Page last updated at 05:37 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Obama campaign's media blitzkrieg

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Washington

Barack Obama talked about his parents in his half-hour advertisement

It was a highly produced, beautifully shot video with gripping footage of struggling American families, blue red and white flags and the great American outdoors, all set to a soaring Hollywood-type score.

The half-hour Barack Obama campaign video, narrated by the candidate himself, was part feel-good, part meant to impart some sense of urgency among viewers about the issues at stake and the need to go out and vote.

It was a technically perfect television moment, choreographed down to the second on an evening when the young Illinois senator dominated the airwaves, his campaign machine flush with money, having raised $150m (90.5m) in September alone.

The commercial, aired simultaneously on seven stations, joined up in its final minutes with Mr Obama speaking live at a Florida event.

Just an hour later, he was on the popular Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in a recorded performance.

An hour after that, he appeared at an event with former president Bill Clinton- their first joint appearance.

It is the first time in 16 years that a presidential candidate has aired a half-hour campaign advertisement - in 1992, Texas billionaire Ross Perot did it when he ran for the White House as an independent.

But in comparison to Mr Perot's low-tech ad focused mostly on the candidate himself and pie charts, this video set a remarkable precedent with the help of David Guggenheim, executive producer of former Vice President Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and Mark Putnam, a producer of dozens of Democratic campaign ads, including the highly popular ones used by New Mexico governor Bill Richardson during his primary campaign.


US Republican presidential candidate John McCain at a rally in Miami (29/10/2008)
Mr McCain said the ad had been paid for with broken promises
But at an estimated cost of some $5m, it was an expensive effort by the Obama campaign and it raised worries about the possibility of overkill.

It also opened him to renewed criticism and accusations that he is over-reaching.

For his critics, the video was presumptuous, a reminder of his Berlin speech over the summer in front of 200,000 people and the Doric columns at his convention speech.

He probably tried to pre-empt that when he said: "I will not be a perfect president," but John McCain continued to make the argument that the young senator was simply not ready to be president at all.

The Arizona senator ran his own ad that evening, during which he said that "behind the fancy speeches, grand promises and TV special, the truth is that Mr Obama does not have the experience needed for the job."

Mr McCain also described the ad as a "gauzy feel-good commercial" that was paid for with broken promises.

The sales-job is always better than the product - buyer beware
Tucker Bounds, McCain spokesman
He was referring to the fact that Mr Obama went back on his initial promise that he would forgo private funding for his campaign.

So was it overkill? Some observers said that in the last seven days of the campaign it probably does not matter.

George Stephanopoulos called it a virtuoso moment with every penny of it well spent, and even McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds seemed to hint that the ad, in itself, was well put together.

"As anyone who has bought anything from an infomercial knows, the sales-job is always better than the product. Buyer beware," he said.


Mr Obama used the half-hour ad to make his closing argument of the campaign, laying out once more the details of his plan to address issues of top concern to American voters from healthcare to the economy.

There were no new lines but he brought it all to life by introducing viewers to five middle class American families, struggling to make ends meet, send their children to school or pay medical bills.

Crucially, they were all from battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

"In part, the show was designed to prove Obama understands us, that he can connect with the problems of workers and retirees," wrote the USA Today newspaper.

"But it was also designed to help us understand him, to become comfortable with the idea of him as president. Reassurance was not just the point of the biographical titbits and the recorded testimonials; it was the point of the entire broadcast."

By including a biographical element, telling the story of Mr Obama's childhood, of his mother who died of cancer after struggling to pay the bills and showing him with his picture perfect family, the producers tried to simplify his complex narrative for those voters still suspicious of his background and show him as an all-around American man.

Throughout the ad, he appeared calm and confident and to some extent presidential - several times he spoke directly to the camera from a facsimile Oval office, clearly trying to impress on viewers the image of a man ready to sit in the White House.

The ad had a wide reach, with millions of Americans probably tuning in to watch during prime time television.

It ran on the main networks - CBS, NBC and Fox - but also on the Spanish channel Univision as well as BET and TV One, aimed at African-American audiences.

But will it change minds? It may help some undecided voters and it may confirm choices already made but it seems unlikely that it would help drastically alter opinions at this stage in the race.

Comments on blogs also indicated that some voters were turned off by the polished campaign ad.

Polling over the next few days will tell whether the airwave blitzkrieg helped Mr Obama further increase his lead over Mr MCain.

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