The Strangest Campaign Ads of 2011

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.

Lost amid all the "smoking man" buzz, Cain's camp served up another surreal slice of campaign art ( The Atlantic described it, spot-on, as a "Dadaist meta-western). Titled He Carries Yellow Flowers, it starts with subtitles reading: "There was a time in America when a man was a man, a horse was a horse, and a man on a horse was just a man on a horse ... unless he carried yellow flowers."

Describing it is probably going to sound like a stoned film student pitching a project, but here goes: A cowboy (played by character actor Nick Searcy ) gets harassed and spit on by a group of tough guys (they identify themselves as liberals) who a moment earlier were harassing a young woman carrying a chicken. A fight breaks out then, as a punch is about to be thrown, the action stops and -- a la Blazing Saddles -- a camera pullback reveals that this is a movie set.

Searcy walks away from the action, insults the crew, demands "no eye contact," and addresses the camera about how terrible teleprompters and community organizers are. Then, after telling us what a great guy Cain is, he returns to the set, forgets his lines and harasses the poor girl himself: "Nice chicken."

As disjointed as this all sounds, the actual video is far more so.

Rick Perry's controversial Iowa ad, Strong, is jaw-dropping for more direct reasons. It isn't surreal like Cain's oeuvre; its craziness comes from the apparent need for Perry to cram as many red meat conservative buzzwords as possible into the few seconds he had.

"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian," he says. "But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I'll end Obama's war on religion."

Surprisingly, Perry wasn't able to squeeze in Obamacare and Sharia law between breaths.

You know things are bad when even the supporters in an ad don't know who the candidate is.

A series of ads released by GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, leading up to his announcement he would run, featured an actor we were meant to believe was him. Day by day, we gleaned tiny bits of Huntsman trivia. He once had a rock band named Wizard. He "rides motocross to relax."

One ad produced for his benefit in New Hampshire by the Our Destiny PAC sings his praises (experience, true conservative values) then ends -- with the line viewers will remember most -- with an older man pondering: "Why haven't we heard of this guy?"

Nothing instills confidence quite like the admission that your base hasn't been paying any attention to the election and that you've done a terrible job making yourself known to them.

There was new inspiration this year for the GOP's Fred Davis, the viral video mastermind behind the "demonic sheep" ads former Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) CEO Carly Fiorina ran against Republican primary challenger Tom Campbell during her 2010 Senate race in California.

No, it isn't a collaboration between Tech9 and Tim & Eric. This over-the-top ad railing against California Congressional candidate Janice Hahn, a Democrat, crams racial stereotypes, gang violence, Grand Theft Auto-worthy strippers and cameo appearances by a dream team of serial killers and mass murderers.

We hate to keep picking on California, but what else can we do thanks to Democratic Congressional Candidate Dan Adler. His Rudy parody with Sean Astin was amusing enough ...

But then he hit us with scenes of his young son on a basketball court bragging to classmates that his dad "gets s**t done."

Still not weird enough? Then how about actress Patty Duke, spotted by Adler as she lifts weights flanked by two aging body-builders in all-revealing Speedos, spitting out the same catchphrase? Watch at your own peril.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

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