Ad Space – Political Ads Go Dada

You are now entering Ad Space, a realm of commercials, brought before us so we might examine how they work, and discuss why we both love and hate them so. So it is written …

The Product:
Mike Gravel’s 2008 Presidential campaign

The Promotion:

The Pitch:

It’s been a while since we covered a political campaign commercial here on Ad Space. Last time was when Herman Cain promoted their anti-stimulus policies by seemingly killing some cute animals. I made that selection back then because, while most campaign ads are all kinds of irritating, Cain’s approach was so utterly bizarre, it made for a fascinating watch. I’m letting that same impulse guide me today, as we look at perhaps the most infamously strange campaign ad in U.S. history.

We begin with a solid minute of former Senator Mike Gravel staring into the camera with no expression. Then they pick up a stone and throw it into a lake. Then … they just walk away, and the camera keeps running for another minute and a half as the guy it’s supposed to be promoting recedes further and further into the distance. And throughout the whole thing, not a single word is spoken – not one tidbit of information is offered about who this guy is or what, exactly, is being promoted here, beyond the web address “” appearing at the end.

It’s, like, an anti-ad. Not only does it not tell anyone why they should vote for Mike Gravel, but if you were one the dozens of Americans who did want to vote for Mike Gravel (or even just knew who Mike Gravel was), you might be feeling a little more uncertain about that if this is the sorta ad they’d greenlight.

Lots of reporters and pundits took notice of this bizarre ad, and contacted Gravel wanting to know just what the thing was about. And Gravel spun them a story about it being a metaphor, about how throwing the rock into the water showed how one man could cause ripples that make change and such-like.

That was total B.S.

Years later, Gravel would explain that the ad was entirely the brainchild of a couple 24-year-old artists from Southern California. The politician let them design the ad as they saw fit, despite admitting, “I didn’t understand it”. But, of course, they couldn’t say that to reporters while the campaign was still on – you don’t want people to think of you as the President who’ll leave safeguarding nuclear launch codes to the same teenage neighbor they got to set up their Internet router.

And why did those guys Gravel hired design such a bizarre, confusing ad? Well, those were the early days of YouTube and viral videos, and they were looking to make something weird enough that people would share it with their friends and go, “WTF is this?”

And, hey, we’re still talking about it fifteen years later, so: Mission Accomplished.