RSS
8 campaign ads that spoof pop culture
Politicians looking for a viral-video success are producing ads that riff on everything from "Glee" to the Old Spice Guy
 
Daniel Freilich, the independent U.S. Senate candidate for Vermont, spoofed the "Old Spice Man" commercials.
Daniel Freilich, the independent U.S. Senate candidate for Vermont, spoofed the "Old Spice Man" commercials.
YouTube

Political candidates facing a cluttered media landscape are concocting ever more outlandish ways to attract attention. One increasingly popular route: Co-opt a pop-culture meme to produce a campaign video that goes viral  and instantly raise your profile. As the following mix of videos from this and other election years demonstrates, it's a risky, occasionally quite diverting, formula:

1. Jerry Brown, The Most Interesting Man in California
This ad for the California gubernatorial candidate riffs on the Dos Equis commercials featuring "The Most Interesting Man in the World" — and seems unafraid to bestow the same superlative on Brown. The short spot was paid for by the state Democratic Party, and concludes with the line: "Stay Jerry, my friends."
What the pundits say: Brown's supporters must be pretty confident to air this commercial, says Debra J. Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle. "You can always tell when a candidate thinks he has it in the bag... when his people can laugh without crying."

 

 

2. Pat Quinn appeals to the Gleek vote
Days before the 2010 elections, the Illinois governor has released an attack ad inspired by the Fox show "Glee." Taking aim at his opponent's views on social issues, not to mention his pick for lieutenant governor (a 28-year-old), the ad mimics the editing, voiceover, and rapid-fire delivery of the popular FOX show's opening credit recaps ("what you missed on 'Glee'").
What the pundits say: It's a "brilliant recap of everything you most definitely missed" in this year's Illinois gubernatorial race, says Matt Wilstein at Gotcha Media. "Extra points for the random Billy Madison clip."

 

 

3. Daniel Freilich, the candidate your man could smell like
In this spot, the independent U.S. Senate candidate for Vermont tries to piggyback on the enormous success of the "Old Spice Man" marketing juggernaut — but doesn't quite deliver the same production values. Freilich's video has been viewed 69,500 times. The Old Spice Man? 15.8 million views, and counting.
What the pundits say: "Nothing quite compares to the embarrassment of the dreaded spoof video," says Steven Jessop at Mediaite, "and unfortunately for Vermont Senate hopeful Daniel Freilich, no one filled him in on that."

 

 

4. The RNC vs. Democrats: "Pulling a Steven Slater"
Taking inspiration from the JetBlue flight attendant who became a viral phenomenon after popping a plane's emergency chute to escape from his job, the Republican National Committee imagines Democrats popping the chute of Air Force One to escape the taint of the President's unpopularity. 
What the pundits say: The "beauty of this ad" is that it works whether you think Steven Slater is a jerk or not, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. "And after all, it's true; Democrats are running away from the President"

 

 

5. "24" years in the life of Chuck DeVore
Earlier this year, DeVore, a Tea Party favorite who was vying to be the Republican candidate for a California senate seat, unwisely chose a cancelled TV series — Fox's "24" — as a framing concept to illustrate his two-dozen years of experience in the military and overseas work. Sadly for DeVore, voters cancelled him in June, opting for his rival Carly Fiorina. 
What the pundits said: This "astoundingly goofy" ad claims that "24" main character Jack Bauer is a "real person that Chuck DeVore once knew," says Jason Linkins at The Huffington Post. How dumb does he think California voters are? 

 

 

6. Huckabee, Arkansas Ranger
In the midst of the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, Huckabee enlisted "Walker, Texas Ranger" star Chuck Norris, a friend and fellow conservative, to help him pitch his credentials with this spot based on a popular website that celebrates the macho merits of Norris' iconic character.
What the pundits said: This "bow to pop culture" got Huckabee's name out there, said Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post, but simply "putting Chuck Norris in an ad" is not the most persuasive way to convince people that you're presidential material.

 

 


7. The Clintons' Sopranos song

While unveiling the theme song for the former First Lady's presidential campaign (Celine Dion's "You and I"), Bill and Hillary Clinton parodied the infamous final scene of HBO's "The Sopranos" in June 2007.
What the pundits said: While Kate Phillips at The New York Times singled out this "great spoof" as a standout ad of the presidential race, blogger Ann Althouse was less convinced: "Bill is a much better actor than Hillary, and this heightens the sense that she's a pale substitute for the old President we can no longer have."

 

 

8. Ralph Nader's "priceless" MasterCard ad
Back in 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader borrowed the format of the well-known MasterCard commercials for a presidential campaign ad. Alas, the only success it brought Nader was in the courts four years later — when he escaped a lawsuit filed by MasterCard, alleging that the liberal politician was guilty of trademark infringement. 
What the pundits said: "Apparently there are some things money can't buy, including a sense of humor," said Kaitlin Quistgaard at Salon.

 

 

This article was originally published on August 24, and updated on October 28

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week