Music in Political Advertising:
An Analysis of the Use of Music in
Presidential Campaign Spots, 1968 1988
O. Patricia Cambridge, Ph.D.
E. W. Scripps School of Journalism
Athens, OH 45701
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This study analyzes the use of background music in political advertising.
content analysis was done of the English-language television spots aired during
presidential campaigns of 1968 through 1988. The results revealed that musical
elements, such as tonality and tempo, have been used in various ways to
messages. The study suggests that background music can provide aural cues to
reinforce a message by highlighting the important points being made in the spot.
Music in Political Advertising:
An Analysis of the Use of Music in
Presidential Campaign Spots, 1968 1988
O. Patricia Cambridge, Ph.D.
E. W. Scripps School of Journalism
Athens, OH 45701
[log in to unmask] Introduction
Communicators are always concerned about the effectiveness of their
This is especially true in political communication. Each candidate tries to
voters: (a) that it is worthwhile or important to vote and (b) to vote for him
From the inception of the electoral process in the United States candidates
used various channels to get their messages out to the voters. Newspapers and
pamphlets were the first mass media to be used. In the twentieth century, first
then television became the media that reached the largest number of voters. It
impossible to run for national office without using television since this medium
consumed by the largest percentage of the population. For many voters, their
knowledge of or "contact" with candidates comes through television spots. It
been suggested that the electorate votes for the candidate who does "the better
producing telegenic images" (Diamond & Marin, 1989, p. 388).
Television has the advantage of offering the combination of sight, sound,
and color. Candidates have opportunities to stage events and carefully select
aspects of them the voters see. However, television has a disadvantage. The
leaves a fleeting impression because the viewer experiences it only for an
Consequently, television advertising, including political advertising, employs a
combination of techniques to attract and maintain the attention of the target
In addition to the verbal element there are usually nonverbal elements visual
focus, fast editing, gestures of actors) and aural (namely, music and/or sound
Visual techniques are combined with music to make spots more appealing and
Political advertising is of particular significance since it is an
important source of
information about candidates and is a factor in the election of the country's
Presidential campaigns and television spots have been subject to much analysis
of the importance of the office and the election process. It has been stated
"candidate advertisements are perhaps the most precisely and carefully crafted
of a modern campaign. Nothing has been left to chance; every aspect has been
for some purpose" (Sabato, 1981, p. 111). In referring to the background music
many campaign television spots, Devlin (1986) asserted: "Music is often an
part of the mood setting devices of political ads" (p. 30). Indeed, the
practice of using
dramatic music as a major device to enhance political television spots can be
back to the 1968 Nixon campaign (Diamond & Bates, 1988). Since political
is designed explicitly as persuasive communication, it offers fertile ground for
the role of music in persuasion. This study seeks to increase our understanding
role of music in facilitating the messages in political advertising.
A content analysis was conducted of the television spots from the general
elections of 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988. The year 1968 was chosen as
starting point because it was the first time that music was included as a major
aid communication. The new color technology was also fully exploited by the
campaign, which created "a series of spots giving life and vitality to
photography to give the effect of visual variety to the spot" (Devlin, 1986, p.
pictures were often reinforced by carefully chosen background music (Diamond &
Bates, 1988; Jamieson, 1988).
Review of the Literature
In every era, politicians have placed their messages in the mass media that
the widest audiences. For a long time, this meant the print media. By 1923, a
medium was added to their range of choices when Calvin Coolidge delivered the
broadcast State of the Union address (Jamieson, 1988). In 1924, both Coolidge
Davis bought radio time for speeches. By the 1928 election a large enough
homes had radios so that this medium could be used to carry political campaign
messages to a large percentage of the electorate. That year marked the first
of the spot (Diamond & Bates, 1988). Simultaneous with the refinement of radio
the development of sound in the motion picture industry. By 1927, movie
could see and hear the president and his challenger on newsreels (Jamieson,
Partisan films were produced for this medium and were predecessors of today's
Television spots were first used in the 1952 election and have become
indispensable elements of modern to campaigns because they provide opportunities
educate uninterested voters, in particular, about candidates (Just, Crigler, &
1990). Indeed, they "are the predominant public touchstones with the candidate
today's mediated campaigns" (Payne, Marlier, & Baukus, 1989). They can
interest in a campaign and create a more positive affect toward the candidate as
person or intensify polarization of evaluations of the candidate (Atkin & Heald,
They can "create an impression in the mind of the viewer by involving him in an
(Weitzner, 1971, p. 104). Devlin (1986) documented several reasons why
spots are used. They can (a) make a candidate better known, (b) influence
or uninterested voters, (c) reinforce supporters and partisans, (d) attack the
(e) develop and explain issues, (f) soften or redefine the candidate's image,
demographic groups, and (h) raise money. In addition, spots "define the nature
presidency by stipulating the attributes a president should have" (Devlin, pp.
The inclusion of music in campaign messages did not begin with the advent
television spots, however. Music has always been a component of American
presidential campaigns (Jamieson, 1986, 1988). Before the advent of the
media, songs were used to personalize the candidates and amplify campaign
Community singing is no longer a widespread practice in our culture. That might
explain why the song is no longer an aspect of presidential campaigns. However,
background music is often used in campaign television spots to enhance the
Although much research has been conducted on political advertising, particularly
presidential campaigns, the role of music in political advertising has been
passing reference in the literature (Devlin, 1986; Gronbeck, 1989; Jamieson,
Kaid & Davidson, 1986). The elaboration likelihood model developed by Petty and
Cacioppo (1981, 1986) provides a framework for understanding the role of music
Elaboration refers to the extent to which a person scrutinizes the
arguments contained in the persuasive communication" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986, p.
Elaboration is on a continuum based on motivation and ability to process the
ranging from "complete elaboration of every argument" to "no thought about the
issue-relevant information presented" (Petty & Cacioppo, p. 8). Features of the
persuasion context, and the person receiving the message are factors influencing
The elaboration likelihood model suggests two routes to attitude change the
central and the peripheral routes. The central route to persuasion, which
most enduring form of attitude change, occurs "when persuasion results from
about the issue or arguments under consideration" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981, p.
Under the peripheral route, attitude change is influenced by "peripheral
cues," i.e., "factors or motives inherent in the persuasion setting that are
produce an initial attitude change without any active thinking about the
the issue or the object under consideration" (Petty & Cacioppo, p. 256). Most
viewing occurs in low-involvement situations. Viewers often consider
interruption to programming and are not always motivated to attend to the
Consequently, the peripheral route to persuasion is often taken. Peripheral
source expertise, source likability, nonverbal behavior, and background music
Research has shown that background music might be a factor affecting the
persuasiveness of a televised message (Alpert & Alpert, 1990; Hecker & Stewart,
Ellis and Altman (cited in Seiter, 1987) declared: "the soundtrack speech,
and sound effects entirely dominates the image by determining when we actually
at the screen" (p. 26). This capability of music to influence the
interpretation of an
audiovisual production is attributed to its connotative characteristics.
Music (particularly instrumental music) is not explicit like language or
photographic images. Consequently, the listener often ascribes connotative or
extramusical meanings that are affective and descriptive. These meanings are
by convention and are shared by a culture (Dasilva et al., 1984; Radocy & Boyle,
Music is therefore used to express moods and create connotations that facilitate
audience's interpretation of a dramatic presentation. Writers and producers
the music on a soundtrack would be interpreted by the majority of the audience
similar manner that the music would shape the interpretation of the visual
This accounts for the formulaic (cliched) nature of film music (and dramatic
other media, such as television). Since the audience has learned to associate
sounds with certain emotional responses, these formulas can assist the audience
interpreting the visual images as the director intended. For example, a sudden
dynamics (volume) can highlight sudden dramatic tension. Thus, film music has
described as "the hypnotic voice bidding the spectator to believe, focus,
identify, consume" (Gorbman, 1987, p. 69).
Two main categories of music are used in audiovisual productions (film,
television dramas or sitcoms, television spots, etc.). These are source music
underscore or background music:
each [is] distinguished by its relationship to the action in the film or
Source music emanates from a visual source within the film narrative for
example, an actor singing, . . . on camera; . . . Underscore music has no
source within the picture and is designed to enhance the emotion of the
in a less conspicuous way. (Carlin, 1991, p. 1)
The terms "diegetic" and "nondiegetic" have also been used to describe these two
categories of music. Source music is diegetic while underscore music is
(Burns & Thompson, 1987; Gorbman, 1987).
Palmer (1981) asserted that in film, music brings the screen and the
a closer relationship, adding a third dimension to the two-dimensional
the camera. He contended that "music, being by nature fluid, ambiguous and
definition, can set up emotional vibrations in the mind of the audience which
complement, supplement or even contradict the visual image" (p. 388). Seidman
asserted that the music "should be audible enough to provide some atmosphere,
not be so noticeable that it distracts from the more significant components of
message" (p. 51). Gorbman (1987) suggested:
The musical score's rhythmic, textural, and harmonic qualities, expressive
cultural musical codes, emphasize latent or manifest narrative content
synergetic relationship with the other channels of filmic discourse. In
emphasizing moods or feelings, in specifying or delineating objects for the
spectator's attention, music enforces an interpretation of the [narratively
spatiotemporal world of the actions and characters]. (Gorbman, 1987, p. 32)
In addressing the effect of background music on attitudes toward film,
and Cohen (1988) argued that the congruence between the internal structure of
and the musical accompaniment influences "attentional strategy to and subsequent
encoding of information in the film" (p. 110). Marshall and Cohen (1988)
that "effects of musical accompaniment on the interpretation of a character in a
may arise if the music, through congruence, alters the pattern of attention
characters in the film and, at the same time, provides connotations" (p. 110).
(1981) stated: "The best filmmakers realize that musical accompaniment enhances
emotional impact of their work" (p. 52). Gorbman (1987) went a step further and
declared: "Change the score on the soundtrack, and the image-track can be
transformed" (p. 30).
The connotative or affective meaning that is interpreted from background
is based on the juxtaposition of musical elements tempo, melody, rhythm,
timbre, and dynamics. Vinovich (cited in Seidman, 1981) suggested that the
arrangement and the instrumentation of the music might be more important than
melody. For example, a funeral march "played in a fast tempo and high pitch,
would be perceived as a humorous, rather than a solemn, piece" (p. 53).
Music is often used in television programming, especially spots, in much
same way it is used in film as source music and as underscore music. Huron
identified six ways that music can contribute to advertising. The first is
The second is providing continuity by "tying together a sequence of visual
and/or a series of dramatic episodes, narrative voice-overs, or a list of
appeals." Related to this is the ability to "heighten or emphasize dramatic
episodes" (Huron, p. 561). Music can facilitate memorability of a product or
product's name. The fourth way in which music contributes to advertising is by
providing lyrical language. The fifth technique of musical enhancement
Huron (1989) is targeting. Advertisers have identified musical styles with
social and demographic groups. Thus, musical style "may function as a
identifier (Huron, p. 567). Finally, Huron discussed the importance of music as
authority establishment, i.e., to enhance the credibility of a spot. This is
to musical style. Differences in musical taste are related to race, sex, age,
class groupings (Huron, 1989; Lewis, 1975, 1987). Huron, therefore, argued:
A successful advertisement is able to strike some meaningful chord
the listener values. The product itself rarely carries sufficient appeal
advertisers will endeavor to link or join the product to some cultural
stirs more profound allegiances. (pp. 568 569)
These ideas are supported by Baird (1990) who asserted that one of the tasks of
composer of music for commercials "is to select the correct musical ingredients
subliminally target the commercial to the appropriate audience demographic" (p.
Other researchers have suggested that music might have a positive effect on
perception of products and intent to purchase. In a classical conditioning
Gorn (1982) discovered that subjects indicated preference for products that were
associated with music they liked. Park and Young (1986) found that in low
involvement situations, background music as a peripheral persuasion cue seemed
influence brand attitude formation. In investigating the relationship between
and individuals' responses to advertising, Stout and Leckenby (1988) found a
purchase intent for products in spots with music.
Although studies have examined the role of music as a peripheral persuasion
in retail advertising, much attention has not been paid to its role in political
This study is a step in correcting this deficiency. It documents the use of
political advertising through a content analysis of general election television
1968 through 1988. The results provide a greater understanding of how music has
used in this important form of persuasive communication.
The television spots from the general election campaigns of 1968, 1972,
1980, 1984, and 1988 were content analyzed. The following research questions
RQ1: Are musical elements (such as tonality, timbre, and tempo) utilized in
specific ways in positive and negative spots?
RQ2: Are musical elements (such as tonality, timbre, and tempo) utilized
specific ways in image and issue spots?
RQ3: Are certain musical genres more likely to be utilized in presidential
campaign television spots?
RQ4: Are spots in specific visual styles more likely to contain background
Since previous studies had not focused on the use of background music in
presidential campaign television advertising, this study looked at the universe
spots from the 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, and 1988 campaigns. These were the
Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace, Nixon-McGovern, Carter-Ford, Reagan-Carter,
and Bush-Dukakis campaigns, respectively. The spots that were content analyzed
from the general elections (the post-primary periods after the candidates have
selected by their respective parties).
The unit of analysis was defined as the spot. A total of 646
spots from the 1968 1988 presidential general elections were coded with an 82.8%
reliability. Because the study looked at the universe of spots aired during
tests of significance were not conducted (Stempel, 1981). The spots were
the Political Commercial Archive at the University of Oklahoma and from
Industries. The spots were coded for length, whether they were positive or
whether or not they contained music, visual style, musical genre, tempo,
timbre. The topics and the verbal descriptions of the candidates were noted.
The number of spots coded was as follows:
1968 25 spots from the Humphrey campaign (Democratic Party)
30 spots from the Nixon campaign (Republican Party)
8 spots from the Wallace campaign (American Independent Party)
1972 39 spots from the McGovern campaign (Democrat)
28 spots from the Nixon campaign (Republican)
1976 44 spots from the Carter campaign (Democrat)
76 spots from the Ford campaign (Republican)
1980 93 spots from the Carter campaign (Democrat)
160 spots from the Reagan campaign (Republican)
1984 43 spots from the Mondale campaign (Democrat)
43 spots from the Reagan campaign (Republican)
1988 39 spots from the Dukakis campaign (Democrat)
18 spots from the Bush campaign (Republican)
Altogether, there were 283 spots from Democratic candidates, 355 from
and 8 from the candidate of the American Independent Party.
The spots were coded as issue or image. The use of the terms "issue" and
"image" was based on Garramone's (1986) classification. Some spots emphasize
candidate's stand on issues while in others, the candidate might not address the
audience and the candidate's stand on the issues is not presented (Kaid &
1978; Shyles, 1984, 1986). According to Garramone, image spots not only have a
preponderance of information about the candidate's personal qualities; they
visual content. In "issue" spots, on the other hand, the candidate often
policies either to the camera (i.e., talking head) or to constituents
represented in the
commercial" (Garramone, p. 240).
Each spot was further coded for visual style, using Devlin's (1986)
Spots were identified as talking head, cin ma verit (showing the candidate in
settings interacting with people), man-in-the-street ("real people" talking
candidate or his opponent), and testimonial (prominent politicans or other
people speaking on behalf of the candidate). The category biography was used to
spots that chronicled the candidate's career, while spots containing several
sequences were coded as documentary. The topics covered in the spots and
verbal descriptions of the candidate were recorded. When the spots were coded,
spoken words that described or indicated the candidates' qualities (e.g.,
honesty, experience) were noted. These verbal descriptions were grouped into
The categories used in data analysis were: leadership, honesty, experience, and
The genre of the music was identified as being of the "classical" tradition
"nonclassical" tradition. The term "classical tradition" is used in the
sense to refer to music exemplifying the styles of the Baroque, Classical,
Twentieth-Century periods. The term "nonclassical" refers to popular music
e.g., country, jazz, easy listening. The mode (major, minor, atonal) was also
Western music, tonality provides character. For example, the major mode is
associated with feelings of happiness while the minor mode is usually associated
sadness. "Timbre" is the tone quality produced by each instrument that
from another and gives different qualities to music when used in various
with other instruments. "Tempo" refers to degrees of fast and slow in music.
Results and Discussion
Most of the spots created were 30-second spots (53.9% of the spots). Most
spots did not contain any music: only 32.5% (210) of the spots. This reflects
that in 1968 and 1972, for example, the Democratic candidates (who lost those
did not use music in their spots. The Republicans began developing documentary
with soundtracks in 1972. However, there was an increase in the use of music by
candidates over the years. In 1984 and 1988, however, most of the spots
music (see Table 1). This trend is probably related to the increasing
campaign strategists in the use of the television medium.
The majority of the spots were issue spots (85.6%) rather than image spots
(14.4%), contrary to some concerns that television has caused politicians to
over substance. This was the case even in the 1988 Bush-Dukakis campaign.
spots were more likely to contain background music than issue spots (40.9% to
It would appear that despite the desire to take advantage of all of the benefits
television medium, candidates still think it important to present their views on
issues to the viewers. It might also mean that voters expect to base their
the candidate's stand on the issues. Thus, even when emotional appeals were
the spots, they were made within the context of the major issues of the
Overall, there were more positive than negative spots (54.8% compared to
despite the fact that: (a) in 1980 and 1988 there were more negative spots
positive spots and (b) in 1984 Walter Mondale had aired a majority of negative
Positive spots included music more often than negative spots (46% of the
compared to (16.1% of the negative spots) and used major tonality and medium
more than negative spots. An examination of the spots of the 1968 and the 1988
campaigns revealed that not only was there more negative advertising in 1988 but
the nature of negative advertising has changed. In 1968, the claims were
Candidates often refrained from specifically naming the opponent or the opposing
party. In 1988, candidates tended to name their opponents in negative spots.
spots tended to be positive more often than issue spots. Since image spots tend
more on personal traits of candidates, this type of spot was used more often to
favorable view of the candidate rather than to criticize the opponent.
The Use of Musical Genre
Of the spots containing background music, more than half of these contained
classical music (59.5%). The President is the Head of State and there are codes
conduct in interactions between the president and the public which are designed
preserve the dignity of the office. Since classical music is often associated
upscale and the sophisticated, the serious and the formal, this music might have
considered the most appropriate for background music in presidential campaign
Conversely, rock music and country music were not used very often. Country
has been traditionally associated with the South and with rural lifestyles. In
Jimmy Carter used country music in spots that made appeals to Southern voters.
presidency is a national office. The use of country music, even in spots
Southern voters, might cause the candidate to be perceived as regional. It
detract from the high status associated with the presidency.
Rock music has often been associated with youth and has often been
with rebellion. It would seem that except for when a candidate was addressing
people specifically, rock music was not used. This is exemplified in two of the
which it was used. In the 1968 election, which was a period in which there was
turmoil over Vietnam and many young people felt alienated, Richard Nixon used
music in a spot that solicited the youth vote. Similarly, a 1988 Dukakis spot
music to indicate Dukakis' willingness to increase college tuition benefits. In
have a candidate elected president, campaign managers have to address the
need to receive votes from a wide cross-section of the voters. Care has to be
consider the segment of the population that is most likely to vote in an
older voters. Candidates need strategies that do not alienate older voters.
account for the limited use of rock music in the campaigns.
After classical music, easy listening music was the most often occurring
(17.6% of the spots with music). The audience would have experience with easy
listening music (which is sometimes called "elevator" music) as background
This kind of music is often neutral; it does not evoke strong feelings of like
or dislike. It
can be used as a filler in a spot for a national campaign that is making an
appeal to a
wide cross-section of people.
Jazz was used sparingly (3.3% of the spots with music). Jazz is linked
African-American culture. Candidates running for national office might prefer
be associated with specific ethnic groups. Although candidates sometimes court
African-American vote, they might be concerned that any music associated with
African-Americans might suggest a very strong alignment with that ethnic group
alienate white voters in the process. This might also account for the fact that
of the rhythm and blues style was used in any of the campaign spots under study.
Ethnic music, such as music from China that is not familiar in the American
cultural context, was used very little (2.4% of the spots with music). An
example of the
limited use was noted in 1972 when ethnic music was used effectively by Richard
in the documentary spots that portrayed him as an important world leader. Nixon
shown arriving in different countries meeting with other world leaders. More
musical excerpt was used in these spots. The music changed every time Nixon was
shown greeting the leaders of each country and music associated with that
heard in the background. In this case, music facilitated the message by drawing
attention to the verbal and visual cues presented in the spots.
Patriotic music was used sparingly (5.7%). Nixon used patriotic music in
dealing with defense and foreign policy. Reagan used this type of music in
dealing with his personal and political accomplishments. Thus, Reagan used
music to associate himself with the strong feelings of nationalism he was trying
evoke in the voters. Republicans have tended to exploit patriotism to appeal to
It is interesting to note that only Republican candidates used any form of
The Use of Tempo
Medium tempi were used more frequently than both slow and fast tempi (71%
the spots with music). A medium tempo reflects the pace at which most people
Accordingly, it is a comfortable pace. This pace of music flows might be less
than either fast or slow music. Even though the music in a spot might
message by providing a context, it is also necessary for the verbal aspect of
to be heard by the viewer.
Slow music was used in a higher percentage of issue spots (9.4%) than image
spots (6.5%). Surprisingly, a greater percentage of positive spots than
used slow music (9.9% compared to 7.9%). Although slow music is often
with sad occasions, it can also be expansive and lend dignity to a message.
More image spots than issue spots used fast music (16.1% compared to4.3%).
addition, more positive spots than negative spots contained fast music. The
percentage of spots that contained fast music were those that focused on the
and political accomplishments of the candidate. These tended to be positive
spots. Fast-paced music can sometimes distract from the spoken word, since it
provide a "busy" background, giving a feeling of restlessness. However, fast
also lend excitement and propel the action forward or give a feeling of
happiness to an
occasion. The spots that focused on the personal accomplishments of the
certainly aimed to elicit positive feelings about the candidate.
The Use of Tonality
Music in the major mode was most often used (74.8% of the spots with
The major mode gives a feeling of happiness while the minor mode can contribute
feeling of sadness. Atonality is often associated with uncertainty, e.g., this
music is used in thrillers and other suspense films. Spots about the personal
accomplishments of the candidates (generally positive spots) more often used
bcakground music exemplifying only major tonality: 88.5% of these spots
music used major tonality. None of these spots used atonal music.
The Use of Timbre
Brass timbres were the most dominant timbres (42.9% of the spots with
Brass timbres were more often heard in positive and image spots. Brass
have been associated with the military and with pomp and circumstance. Brass
instruments can contribute to an impression of courage and resoluteness. Brass
can, therefore, provide an appropriate backdrop for a candidate seeking to
Vocal music was not used very often in these general election spots
song was written for the Ford campaign (it did not contain any references to the
candidate and was not meant for community singing). This song was used in
musical arrangements both vocal and instrumental. Music with lyrics can
from a spoken message. Thus, instrumental music would be more appropriate when
music plays a background role to the spoken word.
The Use of Visual Style
Almost all of the documentary spots and a majority of the biographical
included background music. Both documentary and biographical spots very often
contain background music. The music can make the spot more attractive and also
support the favorable impression that is being created.
In man-in-the-street, talking head, and testimonial spots, what is said of
candidate and/or of his opponent is of the greatest importance. These spots,
particularly the man-in-the-street and the testimonial, allow the campaign to
statements about the candidate or his opponent that might be too strong for the
candidate himself to make. Perhaps the focus on the message determined the
not to use music in these types of spots (see Table 2).
One of the most important functions of the president is to provide
Consequently, descriptions stressing the candidates' leadership qualities were
often used. Descriptions of experience were used the least. Empathy and
referred to almost equally. Most of the descriptions were found in testimonial
This was not unexpected since the purpose of a testimonial spot is to explain
why a candidate is qualified for office. It was, therefore, not surprising that
most of the
spots containing explicit verbal descriptions of the candidate did not include
Product advertisers have always used television spots to present their
in a flattering manner to persuade viewers to make purchases. To do this,
featured with attractive sources in ideal settings, and music is often included
television advertising. Because of commercial clutter and the fact that most
viewing occurs in low involvement situations, music in advertising can help
maintain the attention of the audience, thus increasing the likelihood of the
During the period under study, the Republican Party won all of the
except for the 1976 election. Many factors besides advertising or the inclusion
in advertising contribute to winning elections. However, there is evidence that
Republicans employed more conventions associated with entertainment media
(including cinematographic style and background music) than Democrats. In 1976
when Jimmy Carter won the election, a greater percentage of his spots contained
than the Ford spots. It could be that candidates who air a larger percentage of
with music might be generally more systematic in exploiting the advantages of
The attention of the audience can be maintained through their involvement
the characters in an audiovisual presentation. Many types of audiovisual
presentations drama, comedy, and even advertising achieve this through audience
identification with heroes and villains. Political advertising is no exception
to this. The
choice of musical genre, therefore, is an important aspect of production. In
conventions have been established with regard to the connotations of musical
The use of primarily one musical genre could provide a unifying theme and
creation of a consistent image for a candidate. For example, in 1984 and 1988
Democratic candidates used a variety of musical genres in their spots unlike the
Republican candidates who relied on classical music in their spots. In addition
high status enjoyed by classical music, the reliance on one genre helped to make
Republican campaigns seem more focused. It is important that the goal(s) of an
audiovisual presentation be clearly established so that the verbal and the
elements can be combined to provide unity and coherence to the message. The
true of musical elements, such as tonality, tempo, and timbre. These
should be observed so that the music does not distract from the message.
Music can serve as a facilitator by highlighting important aspects of a
A striking example of this occurred 1972 when the Nixon campaign represented
countries nonverbally by not only showing the candidate meeting the people, but
playing music associated with those countries. In these situations, the music
the information being disseminated in the message. Given the fact that (a) the
who are most likely to be influenced by television advertising are undecided
(b) most television viewing occurs in low involvement situations, it would seem
inclusion of music in political television spots could be of benefit to the
This study is a first step in systematically identifying, quantifying, and
the apparent conventions in the background music of tleevision spots,
presdiential campaign spots. By analyzing the occurrence of musical elements
genres within the context of the visual and verbal cues of presidential spots,
provides an understanding of how background music might be used to attract and
maintain the attention of the television audience. In addition, the results of
suggest that, if used carefully, background music can provide aural cues to
candidate's message by highlighting the important points being made in the spot.
Future studies using both qualitative and quantitative approaches can provide a
understanding of the role of music as a facilitary in political advertising.
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Books. Table 1
Percentage of Spots with Music for Each Candidate
Candidate % Spots with Music
Nixon (1968) 45.2%
Nixon (1972) 50%
Carter (1976) 27.3%
Carter (1980) 23.7%
Reagan (1980) 21.3%
Reagan (1984) 76.7%
Use of Music with Visual Style
Visual Style % with Music
Talking head 15.9%
Cin ma verit 30.2%