Be like Ike

Advice Dwight Eisenhower might give today’s presidential candidates.

The year 1952 was a milestone for men, women and presidential campaigns. The New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, microwave ovens became available for domestic use and presidential campaigns were broadcast on television for the first time.

Presidential campaigns, like history, tend to repeat – so with that in mind here’s a thorough imagining of what advice President Dwight Eisenhower, aka Ike, might provide today based on his successful campaign strategies in 1952.

Politics and Madison Avenue do mix.  Madison Avenue executive Rosser Reeves came up with the idea to advertise using 20-second spots and airing them before and after shows such as “I Love Lucy,” knowing they would reach a larger audience at less cost. This is the same guy who fathered the M&M’s campaign, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” In the early 1950s, the only other ads airing on TV were for household brands like Ivory Soap and Palmolive. Today, media buyers everywhere are still using the same strategy -- positioning ads in the most effective and efficient TV environments.

Be a Pioneer.  Ike’s opponent, Adlai Stevenson, thought Ike was insulting America’s intelligence with his ads. Stevenson made two predictions that didn’t turn out to be true: 1) Americans would be outraged and shocked, and 2) that campaign ads would eventually have actors playing the candidates. Those predictions worked out pretty well for Ike. It’s hard to believe that new and innovative strategies remain for today’s candidates, but undoubtedly there will be campaign pioneers this election.

Do whatever it takes to enhance your image. The spots for Ike’s campaign consisted of Ike answering questions submitted from ordinary citizens. The citizens were photographed on the street outside of Radio City Music Hall in New York City and the shots were taken from an upward angle so it would appear as they were gazing up at a hero. These crafty tactics may not work today, but candidates like Newt Gingrich have the right idea when it comes to utilizing their fine oratory skills to boost their image.

You don’t have to bash your opponent to win. It’s been reported that Ike never mentioned Stevenson’s name in any of his spots. This tip probably comes too late for Romney and Gingrich given that Super PACs supporting them have already spent millions on attack ads.

Your voting history doesn’t count. It’s been reported that Ike never voted before the 1952 presidential election. These days, voting records are usually taken into account by voters. So, for your reference, here's a blog that focuses on the 2012 GOP candidate’s voting records and viewpoints.

Show off your spouse. The 1952 election was the first election to see spouses behind the candidates. For the first time both spouses attended events, appeared on buttons together and went from ordinary status to celebrity status in a very short time. Today, first lady hopefuls are immediately thrown into the spotlight and the issues they are advocating, their values, image and style are watched with hawk-like intensity. The media is already critiquing the potential first ladies’ fashion.

Use era-relevant idioms. Families made up of suit-and-tie husbands and housewives were the theme of Ike’s era. To connect with Americans, he used phrases like, “Washington would be cleaned out as a woman cleans house” and “if housewives could balance a household budget, so could the government”. My advice to the 2012 candidates, choose your idioms wisely. How many times did we hear about President Obama saying his bowling skills were “like Special Olympics”? In the media’s defense, that was pretty bad.

Mandie Suits works at Smart Media Group, a Republican political media buying agency in Alexandria, Va.  She is from Saint Albans, W. Va. and is a graduate of West Virginia University’s Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism.

A version of this post was also published on Smart Media Group’s blog, Smart Blog.

Share this article


Kristi suits

Great article. Didn't know Ike was ahead of his time!

Adam Fisher

This is one of the best written articles I have read in awhile. Kudos to the author.

Submit a comment

Required field are marked with “*”.