At a Glance

  • Kristina Frank of Eagle Ridge Middle School introduces her students to presidential campaign primary sources, careful analysis and considering an audience, and propaganda techniques, using 1964 and 2004 campaigns ads from The Living Room Candidate.

Analyzing Campaign Commercials

Recognizing Propaganda Analyzing a George W. Bush Ad Analyzing a John Kerry Ad Johnson vs. Goldwater, 1964

Video Transcription

  • Recognizing Propaganda
  • Analyzing a George W. Bush Ad
  • Analyzing a John Kerry Ad
  • Johnson vs. Goldwater, 1964

  • 3:07
  • 5:56
  • 5:20
  • 7:17
  • Kristina Frank: We were talking about roles of political parties and we mentioned that there are four of them. We're focusing on two today when you're examining these commercials. One being the role that political parties have is to educate the electorate. Can someone remind me what the electorate is? Riley?

    Riley: The voters.

    Kristina Frank: That's the voters, very good. Thank you, kiddo. And also, helping your candidates win. That's the whole point, is get your guy to win. It's a guy because we've got two men in this presidential election that we have coming up next month.

    Kristina Frank: We spent about a month on the election process, and the kids learned different things about the election. So everything from how are the two main political parties similar and different, a little bit about third parties, how do citizens make choices in elections, the roles of different political parties, that sort of thing. And we spend about a month on this. And if I can tie it into a current election going on, like this year, we're really lucky because there's a presidential election, then I do that, so we're about a couple weeks into it at this point and we will wrap it up before the actual presidential election happens.

    One of the things that they have to learn when they learn about how citizens make informed choices in elections is they learn that they need to think about propaganda that the campaigns may use, and so I teach them seven different types of propaganda. Some of them have learned a little bit about this in seventh grade, as well, they cover it sometimes in English class or for those kids that took a communications class.

    Kristina Frank: And finally, identify in your propaganda, and we talked about seven types, can anyone remember or remind me of any of them? Emily?

    Emily: Name calling.

    Kristina Frank: Name calling, yep. Which is exactly what it sounds like, calling the other person names. Kayla?

    Kayla: Glittering generality.

    Kristina Frank: Good, glittering generality, where you say something, it sounds really really good, but it doesn't have a whole lot of meaning. It's not really doable. Jack?

    Jack: Bandwagon.

    Kristina Frank: Bandwagon, which is where you act like everybody's on your side and if they don't join your side, they're going to be left out. Coquelin?

    Coquelin: Stacked cards.

    Kristina Frank: Stacked cards, yep. You make it look very very uneven. Brian?

    Brian: Just plain folks.

    Kristina Frank: Just plain folks. That's the one where the people who are campaigning are trying to connect with everybody and make it look like, well, I'm just like the rest of you. Christine?

    Christine: Symbols.

    Kristina Frank: Symbols. Yes, very good. Things like using the American flag in your commercials to show patriotism. Shamir?

    Shamir: Endorsements.

    Kristina Frank: Endorsements. That's where you get somebody famous to say that they support your candidate. Did we hit them all? I stopped counting. That was seven?

    Students: Yeah.

    Kristina Frank: Good deal.

    Kristina Frank: They seem to pick up on that really well, were able to identify it when they saw it in the commercials we watched in class.

    Kristina Frank: Alright, as I mentioned, we are going to look at four commercials. Two of them are from a more recent presidential election and two of them are from an election that was some years ago. So we're going to start with the more recent ones. The first one we're going to look at is called "Victory," and like I said, you're going to be looking at it from different perspectives.

  • Kristina Frank: We had talked a little bit about campaign commercials in class already, and some current commercials that they'd been seeing on TV and what do they like and what don't they like. They also learned a little bit about the roles of political parties and helping to get candidates elected, so they had some background knowledge about that, as well as learning about how do voters make informed choices during elections. So they had that background knowledge coming into this lesson, so that when we were watching the commercials in class they could look at it from two different perspectives.

    Kristina Frank: One thing, let me ask you guys actually before I play it, which year is this for this commercial?

    Students: 2004.

    Kristina Frank: 2004. You can go ahead and write that down in your first one, the contextualizing questions, which is where we're sort of setting the stage for when does this commercial take place and what is going on in this time period. And who are our two candidates?

    Students: Bush and Kerry.

    Kristina Frank: Bush and Kerry. What is Bush's first name?

    Students: George.

    Kristina Frank: George. What party does he belong to?

    Students:The Republicans.

    Kristina Frank: He's the Republican.

    Voiceover: I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message.

    Voiceover: In 1972, there were 40 democracies. Today, 120. Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise. And this Olympics, there will be two more free nations. And two fewer terrorist regimes. With strength, resolve, and courage, democracy will triumph over terror. And hope will defeat hatred.

    Kristina Frank: What year is this election taking place, did we say?

    Students: 2004.

    Kristina Frank: Cici?

    Cici: 2004.

    Kristina Frank: 2004. The last one that had happened was in 2000. What major event has taken place between 2000 and 2004. Andrew?

    Andrew: 9/11.

    Kristina Frank: 9/11 has happened.

    Students:: Oooooooh.

    Kristina Frank: 9/11 has happened. So at this point, the U.S. at the time that this election is happening, is engaged in a war. And of course we're in Iraq and we're in Afghanistan, but it's sort of a larger war, it's commonly referred to as a war on something? Cici?

    Cici: Terrorism?

    Kristina Frank: Yeah. Or even just terror. The War on Terror.

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, Alison?

    Alison: Can you have an endorsement with famous people and famous things? Like if you have pictures of like a famous place.

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, I don't know if the Olympics would really work here because you don't have the Olympics saying—

    Student: 'I'm voting for'—

    Kristina Frank: Right, exactly. Exactly, yeah. Can you—do you have something else for that one?

    Alison: Yeah, we have [?].

    Kristina Frank: One half of the class was watching the commercial from the perspective of somebody who was working on a campaign. And so they were thinking more so about why were certain things put into this commercial, why did they pick this instead of that?

    Kristina Frank: Words and images that stood out to you in this commercial. Adam?

    Adam: I saw like freedom, and like spreading like a sunrise, I thought that was standing out a lot.

    Kristina Frank: Very good. Andrew?

    Andrew: Terrorists.

    Kristina Frank: Terrorists. That word. Alright. Julian?

    Julian: Olympics.

    Kristina Frank: Olympics, good. Shamir?

    Shamir: Forty democracies.

    Kristina Frank: Forty democracies. Kaitlin?

    Kaitlin: The swimmer, like throwing her fist up in the air.

    Kristina Frank: Okay, that image there at the end they have. Good. Cici?

    Cici: Two fewer terrorist regimes.

    Kristina Frank: Excellent. So what's the message of this commercial, do you think?

    Student: He wants to win the War on Terror.

    Kristina Frank: Alright, I think that works. Anybody have something else they want to add? Cici?

    Cici: George Bush is like helping free the world from terrorists.

    Kristina Frank: Very good. What kind of emotions do people have when they're watching the Olympics?

    Student: They're excited and all pumped up.

    Kristina Frank: You get excited and you get pumped up and—go ahead.

    Student: They get competitive.

    Kristina Frank: Very good. Yeah. Now what else, Andrew?

    Student: Patriotic.

    Kristina Frank: Patriotic. Good. Why would they use swimmers and the Olympics in a campaign commercial?

    Student: Is it because when they're swimming, they're swimming for America, so it makes you feel patriotic to see your swimmers in a campaign. So when you see it next to the other person you think that they are with the other person.

    Kristina Frank: What do you mean by the end of that?

    Student: Like, it makes you think that the candidate is supportive of the swimmers.

    Kristina Frank: Oh, maybe.

    Student: Because when I think of the president as patriotic and optimistic and—

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, maybe they're trying to do that, they're trying to associate those emotions that you feel when you see that with this campaign for President Bush.

    Kristina Frank: The other half of the class, they had questions that revolved around them being a voter in that election, and thinking about okay, did I see bias in this commercial, did they use propaganda?

    Kristina Frank: Alright, let me hear a little propaganda, and I will take it from either side. Christine, go.

    Christine: I chose symbols because it showed, like, flags of the world, and then it showed the American flag.

    Kristina Frank: Very good. Yeah, and what colors were the swimsuits that they were wearing?

    Students: Red, white, and blue.

    Kristina Frank: Red, white, and blue. Right, patriotic colors. Good. What else? Riley?

    Riley: I said endorsement, because I came back to the Olympic swimmer.

    Kristina Frank: I don't think it's a real one. So if it was, then I would agree with you on that. Yeah.

    Student: I think it's kind of a glittering generality because it's all hope is good for the [?] and everything.

    Kristina Frank: Yeah. Very good. And Adam?

    Student: I said glittering generalities because, as well, for kind of the same thing. Like, how do you say, there's a 120 democracies now and how like hope will defeat hatred and how there will be a lot of freedom. I think that's kind of general, how like everyone wants freedom and stuff.

    Kristina Frank: Excellent. Very good.

  • Kristina Frank: You guys have now switched roles. You are now going to look at this commercial from the perspective of a voter, you are looking at it from the perspective of somebody working on a campaign staff. So I want you to go ahead and fill in the top with who you're currently campaigning for. That info, Gabriella.

    So, let me go ahead and play this one.

    John Kerry: I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President. We need a strong military and we need strong alliances. And then we will be able to tell the terrorists, you will lose, and we will win. The future doesn't belong to fear. It belongs to freedom.

    Voiceover: The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the contents of this advertisement.

    Kristina Frank: Alright, we'll start with you guys over here this time, the campaign staff members. What did you notice in this commercial? Words or images that stood out to you. Tori?

    Tori: When he said, the future doesn't belong to fear, it belongs to freedom.

    Kristina Frank: Good. Christine, and then Emily.

    Tori: When he said, I'll tell the terrorists we will win and you will lose.

    Kristina Frank: Very good. Emily.

    Emily: When he said that he defended the country as a young man and that he [?] as president.

    Kristina Frank: Good. Gabriella?

    Gabriella: Like the whole crowd was holding up posters with him.

    Kristina Frank: Yeah. Let's come back to that in just a second. Alison?

    Alison: The American flag.

    Kristina Frank: The American flag. Excellent. You have a whole crowd there. What is this a scene of, in this commercial? Where are they? Cici?

    Student: A speech?

    Kristina Frank: It's a speech. Maggie?

    Maggie: Like a rally of some kind.

    Kristina Frank: Hm, I think rally—Riley, you got it?

    Riley: The Democratic Convention?

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, this is the Democratic National Convention that he is making this speech at. Alright, very good. Andrew, what you got? Fact or opinion?

    Andrew: Fact.

    Kristina Frank: Fact. What's your fact?

    Andrew: He served in the military.

    Kristina Frank: Served in the military. Jack?

    Jack: An opinion is, you will lose and we will win.

    Kristina Frank: You will lose and we will win.

    Student: Like, for an opinion, we need strong alliances.

    Kristina Frank: We need strong alliances. Excellent. And Ben?

    Ben: And we need a stronger military.

    Kristina Frank: And we need a stronger military. Alright, the focus here is on military, working together with other countries, we need a stronger military. He served in the military. Does anybody know when he served?

    Students: Vietnam.

    Kristina Frank: Vietnam.

    Student: Yeah!

    Kristina Frank: Okay, he served in Vietnam. We are involved in a war on terror. John Kerry is emphasizing his military experience. 'I have experience fighting.' George Bush didn't. So he's using this as, 'hey, I'm the more experienced one.' What's this message that he is conveying in this commercial?

    Student: He's saying that he knows more about what war is, so he might be trying to convey that he knows what to do about it and maybe George Bush doesn't.

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, I think that is a big part of what he's doing here is saying, 'I know, I have experience, I'm going to be the more qualified leader here to guide us through this war on terror.' Okay, propaganda. Go ahead, Cici.

    Cici: Okay, bandwagon. because there's so many people there.

    Kristina Frank: Absolutely, it's a friendly crowd. They're all Democrats, yeah, it's bandwagon, everybody's on our side. Yeah. Go ahead, Riley.

    Riley: I was going to say plain folks, but I don't know, because he was like 'I was in the military—'

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, I had a couple other people say that, too. He's sort of emphasizing that. Because again, John Kerry is a wealthy man, like a lot of candidates, but he's emphasizing this. 'But like a lot of people in this country, I served in the military, too.' So yeah, I can see that, and Andrew?

    Andrew: Symbols, with the U.S. flag.

    Kristina Frank: Absolutely, you saw the U.S. flag, red, white, and blue in it. Alright, quickly, similarities and differences, what do you see that's the same between these two commercials. Gabriella?

    Gabriella: Both of them are talking about freedom and the terrorism.

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, very good. Both talk about freedom, patriotism.

    Cici: They're both like, supporting the candidate that they feature. Like some commercials are like defacing other people.

    Kristina Frank: Oh, okay. So not maybe the negative ads that we tend to see, it's a little more about look at the good things that I've done. Excellent. Alright. Differences? Shamir?

    Shamir: Kerry, he seemed like he would strengthen our military more, he talked way more about—

    Kristina Frank: Okay, more focused on the military aspect of it, very good. Gabriella?

    Gabriella: Well, he was like, he had signs all around about him and then George Bush like you only mentioned his name like once or twice.

    Kristina Frank: Yeah, I've had a number of people point that out as a difference. George Bush's commercial, you see him at the beginning and you see him right at the end, but he's not the center focus of the rest of that commercial, whereas in Kerry's, he is, it's all Kerry throughout the whole commercial.

    Student: Kerry Kerry Kerry Kerry.

    Kristina Frank: It is Kerry Kerry Kerry, yes. And Cici?

    Cici: Like, in the Kerry commercial, they're actually talking about what he's going to do and stuff and like the Bush one was a little vague, like just some ideas.

    Kristina Frank: What did Bush's sort of focus on a little bit more? Democracy, what else? You said that Kerry's was more on what I will do. Yeah, it's kind of like what has happened. Yeah, and you see that happening a lot of times when you have candidates who are already in office and they're running for reelection. They're going to emphasize 'here's what I've accomplished so far.'

  • Kristina Frank: And then after we had done the 2004 commercials, I showed them two commercials from 1964. And at that point, I just mixed the questions together so that they were getting a mix of both from the campaign staff perspective and from the voters.

    Kristina Frank: This is 1964. Who are our candidates running that year? Adam?

    Adam: Johnson versus Goldwater.

    Kristina Frank: At this time, what is the war that is going on? And again, it's a little bit different, like we said the 'War on Terror' is more than justing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's larger than that, it's protecting our country, it's fighting terrorism everywhere. What war are we talking about here? Jack?

    Jack: The Cold War?

    Kristina Frank: It is the Cold War.

    Teacher: Hand over your heart. Ready? Begin. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America—

    Krushchev: [speaks Russian]

    Teacher: —and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible—

    Krushchev: [speaks Russian]

    Teacher: —with liberty and justice for all.

    Goldwater: I want American kids to grow up as Americans. And they will, if we have the guts to make our intentions clear. So clear they don't need translation or interpretation, just respect for a country prepared, as no country in all history ever was.

    Voiceover: In your heart, you know he's right. Vote for Barry Goldwater.

    Kristina Frank: Guy who's giving the speech.

    Student: I don't know who he is.

    Kristina Frank: What can you tell me about him?

    Student: He's Russian or—

    Kristina Frank: Alright, put it down. Yeah. And how do you know that?

    Student: He was speaking a different language.

    Kristina Frank: He is speaking a different language. Now let me ask you, considering this is the Cold War era, where do you think he is? What language do you think that is?

    Student: I don't know he had—Russian.

    Student: Russian.

    Kristina Frank: Probably a pretty good guess there.

    What do you think they are trying to communicate in this commercial? Keeping in mind that this is the Cold War era?

    Student: They want them to stay like, not Communist.

    Kristina Frank: Good. And it's a campaign commercial, so what's the connection there? Shoeby, you don't want your kids to be Communist, Barry Goldwater's running for president, how do you make sure that your kids will not become Communists? Bingo.

    Words that stood out to you? Or images? Things that you saw that stood out to you. Julian?

    Communists, for sure. Shamir?

    Shamir: 'We will bury you.'

    Kristina Frank: 'We will bury you.' That's right. Josh?

    Josh: 'Your children will be Communists.'

    Kristina Frank: 'Your children will be Communists.' Good. Adam?

    Adam: The American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Kristina Frank: Very good, yes. What is the point of this commercial? You have got the leader of the Soviet Union saying 'your children' and whose children does he mean?

    Students: Ours.

    Kristina Frank: 'Your children are going to be Communists! We're going to bury you.' What is the point of this, thinking that this is a campaign commercial, for Barry Goldwater? What is the Goldwater campaign saying? Kayla?

    Kayla: Saying that we'll like, keep America the same, that we won't turn into those Communists. People at that time were like scared that the world would like—but it didn't really do that.

    Kristina Frank: That is an excellent point. You need to put yourself in that time period and what people were feeling at that time. This was a very real fear that people had.

    This one is called "Peace Little Girl." It is from the same election year. This is a Lyndon Johnson commercial.

    Little Girl: One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine, nine—

    Voiceover: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero.

    Lyndon Johnson: These are the stakes: To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the darkness. We must either love each other, or we must die.

    Voiceover: Vote for President Johnson on November third. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.

    Students: Oh my gosh. Woah. I'm scared.

    Kristina Frank: Words and images that stand out. What did you see? Emily?

    Emily: The explosion. Bang bang, boom boom.

    Kristina Frank: The explosion, for sure. Cici?

    Cici: Like, counting down.

    Kristina Frank: Counting down. What is the message that they are trying to give in this commercial? What do you think, Copeland?

    Copeland: 'We must love each other or we must die.'

    Kristina Frank: Alright. Take it a step further. Remember, it's a campaign commercial. You are trying to get Johnson elected through this commercial. So to sort of tie these images that you are seeing together, 'we have to love each other or die,' what does that have to do with electing Johnson?

    Student: It was during the Cold War, so we were going to help him [?] and get along with the Russians [?].

    Kristina Frank: That's really really good. Yeah, and this is also a reaction to Barry Goldwater, as well. He took, again, a very hard stand against Communism and some people were concerned that because of his stance, the way that he approached this, that it's going to be more likely that we might end up in a nuclear war.

    Kristina Frank: I've noticed the mention of the Cold War, that's something that they learn about in the seventh grade and it seems to stick with them, so I thought that that would be good to tie in. I wanted something recent and I wanted something from quite a while ago. And I also like the fact that they took a very different approach to the issue of war.

    Kristina Frank: Let me ask you something about similarities and differences between the two sets of commercials. Anything that you saw. Adam?

    Adam: They both, like, involved hypothetical wars, like the 2004 one is the War on Terrorism and this one is the Cold War.

    Kristina Frank: They both involved war, yep. Anything else? Julian?

    Julian: They both agree that we need to defend and protect the nation.

    Kristina Frank: Very good. They both agree that we need to defend and protect our nation. Differences?

    Student: The ones in 1964 are more like a movie, and the ones in 2004 are more informative.

    Kristina Frank: Good. How about tone? Adam?

    Adam: The ones in 1964 were emotional and stuff.

    Kristina Frank: What kind of emotions?

    Adam: Well, like sadness and fear.

    Kristina Frank: I think it brings it much more to life for them, when they can actually see the commercials and see the real examples, and I think it makes it much more real for them, I think it's better for them to get ideas from that sort of a source. I think it makes it much more active, as well.