1956–Stevenson TV Ad–Yana Ratushny
In this particular TV commercial, Adlai Stevenson makes a personal address to the people of the United States. During this election, Stevenson’s chances of winning were very low. Incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower was widely popular because of his foreign affairs accomplishments and the booming economy, attributed to his successful presidency. The country prospered for most of Eisenhower’s presidency that the slogan “Eisenhower Prosperity” became popular. Although the 50s were marked by peace and prosperity there were issues looming in the background that Eisenhower could not avoid.
Civil Rights were an important issue during this campaign and it was not an issue that Eisenhower liked to address. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional, Eisenhower did little to speed up the process of integration. In 1957, he sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas when mobs tried blocking students from entering the school. His action, however, was a result of constitutional obligation and not out of support. Stevenson takes the opportunity to address this issue in the campaign. Campaigns this year were marked by an increase in television advertisements, which helped the candidates reach more people.
This was the first election in which TV ads were the most popular form of campaign rhetoric. Adlai Stevenson even addresses this point in his opening remark stating that “thanks to television, I can talk to millions of people.” Stevenson names a few western states that are rich in resources, which he accuses Eisenhower of “giving away.” He addresses parents telling them that the education system needs to be renewed and claims that small business owners are not prospering in the midst of Eisenhower’s administration. These all point to the underlying theme of creating a government that is more responsive to the majority and not the minority.
He accuses the Eisenhower administration of making money more of a priority over national security, which was then an issue because of the advent of the hydrogen bomb. To Stevenson’s disadvantage, those issues he was trying to shed light on turned out to work in Eisenhower’s favor because of the two world crises that occurred right before Election Day: the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Allied attack on Egypt without American knowledge. Eisenhower handled these two issues in a way that prevented the United States from having to enter into war but proved to the public that their incumbent President was able to take a stand on important international matters.
Stevenson did not like the idea of using television as a means of campaigning, but with the growing number of homes that had TV’s, he had no choice, and therefore decided to hire an agency to handle his campaign. His account was turned down by many of the leading advertising agencies out of fear that they would offend their Republican clients, which they counted on for much of their business. The company Norman, Craig and Kummel ended up taking on Stevenson’s account, however they had little political experience. The type of ads created for Stevenson’s campaign were designed to defend against the negative image he got as an “egghead” and instead tried to portray him as a family man, even though he was divorced. This particular TV ad was composed to restore the idea that the Democratic Party was the “true voice” of the American people.
With the advent of television ads, the main attribute was the five-minute spot (five-minute commercial). These commercials were a result of the cooperation between the networks and candidates. In order to avoid half-hour long speeches before programs, networks agreed to cut time from their shows so that these five-minute ads could be scheduled. This turned out to be advantageous for the candidates because they were less expensive than the thirty minute programs that were used before and because the spots would fit in between popular programs, they reached more viewers than before.
Adlai Stevenson’s attempt at presidency the second time against incumbent Eisenhower proved futile. President Eisenhower was very popular with the American people because of the economic prosperity and ending of the Korean War. Those two factors mixed in with Eisenhower’s popular decisions on how to handle the crises generated massive support. During times of crisis or war, there is the phenomenon known as the rally-around-the-flag effect where the citizens of the country stand behind their President and support their decisions. This phenomenon worked towards Eisenhower’s advantage and led him to a landslide victory. Stevenson won seven states, a meager 73 electoral votes and 42.1 percent of the popular vote.