Warm response for $4m Obama 'infomercial'

Leonard Doyle
Thursday 30 October 2008 08:01 GMT

Barack Obama used a prime-time half-hour "infomercial" last night to speak to a national audience of millions as he attempted to control the political discussion in the final eight days of the presidential election campaign.

Shot in documentary style, with soaring orchestral music and even a clip of Senator Obama speaking from a mock Oval office, the documentary also focused on ordinary struggling Americans in from battleground states.

It went out simultaneously on seven networks, CBS, NBC, FOX, BET, Univision, MSNBC and TV One and cost the Obama campaign roughly $4 million (£2m).

Full of presidential imagery and carefully lit scenes of real life in suburban American, it was filmed by Davis Guggenheim, whose father shot documentaries for Robert F. Kennedy's short-lived presidential campaign.

The film focused on some of the hard-luck stories of working families in Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado states where Mr Obama is locked in a final struggle with John McCain. After some 28 minutes of documentary footage, in a feat of some technical brilliance, it cut to a live rally Mr Obama was holding in Florida.

The McCain campaign harshly criticised the documentary saying it was presumptuous. Spokesman Tucker Bounds said: "As anyone who has bought anything from an infomercial knows, the sales-job is always better than the product. Buyer beware."

But it received generally favourable reviews. The Obama campaign said it wanted to create a focus for the remaining days of the campaign and to present voters with an image of the candidate looking presidential, hoping that it will encourage them to send him to the White House

The 30 minute film mixed views of Mr Obama speaking to a huge crowd at the at the Democratic National Convention as well as scenes of ordinary Americans discussing their economic problems. There were also testimonial by politicians and business executives, including Google's CEO Eric Schmidt.

At one point in the documentary Mr. Obama is seated with white, working-class voters at a kitchen table and says: "We've seen over the last eight years how decisions by a president can have a profound effect on the course of history and on American lives; much that's wrong with our country goes back even farther than that."

The ad also showed his wife, Michelle as well as scenes of his family life with his two daughters. There were also photos of his black father from Kenya, whom he only met for one month and images of his white mother from Kansas.

Mr Obama used the story of his mother's early death from cancer to make the point that the US health care system is broken. He also focused on the troubles of the US car industry, putting a human face on people who have recently been laid off or had their hours cut back.

Mr Obama said that while America's problems predate President Bush's eight years in office, the economic meltdown of recent weeks was a "final verdict on eight years of failed policies."

Much of the footage was shot by Davis Guggenheim, the director and executive producer of Al Gore's global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Mr Guggenheim also produced and directed the HBO series "Deadwood."

Earlier in the day while taping an appearance on the satirical Daily Show Mr Obama said he had to reassure one of his daughters that the commercial would not pre-empt all programming.

"I was describing this to Michelle and my daughters, and Malia, who's 10, said, 'Hold up a second. Are you saying that my programs are going to be interrupted?' I said, 'No, we didn't buy on Disney.' So she was relieved."

Politico's Ben Smith praised the "infomercial" saying it was a well executed dramatic gesture that made Obama's case to an enormous audience.

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