This essay was part of the final paper submitted for my CLUSTER 60 course, which earned a grade of A.
The 1956 United States presidential election will be a real-life test of whether the conclusion of a March 1952 Roper poll – that Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower is “the most admired of all living Americans” – remains true after Ike’s first term in the White House (Jamieson 41). Ike will run on the Republican ticket for re-election against former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, whom he defeated 4 years earlier. Merely 7 months after being inaugurated into his first presidential term, Ike signed the armistice that ended the 3-year-long Korean War (Ambrose 106). This achievement, when coupled with his strategic handling of crucial international foreign policy crises in the Middle East and Eastern Europe in the weeks leading up to the election, helped cement his image as a peace-minded man with strong diplomatic relations (Kingseed, Cole 99). In this paper, I will present two polls that speak to the 1956 voters’ general sentiment before proceeding to describe a 15-second soft sell concept ad with an argument spot supporting Ike. This is achieved by playing into his solid reputation and reminding voters that it was Ike who made possible the peace and prosperity that Americans have enjoyed since 1952.
In October 1956, less than a month from Election Day, a Gallup poll titled “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” was carried out with an open response (refer Appendix A). The poll revealed that at 33%, a significant plurality of Americans agreed that “war, war situation, keeping peace, fear, threat of war, peace with honor, the atom bomb” were the most crucial issues at hand. Another 13% were concerned about “foreign policy, international situation, world affairs, Red China, foreign relations, dealings with Russia.” This finding illustrates that in 1956, Americans were deeply concerned with the possibility of foreign issues, such as another World War, that threaten the peace they currently enjoy with their families. With this understanding, I believe that an effective ad should appeal to the voters’ desire for peace, and should present Ike as a leader with existing military and presidential experiences in keeping America out of international conflicts.
A Gallup poll titled “Some people say that the U.S. should call off hydrogen bomb tests for the present. Do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint?” with a classic ‘agree/disagree/no opinion’ outcome category yielded similar sentiments (refer Appendix B). Poll results revealed that more than twice the amount of Americans disagreed than agreed with the halting of hydrogen bomb testing. To understand the significance of this finding, it is crucial to note that merely 2 months before this Gallup poll was conducted, Stevenson publicly proposed that the United States take the lead in offering to stop any further hydrogen bomb tests, assuming Russia and England would do the same (Wittner 37). The polling results clearly indicate a major vulnerability in Stevenson’s manifesto, which my political ad will exploit to convince the voters that Ike is best poised to keep America safe.
Having examined these poll results, it is now necessary to detail the dimensions of my political ad. I would structure my ad as an argument spot to draw a distinct comparison between the stances that Ike and Stevenson plan to adopt to protect America in the Cold War. In the ad, I aim to leverage Ike’s presidential incumbency as well as his military background as an advantage to convince voters that Ike’s approach is their best bet as he is better informed on how to keep America safe, if not war-free. Next, considering that the American voters were acutely aware of Stevenson’s plan to halt H-Bomb testing, the creative usage of a concept ad would be the most effective in further contrasting the leadership that Ike and Stevenson would bring to the White House. This allows the ad to function as both an acclamation that Ike is capable of protecting America, as well as an attack on Stevenson’s naïveté in proposing to lower America’s guard and leave the nation vulnerable. Utilizing the public’s disagreement of Stevenson’s proposal, as concluded in the Gallup poll above, employing the soft sell technique further nudges voters to recognise that a candidate with a military background and presidential experience is more equipped to protect and defend the nation. This can be achieved by evoking the traumatic memories of WW2 which ended barely a decade ago in 1945, and reminding them about the chaos that entails should an incompetent Commander-in-Chief be voted into the White House. As Schwartz theorized, making people your workforce and inviting the audience to participate in the ad delivers a significantly stronger impact, as compared to explicitly stating your message to the audience (Smith 136).
The first segment of the ad comprises of Frame #1 and #2, which shows Jim’s return to his suburban home after a long day at the office, followed by his loving wife greeting him in the kitchen (refer Appendix C). Both these opening scenes and their accompanying auditory components of children playing and vehicles passing by portray the ideal post-war modern American life. This is depicted in the then-popular TV series, Father Knows Best, which follows a small nucleus family with a reliable father, nurturing mother, and a handful of happy kids, living together in a cozy suburban home fully equipped with the newest electrical appliances such as a television, oven, and refrigerator. More importantly, it is interesting to note that a significant proportion of the 1956 Americans were leading similar lifestyles in the suburban areas – progress that in no small part Ike contributed to. Both these frames in the ad were realities for the voters, hence appealing to their shared identity right off the bat. These familial scenes in the ad also speak to housewives, who desire to continue leading peaceful lives with their happy families, absent of the deep and constant concerns of an upcoming war, as seen in the first poll mentioned above.
The middle segment of the advertisement shifts the focus to Jim’s wife in Frame #3 and abruptly transitions into a terrifying hydrogen bomb explosion footage in Frame #4 (refer Appendix C). These scenes work together to trigger the memory of WW2 that ended barely a decade ago, and the possibility of another war remains a heavy concern amongst American voters as seen in the first Gallup poll cited above. The sudden shift in the ad’s tone from the familiar suburban life to the dark and traumatic war footage shows an alternate reality if Stevenson was voted into office 4 years ago, instead of Ike, hence making it a concept ad that urges the voters to make the right decision and keep Ike in the White House. However, this is all achieved without explicitly referring to the dangerous position Stevenson’s proposal is placing on the United States, which was common knowledge amongst voters in 1956 as concluded in the Gallup poll conducted in 1956. That allows the audience to come to the conclusions themselves, resulting in a stronger belief that Stevenson’s election as President would threaten the peace that America has enjoyed throughout Ike’s presidency.
The ad closes with a picture of Ike in his military insignia, sitting in the Oval Office handling administrative tasks and reviewing documents. Again, without explicitly stating it, the picture functions to portray a combination of Ike’s military background in protecting America as well as his leadership quality in making executive decisions. The usage of “Hail the Chief” as the background music is appropriate as it was officially adopted as the Presidential Anthem during Ike’s first term in 1954. Both the auditory and visual stimuli serve to convince the voters that Ike is America’s best bet to protect the nation’s peace. The ad then ends with the written words “Ike Knows Best,” a wordplay on the TV show Father Knows Best to further build familiarity with the audience.
Overall, this ad is directed towards all Americans and implies that voting for Ike is in their best interest. For those who voted for Ike in the 1952 election, the ad assures that they directly contributed to the peace and prosperity America currently enjoys and urges them to continue making the right choice for America. Moreover, the ad is especially appealing to housewives who have their family’s best interests at heart and want to continue leading a peaceful life. Securing housewive votes is crucial as Ike's 1952 election victory was due in large part to winning the female votes (Hughes). As for those who doubted Ike in 1952, the ad not only solidifies that Ike served America well in his first term, it also effectively sells the idea that the 1956 election transcends the superficial level of political parties. In voting for Ike, the ad paints the picture that the voters are performing their civic duty in keeping America safe. Hence, by focusing on a common concern, this ad targets Americans as a whole and is able to leave an impact on a large majority of its audience, making it crucial in anchoring a stable position for Ike’s 1956 re-election.
GE60 ADVERTISING SCRIPT/STORYBOARD
TITLE OF AD: IKE KNOWS BEST
A nice suburban house in a friendly American neighborhood with the sun setting in the horizon. A car slowly parks in the driveway and a man (Jim), fully suited, emerges from the car with his briefcase.
Dogs barking and the sound of vehicles passing by
A soft, merry instrumental tune plays in the background
Narrator: It has been a long day at the office for Jim, and he finally returns to his cozy suburban home.
Jim enters the house and sees his wife is taking out a cake she just baked from the oven. He kisses his wife on the forehead as she smiles sweetly.
The oven bell rings just as Jim enters the house. The vague sound of children talking and playing in the background.
The soft, merry instrumental tune becomes fainter.
Wife: How was your day, darling?
Jim: It was a long one, honey, but I’m glad I’m home.
Wife: I’m glad you’re home too. Betty and Bud are in the living room playing. Dinner will be out in just a bit.
Jim leaves the kitchen and enters the living room. The camera focuses on Jim’s wife, who is lifting the lid off a boiling pot of soup. A thick cloud of smoke rises from the pot of boiling soup as she lifts the lid. The scene freezes and the camera zooms into the cloud of smoke.
The sound of children footsteps running around in the living room. The sound of Jim talking to his kids.
Faint instrumental background.
Narrator: This is a typical evening for Jim, his family, and millions of Americans across this great nation of ours. But make no mistake. This isn’t something to be taken for granted. It was because you made the right call 4 years ago. If you didn’t… [cue transition]
The zoomed in footage of the cloud of smoke from the pot transitions into a mushroom cloud from the explosion of a hydrogen bomb.
Transition sound effect. Once the transition into an explosion mushroom cloud is complete, there is a battlefield sound effect in the background.
Intense background music.
Narrator: America is at stake. Make the right choice again and keep our nation’s peace for the next 4 years.
A photo of Eisenhower with his military insignia, sitting in the Oval Office handling administrative tasks
“Hail to the Chief”
Ike knows best.
Narrator: Ike’s the man. Ike knows best.
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. “Chapter 2 - 1952: The Election of a Popular Hero.” Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1996, pp. 41–41.
Ambrose, Stephen E. “II.” Eisenhower: The President (1952-1969), Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1984, pp. 106–107.
Kingseed, Cole C. “Chapter 6.” Eisenhower and the Suez Crisis of 1956, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA, 1995, pp. 99-100.
Emmet John Hughes, "52,000,000 TV Sets-How Many Votes?" The New York Times, September 25, 1960, SM23
Gallup Organization. Gallup Poll # 1956-0573: Presidential Election/Political Parties, Question 13. USGALLUP.56-573.Q009A. Gallup Organization. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, 1956. Web. Aug-16-2005.
Gallup Organization. Gallup Poll # 1956-0573: Presidential Election/Political Parties, Question 34. USGALLUP.56-573.Q022. Gallup Organization. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, 1956. Web. Aug-16-2005.