CBS’s Smith: Republican Campaign Ads Have Taken ‘Low Road’

NewsBusters.org - Media Research CenterOn Monday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Harry Smith did a segment on the effectiveness of television ads in presidential campaigns, in which he gave credit to Ronald Reagan’s ‘optimistic’ "Morning in America" ad, which he incorrectly said was run in the 1980 campaign rather than 1984, but he followed quickly by condemning more recent Republican ads: "There's a high road and a low road. Remember Willie Horton? The ads played to racial fears and portrayed Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis as soft on crime...And an ad showing John Kerry's wobbly windsurfing helped sink his presidential bid."

Prior to describing this "low road," Smith discussed Hillary Clinton’s recent 3 A.M. phone call ad and highlighted it’s effectiveness:

Most of the ads won't be remembered by anyone, but some of them are not only effective, they become part of our culture. And a new contender is this campaign ad for Hillary Clinton...But the tactics seem to work. Clinton did win Texas where the ad ran.

Smith went on to compare the Clinton ad to Lyndon Johnson’s infamous "Daisy Ad" against Barry Goldwater in 1964: "It's similar to Lyndon Johnson's famously successful "Daisy Ad" in 1964. An ad that played to Cold War fears of a nuclear holocaust." Smith did not include these Democratic ads in the "low road" category.

However, Smith did later observe that the Clinton ad did use fear tactics, to which his guest, advertising critic for Adweek Magzine, Barabara Lippert, had an amusing response:

SMITH: How interesting, though. Part of an interpretation on fear. Because fear, let's go back to Hillary Clinton, that's a kind of a fear card to play the 3:00 A.M. ad, and as it turns out, there's old-stock footage, right, that they used. And the girl in the ad is 17 and loves Barack Obama.

LIPPERT: Right. Well, I thought it was a very bad looking ad anyway from a technical point of view because they used stock footage. And then they show her at the end. And she looked to me like -- I don't know if you know that Harry Potter stuff -- like she was the head mistress at Hogwarts at the end. But I think it's so successful because it suggests so many different things. First of all, we're used to all those movies with the "don't answer the phone!" And there's so much tension. So that it's a really old-fashioned, you know product answer --

SMITH: So the quality of the ad doesn't necessarily measure the effectiveness?

LIPPERT: Not at all, not at all because it really strikes a chord there.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:30AM TEASER:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Eight, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: One of the classic campaign videos of all time. It's called "Daisy Girl." Did you know that it aired only once in 1964, but its impact reverberates even now. Coming up this morning, campaign ads that had an impact on presidential elections. Everybody's talking about the Hillary Clinton 3:00 A.M. call ad, and they say it won her Texas. We're going to talk more about that this morning.

7:32AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: During every presidential election season, tens of millions of dollars are spent on campaign ads. Most of the ads won't be remembered by anyone, but some of them are not only effective, they become part of our culture. And a new contender is this campaign ad for Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN B: It's 3:00 A.M. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing.

SMITH: Hello? The sleeping girl in this Clinton ad is now mostly grown up and supports Barack Obama. Yet Clinton's ad got noticed, and Obama reacted.

BARACK OBAMA: You know, we've seen these ads before. They're usually the kind that play on people's fears and try to scare up votes. But it won't work.

SMITH: But the tactics seem to work. Clinton did win Texas where the ad ran. It's similar to Lyndon Johnson's famously successful "Daisy Ad" in 1964. An ad that played to Cold War fears of a nuclear holocaust.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Three, two, one, zero.

SMITH: Political campaigns can hinge upon the success or failure of an effective or memorable ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN C: It's morning again in America.

SMITH: In 1980, Ronald Reagan's optimistic "Morning in America" appealed to the most basic beliefs about who we are as Americans, and it gave Reagan a big boost. There's a high road and a low road. Remember Willie Horton? The ads played to racial fears and portrayed Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis as soft on crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN D: While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape.

SMITH: And an ad showing John Kerry's wobbly windsurfing helped sink his presidential bid.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN E: He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops, before he voted against it.

SMITH: Four years ago perhaps the most emotionally powerful commercial was a Bush campaign ad called "Ashley's Story" about a young woman who had lost a parent in the September 11th attacks.

ASHLEY: He's the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe. That I'm okay.

SMITH: Joining us now to talk about the effectiveness of campaign ads, Jeff Greenfield, CBS News Senior Political Analyst, and Barbara Lippert, advertising critic for "Adweek" Magazine. Good morning all.

BARBARA LIPPERT: Good morning.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Good morning.

SMITH: Can a campaign, or do campaigns sometimes hinge on the effectiveness of an ad?

GREENFIELD: Presidential campaigns less an others because they tend to be overwhelmed by free media. But a good ad, you saw some of them, reinforces a core argument, the revolving door ad played to the notion that too many liberals were soft on crime and Dukakis had a soft notion. "Ashley's Story," I thought, was brilliant because it isn't an argument. There's no issue. They don't mention Kerry, they just say this guy's a decent, caring guy. That ad moved right to women, who were a key factor in that campaign.

SMITH: Yeah, right. Barbara, what do you think?

LIPPERT: Yes, I think if you can show something that people never knew before, you know, a fact like Dukakis' furlough, you know that, and the other thing with Bush's ad that was so powerful is that we saw him as very fatherly, that he's powerful, he can take care of the country in a Reaganesque way. He's not your older brother who's going to give you noogies anymore.

SMITH: Right, right.

LIPPERT: So that changed the show for him.

SMITH: How interesting, though. Part of an interpretation on fear. Because fear, let's go back to Hillary Clinton, that's a kind of a fear card to play the 3:00 A.M. ad, and as it turns out, there's old-stock footage, right, that they used. And the girl in the ad is 17 and loves Barack Obama.

LIPPERT: Right. Well, I thought it was a very bad looking ad anyway from a technical point of view because they used stock footage. And then they show her at the end. And she looked to me like -- I don't know if you know that Harry Potter stuff -- like she was the head mistress at Hogwarts at the end. But I think it's so successful because it suggests so many different things. First of all, we're used to all those movies with the "don't answer the phone!" And there's so much tension. So that it's a really old-fashioned, you know product answer --

SMITH: So the quality of the ad doesn't necessarily measure the effectiveness?

LIPPERT: Not at all, not at all because it really strikes a chord there.

SMITH: What were you going to say?

GREENFIELD: That I sure hope if the phone rings at the White House at 3:00 A.M., it doesn't take six rings for somebody to answer the damn phone. That's -- that bothered me more than anything else.

SMITH: Let's go back to one of the ads we ran for a second there, the John Kerry on the windsurfing.

GREENFIELD: That ad was a ten strike. In fact, as it happens, Kerry's own campaign had said we really don't think you should go windsurfing because it's an elitist sport and Kerry said 'I'm exhausted, I'm tired, I'm going to go windsurfing.' And what it did was it was flip-flopped in visual terms, where they were able to ram home the idea that Kerry was unsteady and Bush's entire campaign argument in 04' was 'I'm consistent.'

SMITH: Right and "Morning in America," I want to talk about that, because that was one of those things, talk about -- talk about feeding into a hunger. It's not about a negative or whatever, but it's feeding into --

LIPPERT: It was brilliant. It was 1984. It's people going to church, people starting new jobs, people getting married. And it was exactly what we wanted to see. We never saw Reagan in the ad. In the end he's just framed in a portrait like the pater familias who's going to preside over this. And it was so great that even new NutraSweet copied it, you know for years we saw --

SMITH: Everybody did.

LIPPERT: The two boots on the porch.

SMITH: Right. Yeah, there you go. Well, thank you both very much. We'll find out if an ad has an effect on this campaign in this year. Thanks very much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC