Fresh from their much-discussed, often ridiculed and ubiquitously hyperlinked “Demon Sheep” political ad, the Carly Fiorina campaign has released a new and similarly Pythonesque political video. Yet unlike the “Demon Sheep” ad of yore, which focused on Fiorina’s primary rival Tom Campbell as a target for its unique brand of scorn, the new ad, titled “Hot Air the Movie” is more clearly an anticipation of the general election, for it focuses its creatively delivered barbs exclusively against Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, the incumbent, while also emphasizing the accomplishments of Ms. Fiorina.
As with the “Demon Sheep” ad, however, this seemingly conventional choice to hurl slings and arrows at the incumbent while adulating the attributes of the challenger finds an entirely unique means of expression in “Hot Air.” Already nicknamed the “Boxer Blimp” ad, the ad begins in the style of an epic horror movie a la Godzilla, wondering aloud darkly about where Sen. Barbara Boxer (who is referred to in the opening as “it”) came from.
Why the ad’s narrator refers to Boxer by this depersonalizing object pronoun becomes clear roughly a minute into the video, as Boxer is shown to grow several stories tall, with her head coming unglued from the rest of her body and transforming into an aerodynamic object vaguely resembling a blimp, with television monitors attached to all sides and smoke spouting from the back of Boxer’s now gigantic head. The head-blimp then proceeds to fly over a number of recognizable locales in California, repeating inconvenient gaffes made by Boxer while casting ominous shadows over the heads of horrified spectators.
Needless to say, this extremely unconventional ad is sure to garner a good amount of media attention, including what will probably be a similar array of half-mocking, half-admiring comments to those garnered by the Demon Sheep ad. However, unlike its predecessor, which was dismissed by large numbers of media commentators as an unintentionally hilarious campaign blunder, the “Boxer Blimp” is a surer sign that the Fiorina campaign has committed itself to a political strategy of refuge in audacity.
Whether this strategy will pay off is anyone’s guess, but it certainly shifts the political landscape identifiably and will give Fiorina’s competitors an unexpected challenge in achieving exposure. If Fiorina continues to hog the spotlight by continually shocking the media with her ads, it is easy to see her crowding out the other candidates, thus forcing a shift away from conventional advertising.
However, it is not clear that hogging the spotlight in this manner helps Fiorina. The Huffington Post reports that, in the aftermath of the Demon Sheep ad, “Tom Campbell has opened up a lead over Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore in the U.S. Senate race according to the M4Strategies poll for the Small Business Action Committee. In a survey of 427 high-propensity Republican voters conducted last week, Campbell received 32% of the vote to Fiorina's 18.5% and DeVore's 11%.”
Thus, while Fiorina’s campaign may have a great deal of fun manufacturing such intentionally provocative material, critics could easily make the argument that the reason conventional political advertising is so widely used is because it works. Current polling makes the prognosis on the effectiveness of the “Boxer Blimp” impossible to issue with certainty, but if the reaction to the “Demon sheep” is any guide, Fiorina should expect the ad to only put a puncture in her campaign’s sails.