Campaign Videos: A Time-Tested Election Tactic | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Campaign Videos: A Time-Tested Election Tactic

Play associated audio

President Obama's re-election campaign is releasing a video Thursday that looks back on the accomplishments of his first term. The documentary-style film, directed by Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim and narrated by actor Tom Hanks, is likely to go viral, but such video tributes are far from new in presidential politics.

In 1952, a war hero named Eisenhower was running for president; his campaign decided it needed to reintroduce the former general to the American public. The film, with its grainy World War II footage and its shouting newsreel announcer, is really where the presidential biographical film got its start — at the dawn of the golden age of American television.

Since then, every nominee — and many a candidate who didn't get that far — has done some kind of biographical documentary-style film. Most of these films have come and gone, and created little buzz. They were shown at nominating conventions or maybe on TV, but in the pre-YouTube age, they weren't that easy for a voter to see.

Mostly the intent, especially for a nonincumbent, is simple: Meet the candidate.

Jimmy Carter's film featured music that could have doubled as the theme for The Rockford Files or Charlie's Angels. Its message: Carter is an outsider you can trust after the Watergate scandal.

Anne Johnston, a professor at the University of North Carolina and co-author of a book looking at how candidates use media techniques to sell their biography, says her favorite of these films is from President Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972. It highlights Nixon's success in opening up diplomatic relations with China, but it also shows something else.

"He's very — this is going to sound strange, but very human," Johnston says. "He's laughing with the Chinese translator. He's sort of teasing with her there. So it's Richard Nixon, if you're saying, playing against type, that's what I would say, is very, very comfortable with television, which of course, Nixon was not."

Among the most memorable of these films was one shown during the Democratic convention in 1992. Forty years earlier, the Eisenhower campaign unveiled The Man from Abilene. The campaign of candidate Bill Clinton drew inspiration from that.

Mark McKinnon, a veteran political media adviser who was the media adviser for both of George W. Bush's presidential campaigns, says Clinton's film worked so well because it told a very human story.

"I think it was important in terms of that storytelling to tell a story that a lot of Americans can relate to, to say, you know, 'Boy, this is a guy who could be president but met some of the very same challenges that I did or my family did, or friends that I know did,' " he says.

McKinnon made two of these films for Bush. The first was an introduction to a candidate who, even though he was a governor and the son of a president, was not that well-known. Four years later, for the Bush re-election, it was all about the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and how the president responded to the crisis. It included scenes of the president at ground zero, and it ended with the uplifting moment of Bush throwing out the pitch at the World Series in Yankee Stadium six weeks later.

A new film is added to the library Thursday: It's 17 minutes long. A preview was released online last week.

It's coming out early — a strategic move to get the president's narrative out there. As for exposure, today's films can zip around the Web, finding an audience and being played at campaign events and in college dorms and on smartphones and all kinds of ways that the man from Abilene couldn't begin to imagine.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

 

Dwight Eisenhower's campaign video, 'The Man from Abilene'

"Nixon, the Man" ad from Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign

WAMU 88.5

Art Beat With Lauren Landau, August 21

A jazz band performs at a local venue and a play explores the difficulties of surviving the American high school experience.

NPR

No. 1 Most Expensive Coffee Comes From Elephant's No. 2

A coffee entrepreneur claims his brew is different — and better — than the trendy civet poop coffee. And it starts with the idea that elephants, unlike humans or civets, are herbivores.
WAMU 88.5

McDonnell To Take Stand Again Today In Corruption Trial

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will take the stand Thursday for the second day, as defense attorneys seek to emphasize how the Republican's relationship with Jonnie Williams did not involve extending special treatment.

NPR

Islamic State Uses Online Strategies To Get Its Message Out

Experts say the videotaped killing of journalist James Foley is part of a broader propaganda strategy by Islamist militants. The group, the Islamic State, has become a master of the video medium.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.