Election 2008

Obama ad, Obama 30 minute ad, Obama 30 min ad
Obama Campaign/AP
In this image from video provided by the Obama Campaign, Democratic presidential
candidate Sen. Barack Obama laughs with his daughter Malia during a 30-minute
infomercial broadcast on prime-time television Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008. (AP)

Obama’s Pricey ‘Infomercial’ Draws Big Ratings, Mixed Reactions

October 30, 2008 01:29 PM
by Liz Colville
Invoking the documentary-style campaign ads of television’s early years, the Obama campaign ran a 30-minute primetime campaign ad on several networks Oct. 29.

‘The Obama Infomercial’

Ill. Sen. Barack Obama spent an estimated $5 million to produce and air the ad, “American Stories, American Solutions.” It appeared at 8 p.m. EDT on FOX, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, BET, TV One and Univision, and delayed the conclusion of the final game of the World Series on FOX. The ad was also made available on the Barack Obama channel on YouTube.

The ad was created by Davis Guggenheim, the director of 2006's "An Inconvenient Truth" and the son of renowned documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, who created "Convention," a similarly styled television ad for 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.

Profiling four families struggling to keep up with bills and save for retirement, Obama's ad also features testimonials for Sen. Obama’s tax plan by prominent politicians including Govs. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

The ad also intersperses excerpts from Obama’s speeches at the 2004 and 2008 Democratic National Conventions and other past speeches, as well as statements taped specifically for the ad that outline what he would do to grow the U.S. economy as president.

The ad does not mention Obama’s rival, Ariz. Sen. John McCain, or the Republican Party.

From a ratings standpoint, the ad was a success. According to Nielsen, “in the top 56 local television markets where Nielsen maintains electronic TV meters,” 21.7 percent of households watched the Obama ad.

But not everyone was happy with what they saw. Pundits were divided on the ad’s effectiveness, as were television critics. And following the ad, the Boston Herald reported that Obama’s lead in two prominent daily tracking polls, Gallup and Rasmussen, is slipping, though several state polls still show him leading in key states won by President George W. Bush in 2004, including Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia.

Reaction: McCain’s response

The McCain campaign fired back with a 30-second ad spot that reiterated its position that Obama is unprepared to lead the country, and focused on his short tenure in the Senate and his plan to increase spending in order to give middle-class Americans a tax break. McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have also been focusing in speeches and interviews on Obama’s connections to Palestinian-American scholar Khalid Rashidi and other Chicago figures.

Later the same night, Sen. McCain made an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to talk about his economic plan, at around the same time that Obama appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to discuss the 30-minute ad.

Opinion & Analysis: A costly and unprecedented campaign ad

Evan Tracey, director of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, told CNN that the ad was evidence that Obama’s campaign “has more money than there is ad time left to buy,” but that it was a “no-brainer” to spend the money, estimating its cost to be in the region of $3.5-5 million. “The strategic brilliance of this for Obama,” Tracey added, “is that he is going to consume about 24 hours of the news cycle. It boxes McCain in, takes the oxygen out of the room.”

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune calls Obama’s economic plan “mythology,” and says that “ordinary workers and families are better off today than they were a decade or a generation ago. In the midst of scary economic times, that’s a heartening fact to keep in mind. Even if certain Democrats would rather you didn’t.”

In The Nation, John N. Nichols countered that Obama’s ad was a “chronicle of despair” that showed an economy now “officially in crisis” that “long ago stopped working for millions of working Americans. … This was a commercial, to be sure. But it was, as well, a statement.”

Historical Context: Candidates Make documentary-type campaign ads

The Museum of the Moving Image has gathered campaign ads from 1952 to 2008 for streaming as part of its exhibit, “The Living Room Candidate.” In the “Documentary” category are several ads not all that different from Sen. Obama’s, which serve to clarify candidates’ stances on the issues and get sound bites from voters, as well as footage from rallies and conventions. Candidates who have created such ads include Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, and George McGovern, whose 1972 ad “Convention” was made by documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim.

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