Looking at these two ads, it’s become clear to me that the use of political ads throughout history has vastly changed due to changing demographics, ideological trends, and just technology and innovation. In the 1964 Presidential Ad, Lyndon B. Johnson tried to paint Barry Goldwater as some type of radical who was a warmonger. The message of the ad was extremely hyperbolic in that it suggested if Goldwater was elected, he would end up getting your daughter nuked. I guess the ad was rather effective, as Goldwater lost in a landslide that year, but I found it rather interesting how he paved the way for the next election we are going to talk about.
In the second ad for the election of 1984. Reagan wanted to paint an optimistic, forward thinking view of America. He wanted to paint an America that was thriving economically, was safe, and confident. Reagan wanted to take up the mantle of American exceptionalism and run against his opponent whom he warned would bring them back to the four previous years. This ad explains a lot about how the economy affects a lot of modern day elections, as a recession occurred four years ago and then after Reagan was elected the economy greatly expanded. Now, I think the first thing to point out here is that there is a great difference in tone between the two ads. In the first ad, it was more negative and pessimistic – probably because it was an attack ad which tried to paint the other side as dangerous.
In the second ad, the tone was very optimistic and mild-mannered; it tried to highlight how the current administration was delivering on its promise to make the economy boom. Now I’d be interested what an attack ad would look like in 1984 compared to 1964, but I assume it wouldn’t really paint the other side in the manner in which Johnson’s campaign did. Even today, a candidate who would run Johnson’s type of ad would definitely come under harsh criticism for not only dividing the country but recklessly attacking the other side. However, there are similarities in both of these ads. In the first ad, the intended recipient is definitely moderates or independents. Additionally, the second ad looked for moderates and independents as well, and the ad was also aimed at Democrats who voted for Reagan otherwise known as Reagan Democrats. I think this is interesting because while both ads used very different methods, they both were aiming for the same type of voter. In today’s political system, the ads are aimed towards increasing enthusiasm within the base since there aren’t many independents or moderates left. Like I said before, the first ad played to people’s fears. During that time, Goldwater was considered a radical who would take the country back to a time of barbarism. He was called a racist, a xenophobe, and someone who would start a war because he had no foreign policy experience. This proved to be effective.
However, in the 1980s they tried this same argument against Reagan, but this time it fell flat on its face. Reagan won and the economy boomed. Because of this, he was able to campaign off the economy and make ads like these which shed the country in a positive light. It proved to be extremely successful, as he won reelection in a landslide despite questions about his age and mental stability. While both of these ads hold significant differences, it’s clear that they aimed to do very similar thing and accomplish them in their own ways. While today’s ads may hold several differences, the elements of political ads always carry over from generation to generation.