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Characteristics of Campaigns

Coletta Cook

Campaign commercials appeal to our basic civic engagement, something so ingrained in

our society it’s called a right. When it comes to persuading voters to support a candidate, crafting

a political persona takes precedent. In 1953, Eisenhower’s simple, seemingly lighthearted “Ike

for President” commercial reached out of TV, bringing the world of politics directly into

viewer’s homes. He concentrated on relating to his constituents through a caricature of himself

and animated familiarity with working class Americans. Similarly, in Trump’s “Dangerous”

commercial he attempts to appeal to his base with a straightforward message, relying on the

internet to circulate his campaign ad (Beckwith). By amplifying a negative image of his

opponent and promoting himself as a positive alternative to Clinton, however, Trump strays from

the principle of building a political personality in favor of overt emotional manipulation. “Ike for

President” took advantage of the novelty of televisions and the lively depiction of himself and

his voters to create an effectively blunt call to civic action, whereas Trump’s equally blatant

caricature of Clinton and complete dependance on pathos detracts from the ad’s influence over

all but his constituents.

Obviously, political campaigns persuade as many voters as possible to support a

candidate by designing a desirable image of that candidate. Eisenhower set the precedent of

using television to visually re-enforce his chosen image (“Top 10 Campaign Ads”). In the

summer of 1952, Eisenhower aired the first ever televised political campaign ad which aimed to

amuse viewers in a call to vote for him in the upcoming presidential election. Depicting a lively

animated parade accompanied by a catchy, pithy jingle declaring “we’ll take Ike to Washington”,

the ad creates a sense of victory shared by everyone who supports for Eisenhower (Eisenhower

For President (1952)). The use of the word “we” throughout the commercial encourages people

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to associate themselves with Eisenhower, and the upbeat, rhyming tune promises a positive

experience for the nation. “Ike for President” refines a favorable vision of Eisenhower in the

minds of his constituents.

Conversely, in Trump’s “Dangerous” ad, gritty visuals, a grim voice over, and strong

wording contribute to a negative image of Clinton that this Trump campaign desires people to

consider. Dog whistle phrases such as “Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the fortitude, strength, or

stamina” and “don’t let her fail us again” connect negative words with Clinton, such as “failure”

and “weakness” (Beckwith). Instead of making himself appear accessible to American voters,

Trump portrays his opponent as uncharismatic and untrustworthy. The smear tactics prey on

viewer’s pior mistrust of Clinton, and even without supported facts or specific examples to

re-enforce its claims, affirms people’s apprehension. Only at the end of the commercial does

Trump shift the focus to himself as he appeals to constituents who desire protection. Words

flashing across the screen confirm that “Donald Trump will protect you. He is the only one who

can” (Latest Trump Campaign Ad - Dangerous). This brief statement characterizes Trump in his

desired role of powerful protector of American voters.

Both Eisenhower and Trump cater their campaigns to their base, shaping the perception

of themselves in the minds of the voters. Eisenhower prefers to cultivate a sense of familiarity

with his constituents, barely mentioning his opponents. He does, however, briefly depict

Democratic candidates as docile donkeys juxtaposed to a jovial Republican elephant leading a

parade procession of Eisenhower supporters. Trump, similarly, characterizes his opponent as

weak, showing images of Clinton tripping and being supported by her bodyguards. Rather than

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making himself appear relatable, Trump presents himself as the solution to questions of security

that concern American voters.

Already a well known World War II general, Eisenhower had the luxury of making

himself seem more relatable while his opponents scrambled for recognition (Shmoop Editorial

Team). By using his nickname, a familiar Disney animation style, and amusing caricature of

himself, Eisenhower makes himself more identifiable with his base of working class Americans

(“Top 10 Campaign Ads”). In 1952, in comparison to other demographics, a large percentage of

middle class households owned a television set. Out of the 32% of all American households with

a TV, Eisenhower was able to reach his base effectively and utilized the public’s trust regarding

anything portrayed on the novel device (Ponce de Leon). Eager to appeal to the average citizen,

Eisenhower’s “Ike for President” features several animated businessmen as well as people with

specialized jobs such as maids, chefs, farmers, and waitresses with “Ike” signs walking in a

lively parade. The message is clear: Eisenhower’s victory is his constituents’ victory.

Likewise, Trump heavily appeals to an audience that already harbors a mistrust of

Clinton and attempts to solidify their support for himself. Directed towards a partisan base, overt

emotionally founded attacks on Clinton’s ability to lead effort to radicalize voters against her.

The commercial’s claim that “Donald Trump will protect you. He is the only one who can” also

addresses a specific audience that regards national security to be one of the most important duties

of the president. The presupposition of Clinton’s ineffectiveness and the significance of safety

allows the “Dangerous” ad to successfully confirm Trump’s constituent’s suspicions.

Equally important to the campaign tactics, historical context greatly determines the

success of the tone and appeals in political advertisements. When Eisenhower’s novel television

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campaign was released in the summer of 1952, the Red Scare had begun to creep into politics

and there was an immediate demand for an end to the Korean War (The Editors of

Encyclopaedia Britannica). These issues focused the shared national sentiment on civic

participation and what every person could do to be a patriot. Eisenhower's status as a World War

II general and reputation for integrity, enhanced by the childlike animation style used in his

commercial, made it so that it was not necessary to alter the public’s already favorable

impression of him. Instead, Eisenhower enhanced his image as the most patriotic candidate by

calling on “all good Americans to come to the aid of their country” and vote for him.

Similarly, issues facing modern America, such as “Iran promoting terrorism, North Korea

threatening, ISIS on the rise”, are an advantage to the negative connotations that Trump’s

“Dangerous” commercial seeks to amplify in regards to Clinton (Latest Trump Campaign Ad -

Dangerous). Less of a novelty and more of an exaggeration of a negative image, the ad was able

to gain popularity for being excessive in its pathetic appeals. Matters of international security

brought up in the ad direct public criticism towards Trump’s opponent, relying on the high

tensions and strong emotions surrounding controversy in the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s

“Dangerous” ad can be aired on TV, replayed on YouTube, found embedded in online articles,

and shared in social media, making it all the more important to include nearly hyperbolic appeals

in order to grab people’s attention.

Nowadays, political campaigns, such as Trump’s “Dangerous” ad, mimic the most

successful characteristics of Eisenhower’s innovative “Ike for President” commercial,

particularly focusing on creating caricatures and addressing constituents to help craft a public

image that encourages civic action. Eisenhower’s commercial was the first of it’s kind, merging

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rhetorical messages and visual images for a wildly compelling presidential campaign. However,

repetition has damaged the effectiveness of political TV advertisements to the point where even

the stark appeals of Trump’s campaign must be targeted towards an extremely specific partisan

audience to be convincing. It may be impossible to revamp the art of televised campaign

commercials and recapture the novelty of the historic “Ike for President” ad due to how the

“Dangerous” ad has demonstrated just how far typical tactics have to be exaggerated to be

persuasive.

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Works Cited

Beckwith, Ryan Teague. “Campaign Ads: Watch the Most Notable Ads of 2016.” Time, Time

Beschloss, Michael. “Eisenhower, an Unlikely Pioneer of TV Ads.” The New York Times, The

New York Times, 30 Oct. 2015,

“Campaign Spot: Ike For President (1952).” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2018,

Corasaniti, Nick. “Hillary Clinton Is a Frail Failure, Donald Trump Warns, but He 'Will Protect

You'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2017,

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “United States Presidential Election of 1952.”

Encyclopædia Britannica,Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 26 Mar. 2014,

Ponce de Leon, Charles L. “ That's the Way It Is: A History of Television News in America.”

The University of Chicago Press Books,University of Chicago Press, 2015,

Shmoop Editorial Team. "Politics in The 1950s." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov.

2008. Web. 26 Sep. 2018, www.shmoop.com/1950s/politics.html.

“Top 10 Campaign Ads.” Time, Time Inc., 22 Sept. 2008,