Put That In Your Pipe and Smoke It
John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in the summer of 1960 used Jackie Kennedy Onassis, his wife, as a key figure. Beautiful and well-spoken, she was known to the nation already as a fashion icon. In an effort to reach out to the Spanish-speaking voters, she filmed a commercial for Kennedy entirely in Spanish, as shown above. In it she says:
“Dear Friends, the wife of senator John Kennedy, candidate for the US Presidency, is talking to you. In these very dangerous times, when the World peace is threatened by Communism, it is necessary to have in the White House a leader able to guide our destinies with a firm hand. My husband has always cared for the interests of all the portion of our society who need the protection of the monetary government. For the future of our children and to reach a world where true peace shall exist Vote for the Democratic party on the 8th of November. Long live Kennedy!”
Since Sterling Cooper is running the advertising campaign for Nixon during this election, Harry Crane is charged with keeping tabs on the television ads for the opposing candidate. As soon as this reaches the Sterling Cooper boardroom, in Episode 9 of Season 1 (“Shoot”), they begin discussing damage control. Ken complains “I don’t understand it,” and Paul Kinsey’s retort is, aptly, “Because it’s in Spanish.” This quick boys’ club exchange passes quickly because morale is rather low, especially when Don points out that Nixon’s eight-point lead in the polls “isn’t much.”
Mad Men shows the election from the perspective of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency so as to make viewers think about just how influential television was in the election, for the first time ever. Today, we expect to see campaign advertisements on almost every commercial break in the last few weeks leading up to a presidential election. In 1960, advertising agencies were paving the way for the first ever televised presidential election, with the debate as the main event. Some will even argue that, had the debate not been televised, Nixon would not have come across so poorly in it. Had television not been a factor in the election at all, Nixon might have served his presidential term long before the Watergate scandal. Imagine that next time you see a political ad on television.
Links consulted: "Jackie Kennedy Speaks Spanish"