"Eisenhower Answers America" (1952)
Believe it or not, there was a time when political strategists denounced the use of television to "sell" a candidate like "soap... or bubble gum." Those were the exact words used by George Ball, campaign manager for Democratic presidential hopeful Adlai Stevenson, when he saw the new brand of campaign ads being aired for Dwight D. Eisenhower [source: Schwartz]. Before 1952, presidential candidates only bought airtime on television to read prepared speeches. Then came "Eisenhower Answers America."
The ad campaign was the brainchild of Rosser Reeves, the Madison Avenue ad executive responsible for the iconic M&Ms slogan "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand." In a confidential Eisenhower campaign memo, Reeves introduced the concept of the political "spot," a 20-second commercial that would air in between two very popular TV shows [source: Wisconsin Public Television]. In those days, advertisers paid big money to sponsor shows like "The Jack Benny Program," but the commercial time in between shows was cheap.
The theme for the spots, Reeves decided, would be ordinary Americans asking Eisenhower questions about the economy, government corruption and the Korean War, the three topics of most concern to the nation. Eisenhower filmed his scripted answers in advance, then Rosser and his team recruited tourists outside Radio City Music hall to pose the questions on camera [source: Schwartz].
The resulting commercials look amateurish by today's standards: Eisenhower has a hard time transitioning between the cue cards and the camera. Still, the 40 spots helped solidify the former general and war hero's reputation as a tough, but fair politician who could clean up Washington and resolve the Korean conflict. Eisenhower won in a landslide, taking 39 states with more than 55 percent of the popular vote.