Lena Dunham Obama Ad Could Dramatically Backfire on President Obama


The Obama campaign wins the prize for most controversial ad in 2012. Lena Dunham, the creator of HBO’s Girls, describes her first time: "Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody, you want to do it with a great guy." Yes, the beginning definitely sounds like she’s describing that one time she lost her virginity to that badass deodorant-less sk8er boi.

The reaction to this ad is the same as it was with Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandal. It’s been called racy, creepy, vile, hideous, tasteless, and cringe-worthy. The right has concluded that the ad degrades the presidency. 

In the world of politics and family values, the ad might just be all of those adjectives. This ad is possibly even an embarrassing new low for politics; there never really seems to be a floor. But on a general level, this ad isn't shocking. Content like this isn’t just on HBO — turn on prime time programming on CW or Fox. The real question is whether this ad will work.

It might. Sex sells.

And so does peer pressure. As much as our culture says it abhors bullying of every kind, lunch break peer pressure works. The point of the ad was not that voting is admirable. The message of Dunham’s video is simple: if you vote for Barack Obama, you’re cool. If you vote for Mitt Romney, you’re a loser. Lena Dunham even makes fun of people who don’t vote, comparing them to virgins saving themselves: “No, I didn’t vote, I wasn’t ready.”

I haven’t heard a message like that since I was a high school freshman.

The message will sell Barack Obama to the viewers of HBO’s Girls: 1.1 million twenty-something year old women. Whoever gave the stamp of approval to this ad knows that this audience will buy into the president just like they bought Uggs, Victoria’s Secret’s sweatpants, and Northface jackets.

Whatever else this ad might be, it is definitely a gamble. The Obama campaign is gambling that those girls just beginning their lives will get themselves out of bed on a cold Tuesday morning to pull the lever for the ‘cool’ president. Millennials turned out at the polls in 2008 at a record percentage of 46%. Sure, the 44% of new grads who are unemployed or underemployed might not buy into the superstar status that Obama had four years ago. But they might show up for Lena, she’s the voice of a generation.

On the other hand, this ad might just backfire. If this ad is limited to twenty-somethings on Youtube, it might be worth the gamble. Outside of that target audience — as a discussion point on the evening news channels — the ad just appears vulgar. Some are already questioning whether President Obama would let his daughters see an ad with a message like this. If the undecided voters in the swing states are exposed to Dunham's pitch, this ad might cost more voters than the Obama campaign is willing to lose.