Nearly 60 Years of Presidential Campaign Ads

Remember when you were in Elementary school, how excited you would get when your teacher would show you a video, simply because you didn’t have to read. Well, you can perhaps relive that excitement today. I recently came across a fantastic website called The Living Room Candidate (www.livingroomcandidate.org) which compiles presidential campaign ads dating back to 1952. Today I decided to post some ads, as I think it is interesting to see how they have evolved over the years. But if you watch enough ads, it is possible to see that the message rarely changes. In fact, some campaigns have essentially reproduced ads that had worked for previous candidates. Here are just a few I thought were the most interesting. There are dozens more to view on The Living Room Candidate website. (Unfortunately I could not imbed the videos from The Living Room Candidate, so these are youtube copies that I found instead. All the videos were originally found on that website though).

In 1952, television ads were brand new. These ads were used by Dwight Eisenhower. The first is extremely catchy, and I apologize if it gets stuck in your head. The second is somewhat vague, but touches on a pertinent issue of the day.


1960 saw John Kennedy squared off against Richard Nixon. Kennedy’s team created an optimistic ad similar to the one Eisenhower used in 1952. Meanwhile, Nixon settled for more plain and serious ads. Most of his ads were in this same style, with Nixon speaking to the camera on his own.


Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 campaign provided one of the most controversial ads in history. It was so controversial that it only aired once (don’t mind the little girl’s counting skills). His opponent, Barry Goldwater, similarly used ads that inspired fear in the hearts of voters.


By 1968, the United States was in a state of near constant turmoil. Richard Nixon reemerged to secure the Republican nomination. This campaign ad is essentially an ego boost for him. Notice the difference between Nixon’s 1960 ad, and this one. Meanwhile, Hubert Humphrey, who secured a divided Democratic party’s nomination, openly mocked Nixon in his ad.


I also could not resist putting this ad in. The Democrats openly laugh at Nixon’s choice for VP, Spiro Agnew.

This first ad was Richard Nixon’s most successful ad against George McGovern in 1972. He taps into fears about national security, with the well timed presidential song playing at the end. Meanwhile his opponent, George McGovern, attempted to tap into the fraud and corruption in the Nixon White House. It did not work in 1972, but would be blown wide open by 1974.


As not to make this post too long, I will be posting the remainder of the elections on Thursday, all the way up until 2008. After viewing the ads, do you have a favourite? Is there a trend you see amongst the ads? As will be seen on Thursday, modern television ads are quite similar to those from this era.

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About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on February 15, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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