Selling Obama: Pitch-perfect infomercial more Clintonesque than Kennedy-style
Some media critics already have compared Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy when it comes to the way he handles himself on television, especially when measured against some of the Nixonian, less TV-friendly visuals of his rival, John McCain.
So on Wednesday, when Obama made history by spending millions to place a 30-minute infomercial on three broadcast networks and four cable channels, the biggest question was a simple one:
What would this telegenic candidate actually do?
Turns out, viewers got a film that didn’t evoke Kennedy so much as Bill Clinton; specifically, the 1992 Democratic convention film "The Man From Hope," which set then-candidate Clinton’s down-to-earth biography to a series of emotional images crafted by a group of old Hollywood hands.
But instead of focusing exclusively on Obama, Wednesday’s slickly produced film spliced stories of middle-class voters struggling with tough economic times alongside stretches of the candidate speaking on Iraq, energy and taxes, buoyed by clips of prominent supporters touting his case.
In dozens of tiny ways, this film was built for outreach to undecided voters, from the use of average folks from contested states such as Ohio and New Mexico, to the film’s big finish — a live plea from the candidate himself from a campaign stop before an audience of thousands in Fort Lauderdale.
“America — the time for change has come,” he told the cheering crowd, echoing his campaign’s longtime theme. “If you’ll stand by me and fight by my side . . . together, we will change this country and change the world.”
Most notably, none of the average folks featured in the film actually endorsed Obama. Instead, they reminded viewers of the tough economic issues which are working best for the Democrat right now — from a 72-year-old Ohio resident forced to work at Wal-Mart five years after retiring, to the New Mexico teacher with two jobs.
The other notable turn here: No mention of his Republican rivals, John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Instead, Obama stuck to the themes which seem to resonate with the undecideds: tax cuts for the middle class, an end to the war in Iraq, initiatives for reducing dependence on foreign oil and more.
It was during these moments that the film may have fallen flattest, presenting clips of Obama statements that we have seen before in other ads. In particular, the story of his mother telling him to stop complaining about getting up early to do homework, has played dozens of times before in campaign advertisements.
Filled with folksy images — a young Obama swinging a bat, a decidedly older Obama conducting a town hall meeting — the film subtly countered McCain’s recent attempts to paint him as an unknown, untested friend to radicals. To show his media savvy, quick messages encouraged viewers to text-message and visit his Web site, as well.
Airing on CBS, NBC, Fox, MSNBC, Univision, TV One and Black Entertainment Television, the infomercial gave Obama access to wide swath of the TV audience — a reach across fragmented media outlets that wasn’t necessary the last time a presidential candidate did this, when Ross Perot addressed prime time audiences during the 1992 campaign.
Combined with an appearance on The Daily Show at 11 p.m. Wednesday and cable chatter over the infomercial throughout the day before it aired, the film gave Obama a ubiquitous hold on TV outlets six days before the Nov. 4 election. During the film, some Tampa Bay area viewers could even click over to cable newschannel Bay News 9, where live coverage of the Fort Lauderdale rally was underway.
The Republican Party of Florida had a sharp retort ready: “Florida voters see through this rhetoric no matter how polished it is,” read a statement released by the party shortly after the broadcast ended. “Florida voters will embrace John McCain’s plan to get our economy back on track, grow jobs, and reform Washington, and they will do so because they trust John McCain’s leadership, not because they were sold a candidate on an infomercial.” *
Check it out for yourself here: