TODAY’S TOPIC: Campaign Ad Archive Gives ‘Personal Sense of History’
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Julian Kanter still gets excited about the 1964 presidential election when Lyndon B. Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater. And he could talk for hours about Nelson Rockefeller’s successful campaign for a third term as governor of New York.
Yet it’s not so much the politicians who hold Kanter’s interest. It’s their political commercials which he’s been collecting on film, videotape and audio tape for the last 30 years.
The 60-year-old retired commodities broker has collected up to 30,000 political commercials dating back to 1950, when television was first used in a political campaign - by Sen. William Benton of Kentucky, Kanter says.
″It was a personal project of mine starting in 1956, although at the time I had no idea of what it would become,″ he says.
By his own reckoning, Kanter had 16,000 television commercials and 11,000 radio commercials prior to 1984, when he says he last made an accurate count. He estimates he’s acquired another 3,000 commercials since then.
The collection was running him out of his suburban Chicago home. ″I had reached the point where I had no room,″ Kanter says from his office in the University of Oklahoma’s Kaufman Hall, where both collection and collector have found a new home.
Kanter says he was approached in 1982 by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the next year by the University of Oklahoma about acquiring his collection. Other universities also were interested but did not offer him the full-time job as archivist that he wanted.
The University of Oklahoma paid Kanter $300,000 for the collection and hired him as curator and adjunct professor of communication. The collection arrived in boxes around Thanksgiving, followed in January by its curator.
Kanter’s immediate work has been unboxing and cataloging the collection.
The next step is to get all of it copied onto videotape and audio tape, which then will be available to researchers, while originals are preserved.
Linda Lee Kaid, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Political Communication, said other collections of political commercials are more specialized than Kanter’s.
Kanter has long been lending material to students, colleges and even politicians. But he turned down requests from the 1984 campaigns of President Reagan and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale for tapes of the other side’s commercials. Kanter says he does not work as a political consultant.
The archive’s purpose is not to teach voter manipulation, he says.
″The more understanding we have into how people perceive the political process, the more the voting process will be helped,″ he says.
And although he’s quick to talk about some of his favorite commercials, Kanter says there is no right and wrong way to make a political ad.
Ultimately, Kanter hopes to oversee production of videotaped programs that teachers in high schools and even elementary schools could use to give students a ″personal sense of the people involved in their country’s history.″
The collection includes some commercials that Kanter considers benchmarks in political advertising. Among the best, he says, are those from the 1964 Johnson campaign.
″The LBJ people in 1964 realized two things,″ Kanter says. ″One was that most voters most of the time make voting decisions based on feelings ... the other was that it’s much more effective to capsulize an issue in an emotional way.″
So the 1964 Johnson ads exploited voters’ preconceptions about Goldwater through heavy use of negative advertising, and they were presented in a dramatic style, Kanter says.
Another pivotal campaign was Nelson Rockefeller’s third run for governor of New York in 1966, Kanter says. ″It was the best example of a really creative, affirmative campaign,″ he says.
″Most political advertising is to reinforce the attitudes you already have. It’s very difficult to change the attitudes of voters, but that’s exactly what Nelson Rockefeller’s commercials did,″ he says.
Before that election, Kanter says, Rockefeller was perceived as having raised taxes and spent too much money.
″His general perception according to the polls was so bad his people thought it would be counterproductive for Rockefeller to appear in these ads. So he’s not in any of the early ads. Then he appears in a voice-over and finally, at the end of the campaign, he came on in person to attack his opponent.″
Rockefeller spent $16 million on that campaign, Kanter says, and he won big.