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Image is Everything

We’ve been talking about the presidential race between Nixon and Kennedy through our group presentations and we’ve been gaining an understanding of how important “image” was in the success of JFK and the failure of Nixon. After that election, dubbed by many historians as the “advent of the modern Presidential campaign,” the idea of image that would be presented over TV and other mediums would only become more important. In Joe McGinniss’ book, he basically illustrates Nixon’s journey to re-brand himself as a new man from the ’60 election to the ’68 election.

Idealistically, elections would be decided based on the heart of the man and the intentions of the leader, but in this shallow world, the realistic truth is that image is everything. What the public perceives is what their decision relies on, and candidates do everything in their power to control that image. As an student majoring in advertising, I’ve spent most of my time studying the communication of image, and I can understand the immense challenge that presidential hopefuls face in convincing a nation that they can lead. Candidates must focus on communicating specific feelings when addressing the public through TV or other mediums. I see the Obama election of 2008 as a great comparison to Nixon’s of 1968. Both candidates tried to promote feel-good ideas of unity as their core messages (among other things, obviously). Here are two ads from Nixon’s and Obama’s campaigns that were highly successful at establishing their message, and are also eerily similar to each other, both in underlying message and the images shown.

Nixon campaign button, bearing his slogan

The packaging of a president has to be a unified effort. Both in the goal of the candidate to encourage the public to perceive him as a unifying figure, and in the overall consistency of the candidate’s campaign. Nixon’s efforts to achieve that consistent branding in order to change the public’s perception of him draw comparisons to modern election strategies. Nixon used a unified message based on the idea “Nixon’s the One,” and his campaign spread the idea through all possible channels. Similarly, Obama used his phrases such as “Hope” and “Change,” as well as his signature logo to unify his message.

The Obama logo

Though the general unified goal of campaigns has remained relatively consistent over time, there are significant differences in the strategies. In Nixon’s time, there weren’t quite as many mediums through which to communicate. He could correct the mistakes he made with TV in 1960 and change the way he presented himself, but the overall goal of achieving strong message strategy could be covered by focusing on TV, radio, and print, among a few others. Today, candidates have to go through TV, internet, social media, radio, and print, among other mediums. Also, they must be able to navigate the maelstrom that is the 24-7 barrage of news coverage and analysis. In addition, I think the growing diversity of the country has changed the landscape of political communication entirely. Not only must they deliver their message in direct, specific ways, but they are also forced to tailor their message to every conceivable community that this country can create.

Overall, the core idea behind candidates’ campaign strategies has remained relatively consistent, but the ever changing world and the ever growing needs and demands of the public will consistently complicate the process of running for president. However, the political powers will be always vigilant in finding ways to communicate with the people. We can look back at the election of ’68 and wonder where the simplicity of those days went (knowing full well that the politicians of the time would not have felt them to be simple), while at the same time we realize that the essence of the presidential campaign will continue to remain a constant.



  1. March 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Good job. There is a lot going on here with regard to how to package or sell or advertise a candidate, so I’m glad you are focusing in on this since it is your major and area of interest.

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