Historic Ads Archive

In recent years, it has become possible to study campaign advertising in a highly systematic fashion—thanks most centrally to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, and the data produced by it. We can now know which political ads aired where, for how long, and with what content. The analytic prospects which follow from this knowledge are a major theme in the rest of this website.

Yet serious televised campaign advertising does of course predate that Project. More to the analytic point, most of the themes and strategies that can be studied more systematically in the modern world were pioneered—and prefigured—in an earlier day. In our time, we can study them much more systematically. Yet what we study is largely an adaptation of approaches that were already institutionalized before modern data collection arrived.

The pieces that follow are evidence of this. They are chosen to represent particular approaches: domestic and foreign issues, attack and defense modes, incumbent and challenger perspectives, emphases on research and on atmospherics. The postwar years have provided numerous alternative examples for each of these approaches, and this site will be adding many more over time. For now, these are one man’s selection of particularly revealing pieces, ranked crudely and subjectively for their success—their force—in accomplishing their individual objectives.

The ads featured below come from a collection of over a thousand that has been put together by Professor Byron Shafer. Professor Shafer's commentaries are included with each ad. Downloadable versions of each ad are featured in high and low quality RealPlayer formats. The storyboards shown can be saved or printed on a single page.

Byron Shafer's

1. Johnson, 1964 - "Daisy Girl"

Hugely controversional in its time and intermittently imitiated thereafter.

2. Reagan, 1984 - "The Bear"

Remarkably forceful while remaining almost entirely metaphorical.

3. Stevenson, 1952 - "Gab Gab Gab"

One of the greatest social-welfare arguments in the television era.

4. Nixon, 1968 - "Our Leaders Have Failed Us"

Perhaps the single best piece for conveying the sense of social upheaval associated with the late 1960s.

5. Dole, 1996 - "Schools"

One the the great character attacks of the television era.

6. Clinton, 1996 - "Wrong/Wrong"

One of the most straightforward and forceful embodiments of the uses of 'opposition research'.

7. Nixon, 1972 - "Not On Welfare"

Part of the only campaign in the postwar years in which the republicans were seen as the party better able to handle social welfare.

8. Eisenhower, 1952 - "I Like Ike"

A catchy jingle, along with lyrics not toally absent of substance.

9. Bush, 1988 - "Dukakis Defense Policy"

This footage was shot by the Democrats as part of their campaign, and then 'borrowed' by the Republicans.

10. Clinton, 1996 - "I Have Done My Best"

Even more positive than the Reagan piece and wonderfully evocative.