Wednesday, December 23, 2015

My favorite site for presidential TV campaign commercials

My favorite site for presidential TV campaign commercials is The Living Room Candidate.

This site has collected ads for every presidential election starting with 1952's Eisenhower vs. Stevenson race.  But it's much more than a simply chronological collection.  You can tailor your search to look for certain themes (like Biographical or Commander in Chief) or the issue they address (like war, taxes, or civil rights).

But the best search tool is called "Curator's Choice."  Using that tool takes you instantly to ads like LBJ's 1964 nuclear-armageddon-themed "Peace Little Girl (Daisy)" ad,

Richard Nixon's 1968 ad using the chaos inside and outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to portray Hubert Humphrey as weak and ineffectual,

and (my favorite), "Prouder, Stronger, Better," Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign trumpeting his first term successes.

Living Room Candidate also has six lessons that help guide students to understand what makes an effective ad, the language of political ads, and how to put political ads into historical context.

I've found that the most effective way to use these ads is to ask my students to consider these four questions:
  1. What was the ad's theme?
  2. What strength was the candidate trying to stress, or what weakness was the candidate trying to expose or exploit in his opponent?  
  3. What contemporaneous issues was the commercial referring to, either directly or indirectly?
  4. What symbols did the ad use to manipulate the emotion of the viewers?

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