BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- Campaign ads were once a staid affair. A candidate might lay out their opinion on a given matter, maybe slam an opponent, then declare they "approve this message."
Like so many things in life, the Internet has injected a dose of over-the-top, often bizarre behaviors to the process.
No longer do campaign ads have to meet the timing and content requirements of TV and radio stations. They now have the option of tapping the Web as a distribution channel.
There is still plenty of money being spent on traditional commercials. As of last week, nearly $6 million had been spent on ads in Iowa, setting the stage for that state's Jan. 3 caucuses.Going online, however, offers candidates on-demand viewers and the chance to -- just like Rebecca Black and the honey badger -- go viral. Adding to the creative chaos is a flood of Super PAC-sponsored ads owing to a Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited fundraising and spending capabilities. No longer requiring direct candidate input or approval, analysts expect advertising to reach an all-time high during next year's presidential and congressional races. Looking at some of the most head-shaking, bizarrely produced campaign ads of 2011, the most-talked about is, hands-down, the infamous Herman Cain spot ending with his chief of staff, Mark Block, dragging on a cigarette, an action punctuated by a shot of the one-time presidential candidate's delayed, creepy smirk. Almost everything about the ad makes you wonder if it was all a put-on. While it did exactly as intended -- grabbing tons of media attention -- it was a head-scratching scene of near self-parody.