Curator's Choice

Never Had It So Good

The “Eisenhower Answers America” ads, conceived and created by Madison Avenue advertising executive Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates and Company, were as bold in conception as they were simple in execution. The campaign created forty “spot ads,” each consisting of a question from an ordinary voter and a response from the candidate. The answers were filmed first, in a midtown Manhattan studio, with General Eisenhower reading off of cue cards. The questions were filmed later, read by tourists who were scouted in front of Radio City Music Hall. Eisenhower is filmed in the elevated position; the questioners all look up at him, establishing a personal connection but also keeping him in the position of the hero. The ads stick to three key points: high prices, the war in Korea, and gridlock in Washington. Yet the spots are clearly selling more than just the answers to these problems; they are selling Eisenhower’s personality. The campaign spent nearly two million dollars to saturate the airwaves with these ads in twelve key states during a three-week period in October. Adlai Stevenson’s campaign manager George Ball decried the effort to sell Eisenhower in the same manner as “soap, ammoniated toothpaste, hair tonic, or bubble gum.” Stevenson was the first—and last—candidate to refuse to appear in TV ads.

Transcript

Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate - Transcript
"Never Had it So Good," Eisenhower, 1952

[TEXT: EISENHOWER answers AMERICA]

MALE NARRATOR: Eisenhower answers America.

MAN: General, the Democrats are telling me I never had it so good.

EISENHOWER: Can that be true when America is billions in debt, and prices have doubled and taxes break our backs, and we are still fighting in Korea? It's tragic. And it's time for a change.

Credits

"Never Had It So Good," Citizens for Eisenhower, 1952

Maker: Rosser Reeves for Ted Bates and Co.

Video courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

From Museum of the Moving Image, The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2012.
www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1952/never-had-it-so-good (accessed April 23, 2014).

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An effective campaign commercial works on several levels. It must make an effective argument, either for or against a candidate. It must work on an artistic level, using the tools and techniques of filmmaking to capture viewers' attention and stay in their memory. And it must work on an emotional level, creating a connection with the voter. While a strong advertising campaign does not guarantee election, it often does indicate which candidate has a clearer and more effective message. It is not surprising, therefore, that in most years, the best ads also happen to be in support of the winning candidates.
About David Schwartz David Schwartz is the Chief Curator of the Museum of the Moving Image.
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The “Eisenhower Answers America” ads, conceived and created by Madison Avenue advertising executive Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates and Company, were as bold in conception as they were simple in execution. The campaign created forty “spot ads,” each consisting of a question from an ordinary voter and a response from the candidate. The answers were filmed first, in a midtown Manhattan studio, with General Eisenhower reading off of cue cards. The questions were filmed later, read by tourists who were scouted in front of Radio City Music Hall. Eisenhower is filmed in the elevated position; the questioners all look up at him, establishing a personal connection but also keeping him in the position of the hero. The ads stick to three key points: high prices, the war in Korea, and gridlock in Washington. Yet the spots are clearly selling more than just the answers to these problems; they are selling Eisenhower’s personality. The campaign spent nearly two million dollars to saturate the airwaves with these ads in twelve key states during a three-week period in October. Adlai Stevenson’s campaign manager George Ball decried the effort to sell Eisenhower in the same manner as “soap, ammoniated toothpaste, hair tonic, or bubble gum.” Stevenson was the first—and last—candidate to refuse to appear in TV ads.
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