1968–Sinatra Ad–Gavin McGuire
Hubert Humphrey was faced with the difficult task of running for president after Lyndon B. Johnson, for whom Humphrey was vice president, decided not to seek a second term. The Johnson/Humphrey administration was not particularly popular in 1968 so from the start Humphrey was not going to be able to run on a “track record” type platform because at that point, the voters did not like the track record Humphrey had. So for the 1968 election the Humphrey campaign focused more on the character of the two candidates, Humphrey the Democrat and Richard M. Nixon, the Republican. So much was Humphrey’s campaign built around issues of character that his campaign slogan was Humphrey-Muskie, two you can trust” which was meant to be in direct conflict with Richard Nixon, who the Humphrey campaign attempted to paint as untrustworthy. It was an ineffective strategy, as Humphrey lost the election, but as far as claiming Nixon was not to be trusted…well, Humphrey was ahead of the game in that regard.
A prime example of Humphrey’s emphasis on character in the 1968 election would be in the time honored political tradition of endorsements of candidates and how highlighting those endorsements is an effective way to prove the character of the candidate receiving the endorsement. What makes the elections of this era interesting with regards to political endorsements was the emergence of television and entertainment and the new generation of “celebrities” that came as a result of more people having access to television and radio across the country. Certainly entertainment celebrities have always existed but by 1968 singers, actors and actresses were now more accessible than ever for people across the country and certain celebrities were well known by everyone. And in 1968 there was no more well known celebrity than Frank Sinatra and that’s exactly who Humphrey used in an ad trying to raise funds for his campaign.
The ad itself is pretty straightforward with Sinatra sitting and talking directly at the camera and his message as an endorser is fairly straight forward as well. Sinatra makes it clear that he knows Humphreys campaign messages and he supports them and that he, Frank Sinatra famous singer and movie star thinks YOU should support Hubert Humphrey and his campaign as well. Even though its not fair to say that the only reason Humphrey decided to use Sinatra in a campaign ad was because it was part of his emphasis on character, having a celebrity that everyone knows and respects endorse you as a candidate is a great way to reinforce your own character. Another aspect of the ad that was useful for Humphrey was that he uses Sinatra to echo his campaign messages which could certainly be received much better from ‘ol blue eyes than Hubert Humphrey. Sinatra rattles off three or four campaign issues at the beginning of the ad and the more the voters are familiar with your messages the better.
Even though the particular ad is a positive Humphrey ad, relatively speaking most of Humphreys ads in the 1968 campaign were attack ads or negative Nixon ads rather than pro-Humphrey ads. So in that regard the Sinatra ad is out of the ordinary but as far as the positive ads Humphrey did use, the Sinatra ad fits right in with the others. Most of the positive ads Humphrey put out emphasized his character and the Greek rhetorical concept of “ethos” explains why having Frank Sinatra endorse you as a candidate is a way to have voters understand you’re a candidate of high character and worthy of their vote. If Frank Sinatra is saying that Hubert Humphrey is the type of man HE would vote for, and the majority of viewers respect Frank Sinatras opinion, then having Sinatra on television endorsing Hubert Humphrey is a very effective strategy.
In a time now where the line between politics and celebrity is often blurred, it’s interesting to take a look back at how the world of celebrity endorsements for political candidates uses to be. Although Hubert Humphrey’s bid to be president fell short its would be hard to blame that on the lack of good endorsements as in 1968, few people were more well know than Frank Sinatra. Although not the first time a celebrity openly endorsed a presidential candidate, the Frank Sinatra ad was part of these types of endorsements becoming more and more prevalent especially with the relatively new medium of television advertising now at presidential candidates disposal.