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Blog 3: Political Campaigns Since 1968

The presidential campaign of Richard Nixon in 1968 was influential and ground-breaking in many ways.  Even today there are similarities in the ways that presidential and political candidates are presented to our nation that are continually built upon from year to year.  What was so interesting about Nixon’s campaign was the way he used advertising and communication professionals to really capture the “image” he was trying to promote.  One way that this was apparent through the reading of Joe McGinniss’ book, The Selling of the President, was the campaign commercials created by Gene Jones. These commercials were created to send a message to Americans about Nixon’s desired image, not necessarily the specifics or issues of his campaign. One such commercial, the longest of those created, was tweaked and modified until it was suitable to be shown to all voting audiences in the nation.

This type of political advertising ensues today, as candidates package themselves by the image they hope to get across. Most recently, Obama’s campaign slogans of “Hope” and “Change” that were seen all over the political atmosphere in his 2008 presidential campaign come to mind of this type of whole image appeal.

Another way that campaigns today are similar to that of Nixon’s in 1968 is the sheer amount of attention and money invested in campaign advertising.  A “steep” price of $100,000 was spent on acquiring Gene Jones to do the commercial work for Nixon; a price considered worth it for what he would bring to the campaign.  Today, figures continue to grow.  According to a 2008 Parade article, a total of about $3 billion was spent on advertising, with the majority of this money being funneled toward television ads. The article also claims the rise in interest advertising is beginning to play a role in campaigns today, as there was an approximately 600% increase in this channel of political media usage from the 2004 presidential elections.

One way that campaigning has grown and adapted from the 1968 election is the “mudslinging” often seen between candidates in political elections today.  Evidence of this type of campaign strategy began to emerge in the 1968 election but the pitting of one candidate’s image against the other, instead of flat-out attacking, seemed to be more the standard.  This is seen in the Hubert Humphrey’s campaign program, “The Mind Changer”, as described by McGinniss.  In this program, Humphrey and his campaign and advertising staff were able to “match Hubert Humphrey’s heart against Richard Nixon’s skills and the heart seemed by far the more appealing.”  Today, we are more used to candidate’s campaign issues and party ideals being openly questioned through outlets such as television ads. One example from the 2008 presidential election is provided below:

A final difference that is noticeable from the 1968 presidential campaign to today is the ability of political candidates to target select audiences throughout the nation.  This tactic began being used in 1968, as the various Gene Jones commercials were specifically used in different parts of the country, but today there is even more explicit usage of this campaign strategy.  As noted in the previously mentioned Parade article from 2008, “campaign strategists have learned to target their ads down to Congressional districts and precincts where undecided and swing voters live.”  This not only allows for more practical use of campaign adversing spending but creates more power for the candidates able to best utilize this angle in their own campaigns.

Overall, the presidential campaigns of 1968 appear to have set the stage for a more professional and polished use of advertising and PR in one’s political career.  If you want to succeed in the political world, it’s not just issues or your political capabilities that determine your achievements; you have to give Americans “the whole package.”



  1. March 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Great post. Well written. Very good overview of the issues. Nice job.

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