This Is the Election on Advertising

Tomorrow brings the season finale of the 2012 election, which means saying goodbye to the endless stream of political ads that flood every commercial break. The ads were mostly traditional fare featuring candidates sniping at opponents with bitter attacks and playground chants, leaving exhausted and disenchanted voters in its wake. This election cycle, though, also had a few hilarious and bewildering campaign pitches, some achieving a surrealist level rarely seen in the never-subtle world of American politicking. We've rounded up the weirdest of this year's political advertisements—if we left out any of your favorites, let us know in the comments, and look out for our list of the lying-est political ads tomorrow.

10. Corn Dogs vs. Status Quo

Incumbent Kristi Noem and Democratic challenger Matt Varilek are vying for a U.S. House seat for South Dakota, and a race that looked like an easy re-election for Noem has turned into a close fight. Noem, who markets herself as South Dakota personified, has thrown increasingly hostile attacks against her opponent onto the airwaves, including a recent one that may have missed the mark:

In short, vote Kristi Noem, because while Matt Varilek was out collecting multiple degrees and discussing policy at the United Nations, as well as becoming an expert corn-dog consumer and layman party architect (regardless of which way your ideological weather vane points, these are all things worth bragging about), your trusty representative was ... still farming. Many viewers on YouTube assumed the ad was endorsing Varilek instead of condemning him, and the Varilek campaign even put it on its website under the headline, "Donate for Corn Dogs!" Campaign Advertising 101: If you run a spot that makes your opponent look like the most interesting candidate in the world, you're doing it wrong.


9. He's Ridden an Ostrich. He's Done Lots of Stuff.

The South Dakota House race was a veritable treasure chest of wacky campaign advertising. Jeff Barth, who ran against Matt Varilek for the Democratic nomination, filmed a five-minute spot in which he recounted exploits that best even Varilek's. The man learned chess in Iceland, rode an ostrich, lived in Germany before and after the Berlin Wall was built as well as in a handful of other countries in Africa and Europe. The best part of the ad is his laundry list of life experiences, which he relates while walking down a dirt path, accompanied by a shaky cam and a motley crew of props. At the end, he shoots off a couple of rounds from his gun into the distance. Unfortunately, he lost to Varilek, so we'll never get to see the beautiful Noem attack ad against Barth that could have been.




Following the grand tradition of California attack ads featuring sheep and the occult, perennial Nancy Pelosi opponent John Dennis debuted an ad this October starring the incumbent representative as a leader of a zombie cult intent on slaughtering an innocent sheep, which Dennis arrives just in time to save. The sacrificial lamb appears to be a metaphor for America, or California voters, but what do we know. Maybe Nancy Pelosi wants to kill the Constitution, or the zombies are Obamacare, hungry for Wall Street's brains. It's all very confusing.

7. Qualifications: Refrains from Peeing on Electric Fences

Roland Sledge, candidate for Texas railroad commissioner (an important role especially given the continuing controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline), is qualified because, unlike all those other people in government, he learns by reading and observation instead of by peeing on electric fences.



6. The Monkey Coke Taste Test

U.S. Representative Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, got his Senate campaign off to a rip-roaring start in April with an ad that managed to include insinuations that Senator Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, was wasting taxpayer money by voting to give monkeys cocaine. The 30-second ad made it sound like the money, which was being used to test the effects of drug abuse, was funding an Animal Planet reboot of The Wire. The ad rolled through a montage of monkey faces so extensive that the likes of it have probably never been seen outside of the BuzzFeed Animal vertical. The ad closes with the doomed to never be a catchphrase "Hey, Bill Nelson, stop monkeying around with our tax dollars."


5. Ad Yoga

Massachusetts's Richard Tisei, in his last election ad in his challenge to the Democratic incumbent, John Tierney, brings voters the relaxing sounds of the Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester at sunset. His reasoning: "Because you need a break from all the campaign ads." The sentiment is nice, but there's also something more than creepy about the long "Ahhhhh, that was nice" that ends the video. 



4, 3, 2, 1. The Cain Mutiny

Last, but never least, is Herman Cain, the most valuable player on the untethered-from-reality division of the political-ad circuit. The Republican presidential contender's first ad to make waves from the sheer force of its nonsensical obtuseness (or is it brilliance? The world may never know) debuted last October. Behold:

What's so magical about this ad? Is it the soundtrack, more patriotic than a Lee Greenwood album on repeat? Is it the irrepressible sensuality of campaign manager Mark Block's mustache and pronouncement that Herman Cain is going to put the united back in United States? Is it the unavoidable truth of his statement that "America has never seen a candidate like Herman Cain?" Is it that all these factors come together at the climax of the ad, when the singer starts belting "I am America" and Block stares into the souls of voters and takes a long puff of a cigarette? Or is it the appearance of the candidate himself at the end of the video, wielding a smile that The Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg called "the creepiest fucking thing I've ever seen"? Let's not prolong the suspense: It is all of these things. Herman Cain's unquestioned reign over avant-garde political airwaves did not end there. 

And we thought Bill Nelson's monkey cocaine was rough. This ad, released by the Cain Connections PAC and not directed by David Lynch, added more advertising gold to the Herman Cain canon. After accusations of animal cruelty, the PAC felt obligated to preface its YouTube video's description with "The goldfish is fine, but our economy isn't." Yeah, we're pretty sure the economy is in a better state than that goldfish right now. In the next Cain Connections ad, Cain expanded his repertoire with an inversion of Monty Python and the Holy Grail's killer bunny. The ad features an Ira Glass look-alike killing a bunny—the bunny is a metaphor for small business, obviously.

In the last of the Cain Connections' ads (for now, anyway), viewers saw a re-enactment of The Birds, only its aim was to terrify undecided voters in Ohio instead of 1960s housewives. I assume we are only days away from Herman Cain announcing his new Fox News anchor gig, or his intention to direct Saw 17, both equally terrifying prospects. Whatever Cain plans next, you can count on political ads in 2016's season topping this year's ads as surely as you can count on America's never-ending stream of pizza

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