Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders, 1957.
PERSUADING US AS CITIZENS
17. Politics and the Image Builders
"A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government."
—Kenneth Boulding, University of Michigan.
The manipulative approach to politics is of course not a discovery of the nineteen-fifties, or even the twentieth century. Napoleon set up a press bureau that he called, perhaps in a playful moment, his Bureau of Public Opinion. Its function was to manufacture political trends to order. Machiavelli was another who made some original contributions to the thinking in this field. Manipulation of the people by a tyrant with a controlled society is a fairly simple matter, and he can be heavy-handed or light-handed about it, to taste. The real challenge comes in dealing effectively with citizens of a free society who can vote you out of office, or spurn your solicitation for their support, if they are so minded.
Effective political manipulation and mass persuasion in this kind of situation had to wait upon the appearance of the symbol manipulators. They did not turn their attention to politics in a serious way until the nineteen-fifties. Then in a few short years, climaxing in the Presidential campaign of 1956, they made spectacular strides in changing the traditional characteristics of American political life. They were able to do this by drawing upon the insights of Pavlov and his conditioned reflexes, Freud and his father images, Riesman and his concept of modern American voters as spectator-consumers of politics, and Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn and their mass merchandising lore.
As the decade of the fifties was beginning, a portent of things to come appeared in The New York World-Telegram, a normally Republican newspaper, in describing preparations for the 1950 Congressional campaign. The headline read: THE HUCKSTERS TAKE OVER GOP CAMPAIGN. And the lead explained that "the politicians are beginning to apply all the smart advertising techniques used by mass production America to merchandise autos, bath salts, and lawn mowers." It went on to explain:"Under Chairman Leonard W. Hall (R., N.Y.) and Robert Humphreys, publicity director, the Republican Congressional Committee has made-to-order productions for the candidate who wants to use television, movies built around cartoons and charts, dramatized radio spot announcements . . . newsletters, street interview techniques, etc."Those two men were to rise to greater eminence in Republican affairs.
A leading Democrat, William Benton, former cohead of the ad agency Benton and Bowles, ran a successful campaign for the Senate using many mass-merchandising techniques. He explained: "The problem is to project yourself as a person." To do this he used one-minute radio spots that were pre-evaluated for crowd appeal, comic strip ads pretested for reader intensity, pretty girls in street-corner booths, five-minute movies.
By the 1952 Presidential campaign the professional persuaders had been welcomed into the inner councils by at least one party. Stanley Kelley, Jr., of Brookings Institution, made a study of the 1952 campaign, which he reported in his book Professional Public Relations and Political Power (1956). He said:"The campaign . . . reveals some interesting differences in the place occupied by professional publicists in the councils of the opposing parties. The strategy, treatment of issues, use of media, budgeting, and pacing of the Eisenhower campaign showed the pervasive influence of professional propagandists. The Democrats used fewer professionals, were less apt to draw upon commercial and industrial public-relations experience in their thinking, and their publicity men apparently had less of a voice in the policy decisions of the campaign."The Democrats, of course, took a shellacking and, Kelley suggested, had learned their lesson and would make greater use of public relations and advertising men in 1956.
The depth probers, too, were turning their attention to politics. During the 1952 campaign Dr. Dichter announced that all the long-winded talking about issues such as inflation and Korea would actually have very little to do with the outcome. The crux of the campaign, he insisted, was the emotional pull exercised by the rival candidates. After the campaign Burleigh Gardner stated in Tide, the merchandisers' magazine, that depth techniques should be applied to political forecasting. He contended that by using projection techniques to detect underlying emotional tones (rather than just asking people how they were going to vote) the Eisenhower landslide could have been predicted. A New York ad executive using depth techniques contended that if ad men were given really free rein they could successfully swing crucial voters in just about any election, with appeals geared to the undecided or listless mass. His agency made a test study during the 1952 campaign with the "I don't know" voters, using the same projective techniques used to spot affinities for brand images, to get the voters' underlying emotional tone. After the election it called up the people who had been probed (all of them professedly undecided) and found it had been 97 per cent right in predicting how each one would vote. The spokesman for the agency said that the undecided voter is not the thoughtful "independent" he is often pictured. The switch voter, he said, "switches for some snotty little reason such as not liking the candidate's wife." Depth-prober James Vicary did some similar work in Kingston, New York, during a mayoralty campaign and found he could usually diagnose how the "I don't know" voter was actually going to vote.
By 1956 even the famous nose-counter George Gallup, director of the American Institute of Public Opinion and of the Gallup Poll, was conceding that he was starting to use "interviews in depth" to supplement his more conventional methods.
The depth approach to politics seemed justified by the growing evidence that voters could not be depended upon to be rational. There seemed to be a strong illogical or nonlogical element in their behavior, both individually and in masses.
A sample of this nonrational behavior was the reaction of voters to President Eisenhower's heart attack in 1955. In early September, 1955, just before his seizure the Gallup Poll showed that 61 per cent of those questioned said they would vote for him if he ran against Mr. Adlai Stevenson, the leading Democratic possibility. Then he was stricken, and during the months that followed, when it seemed touch and go whether he would ever again regain his health enough to run again, his rating on the poll rose steadily until in March it stood at 66 per cent in the hypothetical contest with Stevenson. In commenting on this rise James Reston, of The New York Times, remarked: "The explanation of this escapes me for the moment, but when I find it I'll send it along."
The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology got into this seeming nonrational element in voters' thinking when it reported an experiment with people known to be either strongly pro- or anti-Democratic. All heard a ten-minute speech on national affairs. Half of the material was carefully slanted to be pro-Democratic, and half slanted to be anti-Democratic. The people were told they were being tested on their memory. Twenty-one days later they were tested on the material. It was found that people's memories were "significantly better" in recalling material that harmonized with their own political viewpoint or "frame of reference." There was a clear tendency for them to forget the material that didn't harmonize with their own preconceived notions.
Several political commentators (Reston, Dorothy Thompson, Doris Fleeson are examples) took special note in 1956 of what they felt was the growing role of "personality" in American politics. Dorothy Thompson called it the "cult of personality." Sociologist David Riesman, in noting the same phenomenon, considered it a part of the trend to other-directedness in American life. Americans, in their growing absorption with consumption, have even become consumers of politics. This has brought an increased emphasis on giving the nod to the best performer; and in evaluating performance the "sincerity" of the presentation has taken on increased importance. He pointed out, in The Lonely Crowd, "Just as glamour in packaging and advertising of products substitutes for price competition, so glamour in politics, whether as charisma -- packaging -- of the leader or as the hopped-up treatment of events by mass media, substitutes for the type of self-interest that governed the inner-directed."
Not only do the American people, the depth probers concluded, want political leaders with personality, but in the Presidency they want a very definite kind of personality. Eugene Burdick, teacher of political theory at the University of California, made a study of the qualities of the perfect President while serving as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. (This is the same Eugene Burdick who in 1956 brought out a best-selling novel The Ninth Wave on the irrational trends in politics.) Dr. Burdick found that the perfect President doesn't arise out of great issues but becomes "great" in our minds because of his personality. He becomes "great" to the degree that he becomes a "father image" in our minds. Burdick relates: "Recent polls and psychological studies reveal the extent to which the President has now become what psychologists call a 'father image' in the average American home." Burdick summed up (in This Week) a composite picture of the perfect President: "He is a man who has great warmth, inspires confidence rather than admiration, and is not so proper that he is unbelievable. He must have 'done things' in another field than politics, and he must have a genuine sense of humor. His stand on individual political issues is relatively unimportant. . . ." After filling in the portrait, Burdick adds: "Clearly there are some aspects of this portrait that are disturbing.
- Is it, for example, ominous, that issues are less important than personality?
- Is it healthy in a democracy that citizens desire a leader who will protect them?
- Are Americans in their dislike for politicians looking for a heroic leader of the totalitarian type?"
By the mid-fifties most enterprising politicians were checking themselves in the mirrors to see if their images were on straight. Printer's Ink, the merchandisers' trade journal, quoted a ranking Democrat as saying in 1955: "Any candidate is aware, of course, that . . . the sooner he begins to build a favorable image of himself in relation to the issues of the day the more likely he is to come through." Even Adlai Stevenson, the genial, rapier-tongued egghead of the ill-fated 1952 campaign, was criticized in 1956, by his opponents, as lacking "the Presidential image." He reportedly began trying to correct this alleged shortcoming by presenting an image of himself to America as being a little less of a wit and a little more a man of determination and decisiveness. Meanwhile, the image of President Eisenhower in 1956 was reported undergoing a change. Louis Harris, the noted pollster and political analyst, conducted 1,200 "qualitative interviews" after President Eisenhower's illnesses, to find the "deep reasons and motives that lie behind" the people's feelings about the President. In his report, in Collier's magazine (July 20, 1956) he mentioned that many people who had supported General Eisenhower in 1952 had seen him as a vigorous man of integrity who could clean up things and get the country out of trouble. "This led some to say that American voters, especially women, had a 'father image' of him," Mr. Harris said, and added, "Today this has changed to a real extent. Eisenhower is no longer looked on as being vigorous. Courageous he still is, people will tell you when discussing the farm or natural-gas bill vetoes. But the image has mellowed. He is now looked on as being more kindly, wiser, and as one voter put it: 'kind of a grandfather of the Republic' "
By the mid-fifties both major United States parties had become deeply involved in the use of professional persuaders to help in their image-building problems. In early 1956 Nation's Business, which is published by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, happily heralded the new, businessman's approach to politics. It proclaimed:"Both parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods. These include scientific selection of appeals; planned repetition . . . . No flag-waving faithfuls will parade the streets. Instead corps of volunteers will ring doorbells and telephones . . . . Radio spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven power . . . . Candidates need, in addition to rich voice and good diction, to be able to look 'sincerely' at the TV camera. . . ."
Let's look briefly at some of the more vivid examples of the new style of political persuaders at work. First, the Republicans.
The extent to which the merchandising approach had taken over at the Republican National Headquarters by 1956 was shown by a statement issued by Leonard Hall, national party chairman, explaining why the Republican Party was going to regain control of Congress. He said, among other things, that "it has a great product to sell. . . . You sell your candidates and your programs the way a business sells its products." The committee's "public-relations director, young crew-cut L. Richard Guylay, who had helped pioneer the merchandising approach to politics by handling the image building for a number of Senators, explained that the new "scientific methods take the guesswork out of politics and save a lot of wasted time and effort. . . . Len Hall is a great supporter of modern techniques."
In the White House itself the Republicans had a persuader of proven talents in Governor Howard Pyle, deputy assistant to the President just under Sherman Adams. A former ad man from Phoenix, Arizona, he explained that the Republican Party would put its trust, in 1956 as in 1952, in the big New York ad agency, Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn. He explained in late 1955: "The Republican Party has long been identified with B.B.D.&O. They represent us at campaign time and all the time in between on a retainer. We're a regular account, and when you get to kicking around the appropriations, it's a valuable account. We have underlying obligations to B.B.D.&O." Mr. Pyle in one of his rare public appearances made a foot-in-mouth statement in unemployment-plagued Detroit that "the right to suffer is one of the joys of a free economy.") The B.B.D.&O. executive who is in charge of the GOP "account," Carroll Newton, proclaims that he is an advertising man, not a politician. Another big account he has supervised is U.S. Steel. He reportedly had forty people on his GOP account.
Perhaps the most influential persuader of all in GOP ranks, in 1956, was James Hagerty, press secretary. President Eisenhower's two illnesses brought him to the fore as the man between the President and the world. Newsweek noted this growing power of Mr. Hagerty. It called him one of the most influential officials in the Administration, a man who not only announced decisions but helped, behind the scenes, to make the decisions. The magazine revealed that he regularly attended Cabinet meetings and frequently referred to himself and the President interchangeably by saying, "We also signed today . . ." Before each press conference, it reported, Mr. Hagerty carefully coached the President on questions to expect and suggested possible answers by saying, "Mr. President, why don't you say . . ." The magazine further reported the President's personal secretary, Mrs. Ann Whitman, as revealing, "Usually, the answer the President gives is what Jim has been saying."
Some of the more picturesque persuaders associated with prominent individual Republicans as image builders come from California. This may spring from the fact that the political climate there is ideal for the new type of persuader. The state has no real party machines in the traditional sense, the voters have little party loyalty, can cross lines easily, and many are relative newcomers. This has proved an ideal setup for the husband-wife team of political press agents Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter. He is a lanky, genial, white-haired man; she is an attractive redhead. Between them they have managed seventy-five political campaigns and won seventy of them. Time credits them with "creating" many of the many recent political eminences in California. It reported: "They taught Earl Warren how to smile in public and were the first to recognize the publicity value of his handsome family. They brought the ebullient Goodie Knight before the public with a grueling speechmaking campaign and have tried to keep a check on him ever since. When San Francisco Mayor Roger Lapham was threatened by a petition for his recall, Whitaker and Baxter saved his job. . . ." A reporter once asked them if they would have had their record of seventy successful campaigns if they had worked for the other side. Baxter said: "I think we could have won almost every one of them. . . ."
When they were guiding Goodwin J. Knight into the Governor's chair in California, they kept him tied up before the cameras for most of a day in order to make four one-minute "spots" for TV. In taking over a campaign they insist on controlling the entire strategy and lay down, or hold veto power over, almost every move that may influence the public image being built for the candidate. In discussing his problems with a group of fellow publicists Whitaker reportedly complained that, selling a candidate is not as simple as selling a car because while an automobile is mute a "candidate can sometimes talk you out of an election despite the best you can do in campaign headquarters."
Another California persuader of the new school of build-up artists is Murray Chotiner, Los Angeles lawyer, who groomed Richard Nixon for national stardom and managed Nixon's 1952 campaign. (In 1956 Republicans were busily disavowing him when he came under Congressional investigation as an alleged influence peddler.) Like Whitaker and Baxter his system of star-building operated mainly outside the party framework. His work was so spectacularly successful that until he came into bad odor he was in great demand as a lecturer at GOP campaign schools around the country. GOP campaign director Robert Humphreys brought him to Washington in late 1955 to indoctrinate state chairmen on the topic, "Fundamentals of Campaign Organization." Humphreys called him a smash hit, with his visual aids and pointers on how to master mass-communication media.
Chotiner's basic technique was to present the public with two images: the good guy (his man), the bad guy (the opponent). One of the topics he covered in his 12,000-word speech to the forty-eight state chairmen was the use of, and defense against, the "smear"; and he told about the art of implying that the opponent has leftish leanings by using pink paper. He also talked about the techniques of generating the appearance of public demand and the technique of winning people's hearts with carefully simulated candor.
Mr. Nixon, the man who benefited from many, if not all, of these techniques, has been described by perceptive observers as a new breed of American politician. Richard H. Rovere, political essayist for The New Yorker and Harper's, stated in his book Affairs of State: The Eisenhower Years, "Richard Nixon appears to be a politician with an advertising man's approach to his work. Policies are products to be sold the public -- this one today, that one tomorrow, depending on the discounts and the state of the market. He moves from intervention (in Indochina) to anti-intervention with the same ease and lack of anguish with which a copy writer might transfer his loyalties from Camels to Chesterfields." A few days after reading the above I noticed in the newspapers that the Vice-President, busy as he was, found time to make an address at the Brand Names Week ceremony at New York's Waldorf-Astoria.
As the 1956 campaign got under way, party spokesmen made it clear that the days of whistle stops and torchlight parades were dead. The President himself stated he was going to rely on mass communication, and his press secretary mentioned that everybody had a lot of ideas on how to gear the 1956 campaign to the new age we are in, "the electronics age." Primarily this meant television—which had brought a new kind of persuader-consultant into the party councils: the TV adviser and make-up consultant. When in the spring the nation was intensely curious to know whether President Eisenhower would or would not run again in view of his illness, the tip-off came when reporters saw Robert Montgomery, the President's TV adviser, walking into the White House the day before an announcement was expected. This could only mean the President was going on the air, which probably meant he was going to run. The hunch was correct. After that appearance, incidentally, Mr. Montgomery received a scolding from TV columnist Harriet Van Home, of the Republican newspaper The New York World Telegram and Sun. She mentioned that Mr. Montgomery, "whose NBC show is also a B.B.D.&O. enterprise," was on hand to advise the President on lighting, make-up, and delivery. Then she stated:Now I am going to be presumptuous and make a few suggestions to Mr. Montgomery. First, Mr. M., those pale-rimmed spectacles must go. They enhance the natural pallor that comes to every man after forty winters have besieged the brow. Also, pale rims tend to "wash out" when worn by anybody of fair coloring. Second, both lighting and make-up -- if, indeed, the President permitted the pancake touch-up he submitted to so reluctantly at the Chicago convention -- seemed to be aimed at making Gen. Eisenhower look pale. A man just back from a Southern vacation should look tanned, Mr. Montgomery, and the lighting should play up this healthy glow. [The President had been in Georgia to recuperate.]
As the Republicans made plans for a "national saturation" of TV and radio persuasion in 1956 they carefully checked to see how much of a candidate's image was diluted by electronic relaying. Their early conclusion was not much. A careful check was made after President Eisenhower in January spoke over closed-circuit TV to 53 dinners attended by 63,000 persons. Chairman Hall reported: "We made a survey afterward of the effect. We found the full impact was there -- the same emotion, the same tears -- just as if the President had been there in person."
The wonderful advantage of electronics over whistle-stopping and street parading was summed up by former GOP Chairman Hugh Scott in The New York Times Magazine: "Look, many of us can remember the peddler who went from door to door selling pots and pans. One single TV commercial saying 'Kelley's Kettles Cook Quicker' will sell more kettles than all the peddlers since the beginning of time." The Republicans planned for the 1956 wind-up an even heavier "saturation" barrage by TV and radio than in '52 when more than a million dollars a week was spent largely in commercial "spots" of less than a half minute each. The aim was to make them inescapable, hammering in on the average person several times a day. This ceaseless barrage was conceived by ad executive Rosser Reeves, who later was reported summing up his strategy in these words:
"I think of a man in a voting booth who hesitates between two levers as if he were pausing between competing tubes of tooth paste in a drugstore. The brand that has made the highest penetration on his brain will win his choice."
A full year before the 1956 elections the GOP was blocking out $2,000,000 worth of prime TV time. (This was being done by B.B.D.&O.) Shrewdly the GOP reserved segments before and after such top-rated shows as This Is Your Life and The $64,000 Question. The Republicans decided that in trying to compete with such shows at prime times as Phil Silvers' and Jackie Gleason's they couldn't get many people to listen to a half-hour political speech, no matter how carefully it was laced with visual aids and film clips. Public-Relations Director Guylay declared that the half-hour speech was dead. He surmised that even Lincoln with his second inaugural couldn't hold a modern TV audience at a prime listening time. He decided the GOP would go in extensively for five-minute "quickies." And he added: "You can really say a lot in five minutes." The GOP strategists, in studying the best possible place to buy those five minute spots, adopted an idea that they felt was extraordinarily brilliant: they would buy up the last five minutes of the big entertainment shows. That would give them essentially a captive audience because most people would feel it was too late to switch to another program. John Steinbeck commented on the receptivity of such audiences, in The Saturday Review. The audience, he said, has been amused and half-hypnotized by a "fat comedian." The time following such a program, he said, "is very valuable, for here you have X millions of people in a will-less, helpless state, unable to resist any suggestion offered. . . ."
One thing that worried practical politicians out on the grass-root fronts was that telecasts emanating from Washington or some other distant out-of-state city would deprive them of the coattail benefit. In the past they had gained votes by being seen riding in the Presidential candidate's car or photographed with his hand on their shoulder at the local school auditorium, giving them an endorsement. Variety reported in early 1956 that this problem was absorbing the attention of the GOP mass communicators, and they felt they could lick it along these lines:
"The President might invite important candidates from various states to sit near him in Washington when he speaks, and he may then commend them to the voters. Also his talks may be trimmed, so that the local candidates can cut in with speeches of their own -- live, taped, or filmed -- in the last three or four minutes as cow catchers on the Prexy's talks." The Republican Campaign Director Robert Humphreys explained the strategy by saying that if he were a small-town store-keeper he would give his shirt to be able to "buy a fifteen- second spot right after Godfrey." Well, he added, a Senator or local Congressman can "tie in right after Ike with a fifteen-or twenty-second spot for himself as a member of the team." Then Mr. Humphreys carefully added: "He will, of course, pay for this himself."
The GOP's 1956 convention in San Francisco provided a showcase for the new approach to nominating a President, historically a democratic and often rowdy procedure. Even the ministers in their opening and closing intonations (over TV) worked in key GOP slogans. The man supervising the production -- he was called "producer" of the show -- was George Murphy, the Hollywood actor and public-relations director of M-G-M.
Mr. Murphy seemed to regard all the delegates as actors in his superspectacular pageant. Wearing dark glasses, he stood a few feet back of the rostrum. Reporters noted him "making the professional gestures for fanfare, stretch-out, and fade. Delegates took their cues right along with the orchestra." He was thrown into a frenzy of activity when a Nebraska delegate tried to nominate "Joe Smith" for Vice-President as a protest against the GOP strategists' insistence that delegates vote by acclamation. Mr. Murphy finally got the objectionable delegate off the floor, with the help of others.
The motions of the 1956 convention, in contrast to those of yesteryear when fierce battles often raged over the presenting of motions, were carefully prearranged. As The New York Times noted, "The Chairman . . . often has to jog the movers into moving."
Another innovation was the introduction of outsiders onto the convention floor. Not only were they not accredited delegates, but many publicly professed that they weren't even Republicans. Purportedly they were clear-thinking "citizens" fervently seconding motions. The Times observed that they were "actually deliverers of additional Administration commercials."
Despite all these clear advances in taming politicians, Mr. Murphy still was not satisfied with the results he achieved in San Francisco. He confided to the Alsop columnists that someday, if he had his way, conventions would be run as they ought to be run, in a proper theater with proper direction and control. Meanwhile, he said he would be happy to settle for an automatic trap door to get rid of the politicians who insisted on speaking beyond their allotted time.
The manipulative approach to political persuasion through carefully staged productions carried over into the campaign itself. The GOP, for its big rally featuring Mr. Eisenhower in Philadelphia, prepared a thirty-two-page "Scenario and Timetable." It specified that the audience be equipped with "dignified noisemakers." The climactic Election Eve rally glorifying Mr. Eisenhower and Mr. Nixon even made the TV columnist for a GOP-inclined chain flinch. Harriet Van Home called the little speeches of presumably typical citizens "patently rehearsed testimonials borrowed from the tobacco ads."
One of Mr. Eisenhower's warmest admirers among political columnists, Roscoe Drummond, revealed that the accent of the campaign was being put "less on speeches and more on appearances." In one TV show where Mr. Eisenhower was featured for half an hour, he spoke for one minute. The columnist of The New York Times complained that some of the GOP's showmanship "bordered on embarrassing deification."
The ad-man approach to building up Mr. Eisenhower was perhaps best demonstrated in a short TV spot drama in which an alleged taxi driver was shown walking his dog at night in the park facing the White House. The man looked in awe toward the light in the White House window and said fervently: "I need you!"
A TV director who assisted the White House in some of its staged productions featuring Mr. Eisenhower was, in the privacy of his heart, a Stevenson man. He justified his cooperation by explaining to the author: "The American public is so inured to slickness that, at the least, you have got to come up to the level of slickness expected on TV before your message comes through."
In the last days of the campaign, when the paramount and special problem of the GOP was to convince the nation that Mr. Eisenhower was in robust health despite his two major illnesses, it lessened somewhat its reliance on TV in projecting Mr. Eisenhower. Television -- even as stage-managed by Mr. Montgomery -- tended to make the President seem a little more pallid than GOP strategists wished. It turned more to public "appearances" in which the President waved, grinned, and perhaps said a few words.
Now to turn to the Democrats. They were struggling as best they could to catch up with the times in the matter of persuasion techniques. The fact that their efforts seemed punier than the Republicans' can at least in part be attributed to the fact that big persuaders cost big money, and they were complaining that the big contributors were mainly on the Republican side. Also being less attuned to the advanced thinking of business management they were slower to grasp the lessons of persuasion being learned by merchandisers.
Like the Republicans they began committing a large portion of their campaign money to five- and ten-minute TV spots. They, like the Republicans, set up an indoctrination school in campaign techniques. And they brought in from the universities social scientists such as Paul Willis, of Indiana University, to do their trend spotting for them. They busily bought up stock film footage from the NBC Film Library and other sources to dress up their TV pitches. They began lining up Hollywood stars such as Henry Fonda and David Wayne to help make long-playing music-narration platters to be passed out by local Democratic clubs. Hollywood made such a vivid film of Democratic voices of the past that some planners feared it would take the edge off of live speakers.
The Democrats' difficulties were aggravated by the fact that even though they planned to spend $8,000,000 (at least) in mass-media persuasion they couldn't find a major ad agency willing to handle their account. The big persuaders mostly looked the other way. This became something of a scandal in advertising circles in late 1955 and early 1956 as the months passed and still the Democrats evidently could not interest a major agency in their multimillion-dollar account. The merchandising magazine Printer's Ink acknowledged that the Democrats were having difficulty lining up a suitable agency "allegedly because big agency men don't want to alienate the Republican businessmen who had many client companies. Some agency executives call this idea ridiculous." Advertising Age also thought such a notion was pretty ridiculous, but admitted that there "was probably just enough truth in the assertion that the Republicans had a much wider potential choice to be slightly embarrassing." It went on to say it was pleased that advertising men and methods were being more and more widely used in politics. "This is all to the good." What was not good, it added, "is the growing public discussion of the importance of advertising in politics" and the growing notion that it is important for a party or candidate to have "the right advertising agency." (An indication of the personal political sympathies of ad executives was seen in the Senate's post-mortem report on campaign contributions. Officials of thirty-seven leading agencies gave $51,000 to the Republicans, nothing to the Democrats.)
As the embarrassment over the Democrats' plight grew there was talk of sending a rescue mission or "task force" to the Democrats in the form of an unlabeled pool of bright ad men drawn from the various agencies. There was also some talk of setting up some sort of a special "anchor" agency to serve any party that couldn't get an agency.
The suspense ended when the relatively small but lively ad agency Norman, Craig and Kummel agreed to take the Democrats' account. This was the agency that had created the successful "I Dreamed I Went Walking in My Maidenform Bra" campaign. While it was a David compared with the Goliath B.B.D.&O. on the Republicans' side, ad men looked forward with relish to the campaign, all politics aside. It promised to be an exciting exhibition of persuasion techniques, because there was bad blood between the two agencies. Norman, Craig and Kummel hated B.B.D.&O. worse than the Democrats hated the Republicans. It seems that Norman, Craig and Kummel built the TV quiz show The $64,000 Question up to an all-time high rating only to have the prize grabbed away by the bigger B.B.D.&O. Walter Craig, agency executive, said his agency was counting on its "creative flair as much as anything else" to beat the B.B.D.&O.-Republicans. He said that all the top people on the Democratic account were bona fide Democrats. The account executive, Chester Herzog, thirty-four, previously had had the Blatz Beer account.
One touch the Norman, Craig and Kummel people added to the Democrats' convention in Chicago was a little "quiz" show on the platform involving youngsters Gloria Lockerman and Lenny Ross, who had proven themselves prodigies on The $64,000 Question. The quiz master who questioned them about big national problems was keynote speaker Frank Clement.
Another touch the agency presumably added was the keynote speech itself. Mr. Clement did a dry run of it on kinescope film to test the impact of each gesture and peroration. Also at the Democratic Convention, on advice of persuaders from the world of mass communication, the old-style display of red-white-and-blue motif was abandoned. Instead, everything, even the platform chairs, was a telegenic blue.
Like the Republicans, the Democrats of 1956 were well represented by showmen from Hollywood and Broadway to keep the show "moving." Their entertainment director was Dore Schary, head of M-G-M. (Reportedly he got himself in trouble with influential M-G-M stockholders of Republican persuasion for these efforts.) Another Democratic official of note was Mrs. Lynn Nichols. She was in charge of the "Hoopla Division" with responsibility for supervising demonstrations both inside and outside the hall.
As Mr. Stevenson's campaign approached its ill-fated conclusion Democratic strategists -- now psychologically oriented -- were reportedly unhappy because he was not "projecting" himself well and still lacked a really convincing Presidential image. Mr. Stevenson himself was heard to mutter that he felt as if he were competing in a beauty contest rather than a solemn debate. He voiced his irritation at the symbol manipulators' approach to political persuasion -- at least the Republican variety -- by saying:
"The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal . . . is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process."