Wisconsin Public Television

To win an election a candidate must do two things: Develop a message that resonates with voters; and deliver that message. Today, using sophisticated polling and focus group testing, politicians can carefully shape the messages they put out to voters to maximize public acceptance. And detailed knowledge of when certain kinds of voters will be watching TV lets the politician target particular constituents.
Rosser Reeves
Eisenhower and Reeves

In 1952, Rosser Reeves did not commission any special poll to create "Eisenhower Answers America." He simply asked pollster George Gallup for Americans' chief concern. Gallup responded that Washington corruption, the cost of living, and the conflict in Korea topped the list, and Reeves went about shaping ads on those themes.

While today, thirty second ads for candidates are taken as a given, in 1952 the Eisenhower campaign needed convincing to use television advertising. Reeves had a colleague prepare a report spelling out the advantages. In the early days of television, companies who wanted to advertise often paid for an entire program. That show would carry the company's name and would only carry the company's ads. Shows like "Camel News Caravan" and "Texaco Star Theater" are famous examples. But Rosser Reeves figured out that if you place your ads between programs you reach the audience built by popular shows at a fraction of the cost. These short advertisements came to be known as "spots" and to be effective had to be brief and memorable.

Reeves was a master of the form. Up to this point, most campaigning on television was limited to buying airtime to broadcast speeches. In fact, Democratic opponent Adlai Stevenson's television spending was already committed to speeches. Reeves had spoken to people who'd listened to Eisenhower's speeches and found they retained little of what he'd said.

The research report argued that spot advertising should be adapted to the Eisenhower campaign and called for an intensive airing of the spots in the three weeks prior to the election.



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