Red Phone Redux and Daisy Done-to-Death

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Feb 29, 2008 11:58 AM
Here's hoping she wins the primary (ha) and conducts her general election in the mold of Mondale as well. Here's Mondale's red phone ad, created in '84 by Clinton ad guy Roy Spence. Clinton gets credit for using children for tugging extra heartstrings, but I wonder (with good reason, since McCain will levy a similar argument) if these ads just get old and lose their impact.




We've seen a thousand attempts over the years, but nothing quite matches the impact of the "Daisy" ad or the "Bear in the Woods" ad, partly because we've seen a thousand attempts. Most recently, Bush 2004 used "Wolves," which was haunting and well done, but not super, as the wolves looked lanky and dog-like instead of terribly menacing. Then, there was the 2006 "The Stakes," featuring Zawahiri and a ticking clock. More menacing than "Wolves," but we see how much good it did in a midterm election.

I think the message of these commercials is a fair one, even if the imagery and narrations are a mostly emotional appeal. Picking a president is an important decision with weighty consequences, and American voters are susceptible to such emotional appeals. Thus, we have the retooled "Daisy" ad every couple of years.

In this election cycle, American voters are clearly just as susceptible to emotional messaging as ever before, as Obama's message consists of very little more than feelings. The very real danger for Hillary, and the GOP in the general, is that voters only wish to be warm and fuzzy this year instead of warned of danger.

The problem with arguing against a "vacation from history" is of course, the risk that the electorate wants one.

But who am I kidding? Negative advertising always works, right?