10 Least Effective Political Ads in History

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Creating an effective political campaign ad is an art. As with any advertising campaign, a good one elicits emotion, makes a lasting impact, and prompts the audience to take action. For example, Lyndon Johnson's "Daisy" ad was highly controversial but still scared Americans from voting for Barry Goldwater. At the time, the country wasn't far removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Goldwater had been quoted as saying, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." It was an opportunity to demonstrate the possible consequences of his leadership — at least according to the Democrats. The ads listed below, inspired by Herman Cain's new "smoking" ad, are memorable for opposite reasons. These are more effective at eliciting laughter and confusion than pushing voters to the polls.

  1. Adlai Steveson, "Ike, Bob, Ike, Bob"

    In 1952, television was just becoming an important medium for political advertising. Eisenhower was adept at making use of concise sound bites for his commercials and campaign advertising in general, a habit Stevenson tried to adopt with the highly annoying "Ike, Bob, Ike, Bob" ad. Attempting to link Eisenhower with Bob Taft by portraying them as lovers, Stevenson's campaign implied the Republican primary opponents were essentially the same candidate. It didn't work, as Eisenhower won the election by about 11 points.

  2. Jerry Springer, "I wish I hadn't done that"

    The life and times of Springer during his early political career might've inspired the idea for his talk show. In 1974, he resigned from the Cincinnati city council after it was discovered that he paid a prostitute with a personal check. Naturally, when he sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1982, the issue resurfaced, and he chose to address it in a minute-long ad in which he expressed regret and his willingness to "take some heavy risks and face some hard truths." He finished third in the race.

  3. Mary Carey, Standing Up for the Adult Industry

    California's 2003 recall election devolved into a freak show, as a number of bizarre, publicity-seeking candidates — such as Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt, and Mary Carey — entered the race. Carey's super-serious campaign included pledges to tax breast implants and implement a "Porn for Pistols" exchange program. She finished in 10th place, behind rivals Coleman and Flynt. As it turned out, it was the beginning of her serious involvement in politics. She subsequently appeared on several television talk shows and has discussed making a serious run for office.

  4. The National Republican Congressional Committee, Phone Sex Line Fiasco

    In the game of politics, dialing a wrong number can result in a viciously deceptive attack ad. Arcuri, the Democratic challenger to incumbent U.S. Representative Raymond Meier in New York, was benefiting from the looming massive Democratic gains in the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee, desperate to save some seats, resorted to lying to sink his campaign. Two years earlier, Arcuri accidentally dialed a phone sex line (800-457-8462), which had a similar number to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services' number (518-457-8462). The incorrect call lasted all of 10 seconds before he hung up. Both candidates denounced the ad, and Arcuri eventually won the race by nine points.

  5. Christopher Knight, The Force Is With Him

    If Knight's goal was merely to garner some much-needed publicity, then this ad was gold. The Rockingham Country school board candidate became the subject of national media attention when he released his Stars Wars-based ad, in which he pledged his faith in the parents and teachers of Rockingham County and his support of athletics and the arts — all while wielding a lightsaber. The Edutopia website, part of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, named it the "Best Campaign Ad Ever." Even still, Knight placed eighth out of 16 in the race, meaning the ad wasn't exactly effective.

  6. Ron Paul, "The High Tide"

    The late 2000s have seen an influx of CGI used in films, particularly action films, which likely appeal to your average Paul supporter. Why would we make that assumption? Well, why else would his campaign produce such a cheesy ad? Made in 2008 when Paul served as the "fringe" candidate in the Republican presidential primary, he remained consistent with his staunch libertarian viewpoint of non-interventionism while appearing in CGI form amid an enormous tide — literally — and hoards of his supporters. Of course, Paul is running again in 2012 and still boasts hoards of loyal grassroots supporters.

  7. Basil Marceaux, "Do my issues"

    There's no quit in Marceaux. A less-than-polished candidate, he has run for office — and lost — multiple times in the state of Tennessee, receiving the most press for his candidacy for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor. The former Marine made some interesting pledges, such as this one on his campaign website: "VOTE FOR ME AND IF I WIN I WILL IMMUNE YOU FROM ALL STATE CRIMES FOR THE REST OF YOU LIFE!" His political ad, which received oodles of hits on YouTube, became a viral sensation and joke of the campaign season. He finished fifth in the primary, earning 3,505 votes, but negative tactics from his opponents may have been his undoing, as it was revealed that he was found not guilty by reason of insanity from seven of 19 misdemeanor traffic infractions. Note: According to Marceaux, his speech is slurred in the video because he has just three teeth.

  8. Rick Barber, Modern Taxation is Slavery

    What's the best way to offend the voting public? Compare something to slavery. Barber, seeking the Republican nomination in Alabama's 2nd congressional district, compared modern taxation to slavery during an ad in which he talks to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. As a bonus, it ends with the singing of the 4th verse of the Star Spangled Banner. Needless to say, Barber didn't win the nomination.

  9. Carly Fiorina, "Demon Sheep"

    Fiorina will always be synonymous with "Demon Sheep" in California, where she soundly defeated Tom Campbell for the Republican nomination for senator in 2010. Her triumph had little to do with the commercial, and a lot to do with Campbell's weak candidacy. Set to dramatic music, the ad compared Campbell to the aforementioned demon sheep by cutting between images of him and the sheep, accusing him of being a Fiscal Conservative In Name Only (FCINO) — like a wolf in sheep's clothing. It instantly became a national mockery, appearing on shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

  10. Herman Cain, Smoking Ad

    The momentum that came with recent news that Cain had taken the lead in another poll was quickly stifled by the release of his weird smoking ad, which features his top advisor Mark Block urging Cain's supporters to get involved "to take this country back." The ad ends with Block taking a drag on his cigarette as dramatic music with the lyrics "I am America" increases in volume. Cain then awkwardly turns toward the camera and smiles. Indicative of his generally disorganized campaign, he has yet to pull or even explain the ad.

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