Adlai Stevenson, Early Victim of Terrible Political Advertising

The brainiac Illinois voter faced down Ike and his Madison Avenue minions, relying on Americans’ interest in 30-minute Stevenson infomercials to carry the day. Obviously, he lost coming and going, but not before leaving a trail of failed pandering.

The first presidential campaign to rely on television advertising was in 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower went up against Illinois’s favorite son, Adlai Stevenson. A Choate and Princeton grad famous for his big brain and oratorical skills, Stevenson decided not to pander to the most base instincts of the America public, treating them as the high-attention-span adults he was exposed to as the grandson of a vice president and son of Illinois’s secretary of state (h/t @UChicagoPress).

While Eisenhower boiled his campaign down to a few sound bites — “Ike for President” and “You like Ike, I like Ike, everybody likes Ike” — Stevenson believed in longer speeches to sell a message. So he bought 30-minute blocks on TV, but nobody tuned in to watch them.

But Stevenson decided to cover all his bases—really, the basest of his bases, and produced a series of bonkers shorts to counter his seminariffic infomercials. His team was apparently less comfortable working under half an hour. (“Civilian-son"?)

In 1956 they tried something a little more “I Like Ike"-ish, and just sounded irritable.



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