Obama Infomercial Had to Tell Story, Team Says

Nov 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

It turns out President-elect Barack Obama’s half-hour network TV campaign advertisement, which drew rave reviews and an audience of 33.5 million viewers, came together in little more than a month.
Now that the election is over, production details of the Oct. 29 ad are coming out and they are again demonstrating how unique the spot was.
Mark Putnam, a partner at the political advertising firm of Murphy Putnam, played the lead role in creating the infomercial, which was produced in the offices of GMMB, one of the campaign’s ad agencies. He also wrote the show’s script with input from campaign adviser David Axelrod and campaign manager David Plouffe.
“They called a month and two days before it was going to air and said, ‘We are buying this half-hour. Can you do it?’” said Mr. Putnam.
Mr. Putnam had produced the 6½-minute film introducing Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention and worked with Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Plouffe four years ago on ads for the Democratic National Committee. He was already part of the Obama ad team.
“I look for the emotion in a story, not just a set of political talking points,” Mr. Putnam said.
The team immediately knew it didn’t want to follow the format used the last time a presidential candidate—Ross Perot—bought extended TV time.
Mr. Putnam said he knew right away the show needed a story structure to keep people interested but also had to get across some ideas.
“The main goal was to show people that Barack had a plan, substantive and detailed. … To get people to know Barack, his story and how it mirrored the country,” he said. “Third, we wanted people to see him as presidential.”
Campaign ad-team leader Jim Margolis of GMMB called the program “tremendously beneficial.”
“He nailed it. Barack Obama looked presidential and we told these wonderful stories and 33.5 million people watched, meaning it proved economical in reaching Americans.”
Mr. Putnam said the ad left little room for second acts.
“I don’t know if anyone will ever do something like this again. It was a chance to do a half-hour film and have 33 million people watch it and elect a transformational candidate. There is no way to repeat that. How do you top that?” he said.


  1. I heartedly applaud Mr. Obama for using the half hour format. And, the agency for pulling it together on short notice.
    However, as a brand infomercial pioneer, I was disappointed in the dullness of the advertisement and have found that this sense was shared (anecdotally) by a wide range of people I’ve encountered since it ran.
    That’s too bad because it was a bit of a lost opportunity to deliver a convincing late-campaign presentation (the Obama infomercial running on Dish Network was much more compelling).
    Fortunately, Mr. Obama avoided catastrophe. But he also didn’t get the “win” from the half hour buy that he should have.
    Doug Garnett
    Atomic Direct

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