Esther Thorson University of Wisconsin-Madison
William G. Christ Trinity University
Clarke Caywood Northwestern University
The first political television commercials were used in the 1952 Presidential race pitting Adlai Stevenson against Dwight Eisenhower. One of the most famous executions of that campaign was an animated musical cartoon showing circus animals parading with a banner for Eisenhower, and singing "We like Ike." After the election, journalist Harlan Cleveland reported a conversation with the famous advertising copywriter, Rosser Reeves, who had directed Eisenhower's television commercials. Mass media historian Martin Mayer ( 1958) quoted Cleveland as saying to Reeves that his objection to the TV spots was that their real role "was selling the President like toothpaste" (p. 302).
From these early days of televised political spots through the infamous "Little Girl and the Daisy" spot for Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and the more recently controversial Willie Horton and Boston Harbor commercials that the Bush campaign produced in 1988, the dominant assumption in the popular media as well as the academic literature has been that people do process political commercials in the same way they process brand commercials. As with so many aspects of political advertising, this assumption is not based on research findings but primarily on speculation.
A 30-second execution for a political candidate may indeed have many attributes in common with an execution for a branded product or service, but candidates are not brands. And voting behavior is certainly not the same as buying behavior, although their equivalence is also often assumed in theorizing about the impact of political advertising. Thus,