Chile’s first shot at Oscar gold comes in the form of a comedy-drama that revisits the marketing campaign that helped oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988. Directed by Pablo Larrain, No stars Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal as René, a hotshot ad guy enlisted by the opposition to spearhead the “No” (that is, anti-Pinochet) campaign. Employing rainbows, imagery you’d find in 1980s Pepsi commercials, and the tagline “Chile, happiness is on its way,” the opposition’s ridiculously lightweight messaging appears to convince the country’s majority that “no” is the way to go.
The “no” campaign got us to thinking about other risky and ridiculous political commercials that are so bizarre they could be mistaken for Saturday Night Live sketches, but which, despite that, were taken seriously in their day. Below, browse a selection of other ads we can’t believe actually aired — and, in some cases, helped sway an election.
This gem from Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign against Hubert Humphrey appears to embrace the fringe of American youth, and features Jerry Garcia wearing an American flag hat. Do you think the Grateful Dead frontman approved this ad? Likely not. And if he did, we’re betting he rescinded his support after Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971.
In this slanderous 1964 campaign ad produced by Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, Barry Goldwater, the Republican challenger, is literally in bed with folks who have a fondness for white sheets. Needless to say, this soiled Goldwater’s shot at the Oval Office.
Before he was the king of trailer-trash TV, Jerry Springer had political aspirations. In this 1980 ad to support his run for Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Springer makes an unusual confession. His honesty helped him get elected to the Cincinnati city council in 1975, but this time around, no dice.
In this Bush campaign ad from the 2000 election, a rodent somehow finds its way into Gore’s prescription drug plan.
We can’t resist posting another ad from Nixon. This one is for his re-election campaign in 1972, which saw him running against Senator George McGovern. Nixon was in trouble. His approval rating had dipped below 50%. In an effort to turn things around, he came up with this spot, which could double as an opening to a 1970s sitcom.
Republican Roger Williams handily won Texas’ 25th District seat in the 2012 election. In this comical ad, titled “The Donkey Whisperer,” Williams sends some delightful jabs the Democrats’ way.
Huckabee/Norris 2016. Who’s with us?
Herman Cain, the Tea Party activist from Georgia who made a brief run for the 2012 Republican party nomination, turned out some of the most bizarre campaign ads in American history. Here’s a fine example.
Here’s one that might still be fresh in your memory. In this ad, the Obama camp tar and feather Mitt Romney over his Big Bird blunder during the first presidential debate. Or perhaps the blunder really lies with Obama’s team, for getting a bit too melodramatic about a Sesame Street character.
In 1990, Democrat Paul Wellstone challenged incumbent Republican Rudy Boschwitz for his Minnesota Senate seat. Wellstone (who died tragically in a 2002 plane crash) emerged triumphant thanks to his grassroots efforts, earnest style and quirky ad campaign. In this commercial, Wellstone takes a page from Michael Moore’s Roger & Me. We’re glad this ad worked. RIP, Mr. Wellstone.