Political spots: a few examples

Here are just a few examples to watch to get a sense of music in political ads, from some candidates no longer running:

John Edwards goes straight for the heart strings of the Heartland, with music to boot:

Ron Paul (well, I guess he’s still running) covers a lot of ground with a 30-second spot:

Perhaps my favorite, which defies most political ads by being funny instead of serious:

For homework, please review a few ads, find one that does a good job using music to communicate a message, and then post a link and a short analysis of why the music is effective.

Explore posts in the same categories: Do and Due, Recommended Reading

34 Comments on “Political spots: a few examples”

  1. Sara G. Says:

    In this Obama ad for Arizona, it features a slowly building orchestral piece. It has a hopeful, future looking, soaring melody, and makes me think of the “American Dream,” “Freedom” and Independence. At the end of the ad, it has people chanting Obama’s signature phrase “Yes We Can.” This music makes the audience think about the positive things about America and the positive things that Obama could bring as president. It does a good job on reaching viewers on a different level, like music based propaganda. In many of the ads I watched, I kept seeing this same “patriotic” type music. I do find it ironic that I did not see any candidates use “The Star Spangled Banner,” or “God Bless America.”

  2. Erin Kimberlee Says:

    The Obama ad for Iowa is supported by a hopeful sounding orchestral piece. It begins with a C major chord, which sets the commercial up well. The arrpegiating chords give the listener/viewer a sense of the words and concepts that Obama stands for. Such as: Hope, unity, the idea of one nation, leadership, and faith. The way the piece builds (the addition of drums toward the end, and the increase in volume) also gives the viewer/listener a sense of hope. The music does a good job of intensifying many of the key points of the ad, weather the viewer is aware of it or not.

  3. Emily D Says:

    This was made by an amateur, and even though it’s obviously approved by Obama, I thought it did a good job getting the point accross. The ad starts out with the imperial march playing while Hillary Clinton is giving her speeches. Obviously, this guy does not like Clinton. After about twenty seconds the music swtiches from that of total distruction (which, if you listen closely to what Hillary says, sounds pretty scary) to something far more hopeful and uplifting. What follows are, well, hopeful and uplifting speeches made by Obama that really make you feel good inside. Even though this wasn’t made by the pros, it does a good job of pointing out the differences in the two democratic candidates.

    I did think the music could be softer though. It was hard to hear the candidates talking every now and again.

  4. Aaron K Says:

    This ad, entitled “Mother”, is Obama talking about his mother passing away from cancer at age 53 and trying to urge us to vote for him so he can create better health care reforms. The piece that is played for this ad is gorgeous. It starts with a soft horn melody and a string accompaniment, and as is voice gets louder the strings start to crescendo. It ends with everyone on the tonic chord with a very appropriate cymbal crash as he ends his monologue. The music suits the mood of the ad very well. It’s a sad subject, and the music is very light, soft, and reflective. It sounds almost like a John Williams film score. The music does a good job of making you feel sympathetic towards him.

  5. kditsch Says:

    This is an ad for Barack Obama. It starts out with pictures of President Bush, with him talking in the back saying what Obama is for and against. There are pictures of Obama with members of the army, with kids, and with senior citizens. The person that is talking is using a very motivational voice, and in the background there is a lot of people cheering and clapping. There is also, if you listen close, a small melodic line playing. It does not sound like anything familiar, but you immediately feel soothed and comfortable with it. This makes me think that they used this music to make the people watching it feel comfortable with Obama and his ideas.

  6. theresas Says:

    I am not sure if this is exactly an ad, and I know its not endorsed by Obama, but its definitely good publicity, really empowering, and related to the presidential campaigns. The whole thing is a music video about how voting gives us hope because we can change the nation by voting. It is a very moving, empowering song, especially to younger voters because I think (at least for me) it is hard for younger voters to see the point to vote. We think our vote doesn’t matter, and most of us are always in our own bubble at school with our own friends and classes, not realizing we are part of a huge nation and even world. This gets to the point to vote and makes you want to go out and change the world. The simple repetitive melody gets stuck in your head and it shows so many different people with so many different backgrounds. It’s a very cool video… I recommend you watch it because it will make you want to vote, even if it is not for Obama.

  7. mike k Says:

    I just HAD to put this even though it isn’t a terrific example of an ad. It is an Obama-endorsed anti-Hillary ad rebutting a Hillary ad (it also looks like it’s been doctored too). The ad begins with whoever put up the video twisting Hillary’s message into “If you don’t vote for me your children will DIE!” In the background, you hear a cheesy scream and then the Psycho string theme plays.

    This ad plays on our ear’s recognition of something so dissonant and choppy as unsettling. Plus, the cliche reference to the stabbing scene helps create unease. The ad then moves into warm, happy, noble sounding music to ‘reassure’ us. This ad shows the awesome power of music in grabbing our attention, which is teh whole point in making commercials.

  8. eskayve Says:

    I know this video was already posted, but I felt it is a very good one to analyze for this assignment. Obama begins with a story about his mother that really brings the issue of health care into perspective. This is used as an example to lead into a point about how there has always been talk about reforming health care, but no action is being taken. He provides his plan for reforming health care, along with a link to see more information.

    The music matches his very powerful and motivating speaking skills. It is very moving and beautiful, yet sad, which makes his story about his mother so much more effective and touching. Viewers will first hear the story and then hear his plan, and as the music progresses, become more persuaded that action needs to be taken to reform health care. Because the music is so inspiring, viewers will want to visit the link to read more about his plan, which is very effective in persuading people to vote for him. The build to the cymbal crash at the end is like the peak of the video, which leaves viewers feeling like his policy on health care is the right one.

  9. NatDoug Says:

    I picked this video specifically because the visual imagery is very limited, and allows the viewer to be affected by the music. The music itself is extremely repetitive. It has a very anxious, unsettled feeling about it – never resolving, just repeating aimlessly.

    I think this sense created by the music plays beautifully into the video’s purpose, which is to eventually unveil the quote, “100 Years in Iraq would be alright with me”. Has our presence in Iraq been similarly unresolved, and without direction or purpose like the music?

    It reminds me very much of a piece I recently studied – Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. In one movement, Mahler is depicting a mother pacing back and forth waiting for her children to return home. The strings play a wandering melody that never goes anywhere, reflecting the mother’s unsettled pacing. A similar effect is present in the music here, which evokes an anxious and direction less feeling without resolution.

  10. katieh Says:

    I found this video to be quite interesting. The music is surprisingly cheesy and poorly made. (Oboe sound at the beginning doesn’t sound real, perhaps from a music notation software.)
    This was Obama’s first Presidential ad, and it is very elementary in my opinion, it seems very fake.
    Most ads have beautiful music in the background, and it is pretty uplifting and inspiring, but this piece left me wanting more, and not in a good way. I was hoping to hear well-made music in a Presidential ad. This sounds like someone put together a quick piece and added some orchestral parts to try to make it sound pretty, but actually failed to do so.
    The other Obama ads I’ve seen have much better musical quality and portray his moving, poignant speeches a lot more gracefully. If I had to only listen to the music in this ad with the speaking turned off, I probably would assume that Obama’s speech must be cheesy and insincere. Luckily, his speeches are wonderful and you can’t hear the music all too well through most of the ad.

  11. mus243 Matt Says:

    Hi Everyone, Matt here.

    Great posts so far! I’ve read each one and watched all the ads. In real life, I don’t have a TV and so I never actually see any of these, so it has been informative (although mostly for Obama‚—let’s get a few alternatives!).

    Many of you are catching those aspects that are being powerfully but subtly communicated. I like the minimalist/Glass-esque music Natalie posted, and think her observation that the repetition supports Ron Paul’s message that McCain may be out of step with many voters’ opinion.

    Katie: I’m not surprised that Obama’s first ad is cheesy, and it is also for my home state of NH, where there are barely 1,000,000 people. It is surprising how far his campaign has come in 15 months (and unbelievable how long presidential campaigns are these days!).

    Emily and Sara G.: Thanks for leading off the discussion with clear posts and nice examples!

    Aaron and Sara V.: I like the Obama health care ad and think you’ve both nailed it on the head. Subtle music, a single issue, and good unity of music and message for a personal subject.

    Mike and Emily are apparently tapping into some of the more amateur or user-generated material. There are tons of pieces that are unofficial and created by amateurs to support their candidates. Sometimes the line between amateur and professional is unclear, as the early Obama ad isn’t as good as the “Psycho” ad (which may be official… who knows? Even though Obama’s “approval” is appended, that could have been as easily cut and pasted as the rest of the ad). Unofficial ads allow the gloves to come off, letting stronger messages make their way through the political spectrum (like whisper campaigns of old).

    Great job, and I look forward to reading and commenting on other ads!


  12. Melissa S Says:

    This Obama ad, entitled “What If”, reminds me of a gradual crescendo that at the end reaches a triumphant moment to convince people to vote and support Obama. Also, the music in the background is synchronized to the blurbs of Obama’s voice.

    Throughout the video they just insert claims by Obama and don’t elaborate on them, to inform the public of the claims he stands for. At the end to add to the crescendo, it is layered with a cheering crowd, ending the ad on a happy, positive note.

    Overall I think this ad is pretty effective and uses music in the back to its advantage.

  13. Marie R Says:

    This one is entitled “Searched” and is an ad for Mitt Romney. The music begins with a solo trumpet with chordal accompaniment and ended with the start of what may be a drum cadence and the entrance of perhaps a single other french horn. The entrances of the other instruments gives the viewer the impression that the music/ the message is leading you somewhere but before you know it the whole ad has ended.

  14. travismarkley Says:

    This video is one promoting Bill Richardson for governor of New Mexico in 2006. It seems to be going more of the route of the Chuck Norris and Mike Huckaby ad with the comical aspect. It is also similar with the Western aspect. The music basically is just to compliment the Old West style of the ad. It does not make anyone feel sad or uber-American or anything like that, but it does help with comedic affect. Everyone knows that this music always accompanies Old West settings and just makes sense in the situation.

  15. Batman Says:

    I was trying to find a video for someone other then Obama, and I stumbled along this. I’m not sure who made it, but it is a funny Hillary bashing add that uses music very effectively. This video has very little to do with politics, but it does a great job of making the viewer just sit and laugh at Clinton. I’m not sure it will really sway many voters, but it will keep people against Hillary openly speaking against her. Although this does very little to put down Hillary’s politics, the music in this video is still a fun way to put down the candidate.

  16. kevinraschen Says:

    This TV ad was for Rudy Giuliana. He talks about the heroic actions of the generations of WWII and how when the September 11th attacks happened he observed the same heroic actions from the grand children and great grand children from the greatest generation. In the background there is your typical “American” music with the soaring trumpet playing the patriotic American music. I thought the music worked really well for the message he was trying to portray, American is a patriotic country and nothing is going to stop us from defending our freedom.

  17. sherylm Says:

    Aside from all of the controversy this advertisement has received, I simply would like to comment on the way the music was used to achieve a purpose. In this ad, Huckabee’s goal was to lighten up the political discourse of the campaign. He recognizes that the political campaign is only adding to the holiday season craziness, and urges people to remember the importance of the season, whether it be family, friends, and/or religion. In the background, an acoustic version of “Silent Night” is being played on the guitar. The strumming of the guitar is especially calming and easy to listen to. This simple version subtly reminds people to find peace and relaxation during this hectic season.

  18. Ben K Says:

    I dont know if this is actually the right example to pick, because its not actually an ad that was put on by the candidate himself, with him saying I support this message. But, I think its a great example of using music to get a point across, and I think its also a great example of using technology to an advantage. This particular video has been seen by about 4 million people on youtube alone. The ad takes a speech by obama, and has him saying it simultaniously with many different actors, singers, and other famous people singing the speech, which they put to music. I think it is a great and innovative idea because its usiing Obama’s own words, and by putting music to them, it adds another uplifting aspect to the overall scheme. Plus, it gets many different people from all cultures, races, etc to take part. Another thing about this ad is that it wasn’t originally made to be put on television, but on the internet. And because of that, it has spread through youtube, yahoo, and even Barack Obama’s own website sent a message to his supporters who have signed up online saying how much he liked it. So I think that the use of technology raelly added to the spread of this message. Furthermore, I think it really gives a positive message, with the repeated “yes we can” running throughout. I thought it was pretty inspirational, and original at the same time.

  19. emilyjayne Says:

    i found this ad for chris dodd while i was looking for something NOT hilary, mccain, or obama. while it’s fairly cheesy and if i remembered it at all it would probably only be to mock it, the ad’s use of children singing a spiritual (with lyrics twisted to “we’ve got the whole world in our hands”) is fairly effective in getting the message across. he’s emphasizing the importance of a corporate carbon tax to clean up the environment. by using children, and childsong, he’s certainly getting across the fact that he’s putting the future of the country first.

    but i hate large groups of little kids that can’t sing in tune so i’d probably change the channel.

  20. Colby C Says:

    This TV spot was for Gov. Mitt Romney, a former 2008 Presidential candidate. As with a good number of these political ads, we get a pathetic string/synth string opening as the ad fades in. Then suddenly in the middle of this ad, we have a piano transition into something resembling a power ballade/emotional music.

    As for the substance of a political message. We are thrust into an endorsement/”testimony” by Mitt’s wife……. Biased opinion? I think so. This advertisement seems to cover a wide spectrum of his political views, and has a nice mix of the “voice from above” and Mitt actually saying his views and plans himself.

  21. Jenny Says:

    uhmm…wow. Matt sent us this link in an E-Mail and I have been swamped so I am just uploading it now. And my computer sucks, ANYWAY!…This is an old 1972 Nixon campaign video. At the time, I’m sure this kind of music carried a lot of pride and pleasant feelings for its listeners, you usually hear this kind of music from that age, of course to me it’s just plain annoying. However, the add does a great job of image useage, especially pairing the words with pictures that illustrate those words.

    Overall it’s a very hopeful and joyous add, and uses the power of words to convey what he’s all about. It puts emphasis on making the world a better place and how he’s made connections everywhere, including overseas. At the time I think it would have been an effective add, although now-a-days we might laugh or feel unsettled if someone like Obama put that kind of add out with that kind of music…at least I would :P. I think the thing to take from this one is that it’s very light and happy, and people need that when deciding on a candidate.

  22. glenn e Says:


    This is an anti-Dukakis ad run by Bush in the late 80s. In it, Bush questions whether or not Dukakis would be an effective Commander-in-Chief; essentially, would he be the man you want answering the red phone at 3 am? Certainly, there are parallels to be drawn to this year’s election, as Clinton posed the same question about Obama just last week.

    The music is sparse, and I’m not quite sure yet if its effective. There is a dull, pulsating synthesized sound beneath the monologue that is obviously intended to recreate sounds of war machines such as tanks, military computers, etc, (musically, I am reminded of Stockhausen’s Helikopter-Streichquartett). The sparse computer blips and electronic pulses and statics give off a militaristic feeling that clearly compliments the visuals. Watching once again, the the sparseness and programmatic aspect of the music does portray a sense of military urgency (obviously when connected with the advertising imagery). The music simply sounds like the main point of the ad – like military technology at work. Could Dukakis lead America and the free world at the helm of such technology?, Bush asked. We may never know.

  23. Kristin K Says:

    This is a pro Obama ad. In this ad Gen Merril A. McPeak discusses how Obama has oppossed the war from the start. The music in this ad is more of a slow ballad. I think this causes viewers to listen more closely.

  24. jschwar7 Says:

    A horn fanfare starts out in the beginning. Strings come in right after that. I think it’s a well chosen background music selection. He talks about how his mother died at age 53 and was more worried about paying her medical care than getting better. This is a message that is mainly directed at people who’ve been in the same situation he has. Just to let you all know, he is Obama and he does approve this message about health care. haha

  25. Lauren S Says:

    This is a John McCain political ad. The ad begins with old black and white footage of McCain in the Navy. He had just broken his leg. The music in the beginning has a grave feel. It had a single sad sounding cello. It is minor sounding at the beginning, but then as the footage continues and McCain says he is Lieutenant, the music becomes more hopeful and major sounding. The strings that come in with the cello help to create this hopeful sound. Then the old footage ends and color footage comes in. The ad starts to talk about what John McCain has done and what his beliefs are today. This is when a trumpet comes in to create a very Americana feeling. Then of course, there is the American flag in the background. It is overall feel good music that appeals to the emotions.

  26. Eric Swanson Says:

    Well, if this won’t scare you into voting a Bush into office, I don’t know what will. This story gave me quite a scare at first. It was extremely well organized and very clearly portrayed. I only wish they used appropriate music too so the message came out even more clear. Something very slow and somber would have been nice.

    I suppose you could also poke holes in the story too if you really tried, especially if you had no idea what the circumstances were behind the weekend passes, what job Dukakas held and the time, or whether or not the policies with 1st degree murderers were directly his responsibility. Appropriate music definitely would have made it more difficult to think all of this through even during the course of the ad.

  27. lpence2 Says:

    i went ahead and used the one against tony blair that matt sent. i thought it was pretty funny in the way that they used certain music to portray all that he’s done wrong. it sort of mocks him and makes him out to be a joke by playing the type of music that it does.

  28. Mackenzie M Says:

    I believe this ad is a perfect illustration of the saying “Laugh so you don’t cry.”

    Granted, it is 1972. However, the cheesy editing of the visual images and the blatant contradiction between the style of the music and images shown are ridiculous. The pop tune they wrote is comforting in several different ways: it’s in a major key, it follows the familiar verse-chorus-verse-chorus form, and it resembles MANY different of the popular groups of the day playing on the radio. My favorite parts were when they replayed the balloons dropping from the ceiling at the key change 5 times. Another good touch was on the line “you and me,” they showed two people skipping into the sunset holding hands. Nice.

    Using phrases like “working over the sea” makes his foreign policy sound very friendly and almost loving, and because they interject so many images of completely random acts of love, it’s hard to really understand anything about Nixon from the ad. They just don’t make them like they used to…

  29. Jeff N Says:

    I used an old Charlie Wilson campaign Tv spot. He used a sentimental story of an elderly woman who really needed a check for money bc she was denied a loan. Then randomly Charlie Wilson and others started to sing in a log cabin. He uses the southern hymn to connect with the specific audience. The background music sounds sentimental and somber. Cheese to the MAx

  30. Emily D Says:

    HAHAHA…enough said

  31. us243 Says:

    Conincidentaly the video that was posted above me is the parody of the barack obama video that I found. I think this campaign video is very effective in getting Obamas ideas and hopes out to the audience. The idea of making his speech into lyrics for a song is very clever especially with the use of some of the top artists and actors of this era singing in the video. The song is very simple with barley an acoustic guitar playing only but a few chords, this is a wise choice because unlike other videos the music does not distract from the message but rather helps deliver the message in a gentle way which makes Obamas words very special and strong. Good video. Go Barack!
    The video is titled “Yes We Can”.

  32. us243 Says:

    woops heres the video link.

  33. radford2 Says:

    I don’t know what all the controversy was about in this particular ad. The guy is obvioulsy a Christian, doesn’t even bother to say “happy holidays” as opposed to merry christmas, and people are bashing him for the so-called “subliminal” message of the book-shelf actually representing a cross. This is rediculous. I thought it was an honest and sincere message that came across well. I think choosing “silent night’ out of all the songs he could have chosen was a nice pick because it is a very calming and sincere song, much like the message he was trying to convey. Good ad!

    the link is.

  34. hornplaya88 Says:

    I was completely suprised by this comical campaign ad for Huckabee. The mood was set for the whole video by the music in the background. I had been watching a fair amount of these campaign ads and none would be nearly as effective without music. The emotion and mood music can create is amazing. The music lightened the mood in this ad and made a great backdrop for the political comedy.

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