Could Clinton’s ‘Role Models’ Spot Be as Historic as ‘Morning in America’?

Sarah Steimer
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Key Takeaways

What? A new Hillary Clinton campaign uses opponent Donald Trump’s own controversial words against him by playing them in front of children.

So what? Some have compared the spot’s tone and effectiveness to Ronald Regan’s “Morning in America” ad. Powerful campaign commercials can sway voters.

Now what? Placing known information into a different context, as the ad puts Trump’s campaign statements in front of a child audience, can bring a new and emotional angle to a campaign.

​July 21, 2016

The campaign for Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, released a commercial that places Republican nominee Donald Trump’s own words in front of children.

The commercial, titled “Role Models,” features children watching Trump on television as he makes some of his more controversial statements, including those on Mexicans, a disabled reporter and women. A caption reads, “Our children are watching. What example will we set for them?” before the commercial ends with Clinton telling a crowd that their children and grandchildren should be proud of the decisions their elders make.

This anti-Trump commercial was not the first to feature his own words, rather than a narrator’s or Clinton’s. A previous ad, “Speak,” from Clinton-supporting super PAC Priorities USA Action, featured people lip-synching Trump’s comments on women.

The quotes from Trump are not new, but the latest commercial provides a new context: children zoned into his words.

Joan M. Phillips, professor in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University of Chicago, says the commercial’s opening scene reminds her of the ad that ran in support of former President Ronald Reagan in 1984, called “Prouder, Stronger, Better,” or more commonly referred to as “Morning in America.” The rest of Clinton’s commercial, however, turns a bit darker.

“It starts off with what looks like a sunrise, which is usually of symbol of hope, and then that’s where the despair comes, afterwards,” Phillips says. “It’s putting into context her opponent’s comments by having children view them.”

 

 Role Models

 

Using a child’s perspective in a political ad

Former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign ran “Peace Little Girl,” also known as the “Daisy Girl” ad, in 1964 that featured a young girl plucking the petals off of a flower. The camera zooms into one of her eyes before showing images of nuclear bombs. Johnson’s voiceover states, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” The ad came in response to Republican candidate Barry Goldwater saying he would consider the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam.

 

 Daisy Ad (LBJ 1964 Presidential campaign commercial)

 

The contrast between the little girl and the explosions is striking, and the ad was considered very controversial at the time. Phillips says the Clinton spot is not dissimilar in its contrasts.

“You’re expecting this positive ad, this 'Morning in America'-type hope,” she explains. “[Clinton’s] ad forces us to tolerate the discrepancy between beautiful pictures of the children—and you look at them, and you see the hope—and then you’re hearing this negative rhetoric. The viewer, because of the contrast, we’re really challenged to wrestle with the context of the message. Is this something for children? If it’s not for children, then who is it for?”

Harnessing Clinton’s maternal messages

Clinton has worked extensively on programs for children, having been involved in the Children’s Defense Fund and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, for example. The “Role Models” commercial plays on this focus.

Phillips explains that the commercial comes from a place of authority, and that Clinton is indirectly saying that she has been supportive of children and still is.

"This is very powerful,” she says. “It plays off the mother theme. We shouldn’t be fighting in front of the children. Are we setting a good example for them?”

Phillips says she’s unsure of who the intended audience may be—although it’s not likely diehard Trump supporters—but said it may be effective for those in the middle. She noted the impact of campaign ads in past elections. The “Daisy Girl” ad has been credited with helping Johnson defeat Goldwater and “Morning in America” has been considered one of the most effective campaign ads, according to a Time article.

“This one may become a classic,” Phillips said of the Clinton spot. “I’m not sure. I’m struck by it. I think it’s very powerful.”


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Author Bio:

 
Sarah Steimer
Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.
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