Nixon did a series of hour-long Q&A’s in 1968. As for whether or not Obama could re-popularize the lengthier ad buy, the answer is probably not given the cost. The Obama campaign is reportedly spending more than $3 million on the buy. So, what to expect from Obama’s half-hour? We asked some media consultants: Democrat Glenn Totten:
“He needs to talk about his love of the country, his upbringing. He needs to address who he is and talk clearly about where he wants to take the country. You have to lay out the vision here because you can do it uninterrupted … What you need to understand about the beauty of a piece like this is that if you produce it well, people are willing to watch it for a half-hour. I assume [his campaign] had a feeling they might be doing this for a while.” Republican Tom Edmonds:
“He needs to look more presidential and not like he did in his acceptance speech [at the Democratic National Convention]. That was a bit over the top. This needs to be more subdued … I’m sure it will be well done, but he’s certainly not going to say anything new here. This is just a ‘consolidate the base’ effort, and it will probably help with GOTV, but I don’t think he’s going to win over [undecided voters] with this.” Democrat Joseph Mercurio:
“There are a lot of voters who have been moving toward Obama, and they’ve been doing it in the face of a big disinformation campaign about who he really is. There were all sorts of emails and blogs that have attacked him and distorted the facts. So this buy really takes care of all those people who still have questions about Obama … This is a nice 30 minute ‘get-to-know’ Obama spot and [the campaign] can deal with some of those issues. And I think the electorate is going to watch this.”
Shane D’Aprile is web editor at Politics magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org