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An Eye on the White House


April 27, 2017

I Like Ike: The First Political TV Ad

 

You like Ike. I like Ike. Who doesn’t love this campaign?

It ranks as among the most memorable political marketing of the 20th century. Not only is it one of the great entries in campaign advertising, it’s great advertising, period. I Like Ike is catchy. It’s succinct. It’s memorable.

Before ‘viral’ was a form of marketing in and of itself, I Like Ike had voters tapping their toes and humming along all the way to the ballot box.

Dwight Eisenhower, playfully nicknamed “Ike”, lead the Allied forces to victory at the end of the second world war. He was subsequently promoted to Chief of Staff of the United States Army and named Supreme Commander of NATO. Not surprisingly, this made him enormously popular. He was a war hero with a friendly face.

Unlike our current crop of politicians, many of whom are born and bred to run for Congress or Senate, Ike Eisenhower bore no intentions of becoming president. He rejected all requests for him to enter the political realm for years.

Ike didn’t like politics. He was a soldier, and a leader, but not a politician. In fact, before his own election, he had never even voted.

But that didn’t matter in 1952. Slow progress in the Korean War had made President Harry Truman unpopular, with a 66% disapproval rating. Democrats were desperate to fix their brand, and Republicans eager to overtake them. Recognizing that Americans had an affinity for the General, sectors of both parties set out to ‘draft’ Ike to their side.

Peter G. Peterson, the Republican who would later be Secretary of Commerce under Richard Nixon, snatched “I Like Ike” from the mouths of voters and built it into an marketing push. It caught on. Over a hundred thousand voters wrote-in Ike’s name for the Republican New Hampshire primary, despite him not having announced for either party.

The unprecedented show of support pushed him to formally enter the race.

With the support of the Republican Party, “I Like Ike” reached new heights in the general election. Famed songwriter Irving Berlin turned it into a song. Walt Disney Studios produced a cartoon to go along with it, which became the first political campaign ads aired on television.

The rest is history. Ike Eisenhower won with 55% of the popular vote. He topped himself in 1956, winning re-election with 58%.