Reactor

Five of the Best Presidential Campaign Ads from the Past 70 Years

by Jillian Steinhauer on October 29, 2012

With Hurricane Sandy relentlessly bearing down on the East Coast for probably another 24 hours, we know many people are cooped up at home and more than a little flood obsessed. But we thought we might just remind everyone there’s another really big event right around the corner: that presidential election we were all tweeting about nonstop until yesterday. (Plus in some ways, the hurricane seems like Mother Nature’s way of berating us for climate change being such a non-issue during the presidential campaign.)

So in honor of the upcoming election, and as yet another distraction on this insane day, we’ve turned to the Museum of the Moving Image’s Living Room Candidate site, an archive of presidential campaign commercials. With stellar appearances by Nancy Reagan and Strom Thurmond, killer cartoons, and even commercials that try to disguise themselves as stereotypical ads for women things like yogurt, the Living Room Candidate is a goldmine of American history. Here, we’ve chosen five of the best — and often artsiest — presidential campaign commercials from the past seventy years. And even though we’ve got one from 2004, it seems safe to say on the whole that they just don’t make them like they used to.

Note: All videos are in Flash, apologizes to mobile or tablet users.

1960 was probably the last year a candidate could use a jingle in an ad, in earnest, and get away with it. This commercial seems to be a bridge between the cartoon commercials of the ’50s and the more experimental, collage-style ones that came in the later ’60s. The song is sort of annoyingly infectious, and the whole ad feels like an experiment in brainwashing.

From a hippie-dippie little girl who can’t count to … BOOM! A nuclear explosion! David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image, calls this “the most famous of all campaign commercials.” It ran only once, on NBC on September 7, 1964, but it seems to have worked: Johnson crushed Goldwater in the election.

While we’re not the biggest fans of Nixon, we’ve got to hand it to him: this ad from 1968 is pretty stellar. Documentary filmmaker Eugene Jones creates some great dissonance by setting a series of images from that turbulent time to a circus-style song, with periodic forays into trippy sound effects and double vision. Very much of its time.

One word: creepy. Especially with that hacking cough at the end.

As with Nixon’s ad, we put politics aside to include this one. Although it’s not particularly artsy, Bush’s anti-Kerry commercial from 2004 is the best visual play we’ve seen on the very serious political phenomenon known as “flip-flopping.”

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