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Opinion: So What? Herman Cain's 'Smoking' Ad is His Beatles Moment

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 - 02:57 PM

The summer after high school my friends and I did the requisite driving around Brooklyn while blasting music out of our car windows. We were going through a pretty serious Beatles phase, just in time for college, when we came across a song by them we hadn't heard before.

It was "You know my name, look up the number." We sat quietly in my car as it played and when it was over there was only one thing to be said: the Beatles had to be joking. What was that?! We concluded that after years of making excellent music enjoyed by the masses the Beatles realized that people will buy, and love, everything they make no matter how ridiculous. To test this theory they put out a song which was a big, steaming pile of...not very good music.

I remembered this sensation while watching Herman Cain's now-infamous "smoking" ad. In it, Herman Cain's Chief of Staff, Mark Block, talks about taking the country back and how he believes in Herman Cain. A fine ad, an impassioned ad, a slightly odd ad, sure, because who features their Chief of Staff in their campaign ads but generally staid. And then Mark Block takes a long drag of his cigarette as a rock song plays "I am America..." and everyone watching collectively asks "what is this?"

It feels like the Beatles all over again. Herman Cain's polling numbers are out of this world for a candidate with no money, little organization and no previous political experience. He crushes debates. He's the candidate most voters would like to invite to dinner. I've been in small crowds and big crowds with Herman Cain and he is always electrifying. He is charming, affable, extremely likable. It seems like his campaign team decided to see how weird they could get, perhaps to get earned media, perhaps just for the fun of it, perhaps to see just if Herman Cain was made of Beatles-level-teflon.

I've been on campaigns and it's true that most people smoke. What else were we supposed to do when we're up at 5am, it's still dark out, it's always freezing no matter where we are, and we haven't slept more than 4 hours a night in months. This ad, though, wasn't about that.

It wasn't about how hard Mark Block works for Herman Cain, how he probably hardly sees his family during campaign season and how the five minutes every few hours where he smokes a cigarette might be his only free time of the day. Listening to Herman Cain explain the ad, something about Block respecting non-smokers and making the choice to smoke, it's clear that it wasn't about anything, just like "You know my name, look up the number.", and both Beatles-fans and Cain-fans deserve better.

Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Brooklyn, Karol Markowicz is a public relations consultant in NYC and a veteran of Republican campaigns in four states. She blogs about politics at Alarming News and about life in the city with her husband and baby at 212 Baby. She can be followed on Twitter.

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Comments [11]

CJ from NYC

This ad shows poor judgement. A leader and opinion maker is shown smoking. Ads and the media influence the populace and children. Smoking kills and also costs our country millions of dollars annually in health care costs. Smokers show a complete disregard for the health of others by subjecting everyone in their environment to secondhand smoke and by littering our cities, towns and parks with their cigarette butts.

Oct. 31 2011 10:36 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Wow, Karol, MartinC has just proven that -- like those spiders in Lost in Space - y'all do eat your wounded so you had better stay healthy!!

"You Know My Name" was the B-side to "Let It Be" and even though I was only 13 when it was released, I knew it was a joke. The Beatles were like that...big enough not to have to give a sh*t about every song they put out. I am presuming that you are a lot younger than me or you'd have known it right away, too.

Go check youtube for the Bad Lip Reading version of a Herman Cain ad for some more laughs.

Oct. 30 2011 05:12 PM
Allen from NYC

Like several others already have, my comment is about the Beatles analogy... You didn't and don't understand a piece of art like "You Know My Name." Yes, it was a joke, but they wrote plenty of joke songs (like "Wild Honey Pie" and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"). It was supposed to be absurd, and it's enjoyable for that very reason. You do realize that they were injesting large amounts of marijuana and, in the cases of John and George, LSD throughout their mid-later years, right?

Love the smoking ad, but it can't beat the one where the guy throws the rock in the lake.

Oct. 28 2011 01:40 AM
Jamie W

Did Martin C. just call you a left-winger?!? That made me laugh so hard.

I thought your analogy was pretty accurate. You're not comparing Cain to the Beatles (A to B), instead you're comparing one Beatles song to the rest of the Beatles catalogue and then comparing that differential to Cain's ad vs. Cain's campaign (A to A) to (B to B).

Frankly, I think Cain is a lightweight who won't last through primary season and would get slaughtered vs. Obama in a debate. These early fights only serve the purpose of shoring up the talking points for the eventual candidate (Mitt Romney or Rick Perry) when he gets to the real battle.

Obama will end up killing anyone the Repubs currently have anyway. Unless a Dark Horse candidate comes onto the national stage late, the White House remains with the Dems. If the conservatives want to save their agenda, they'd be better off concentrating their fund-raising in the House and Senate and put up a sacrificial lamb for the Presidency.

Oct. 27 2011 09:52 AM

It seems as if each week finds the constellation of Republican stars with a different lucida.

I find it easier to set, say, July of 2012 as a date to check the candidate field and see how things are going. By that time, much of the shuffling about on the leaderboard will have ceased.

Oct. 27 2011 08:19 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Karol-
I don't ever see parodies of Obama's ads on WNYC/NPR or the other water carriers for the Dems!!!
Cain has Teflon from attacks ??!!
I don't see anyone mentioning that the REAL "Teflon Boy" is Obama....and has been since he came onto the political stage. He is untouchable.

You are another left-wing pathetic hypocrite>

Oct. 27 2011 06:55 AM
Evan from Brooklyn

The Cain campaign: Blowing smoke.

Oct. 26 2011 06:11 PM
john mchugh from gainesville , ga

being a consumate beatles fan i must respectfully disagree about "you know my name look up my number" the B side of "let it be." I love the song...I think its brilliant and truely one of my favorite beatle songs of all time. One of the Rolling Stones is featured as the sax player.
Regardless of the message of the ad...it was a brilliant marketing tool for a candidate with limited funds. It is all the buzz and he didn't pay a penny for it...and that smirky smile at the end by cain...as my mother would say...crazy like a fox, and a method to his madness. jm

Oct. 26 2011 05:17 PM
Karol from NYC

D Eaves, I think Cain is pretty awesome and even if you don't you have to give him a lot of credit for pretty much coming out of nowhere and becoming something of a frontrunner (even if it doesn't last). The comparison is that he was running so well that his team didn't mind taking a chance with this kind of crazy ad just the Beatles could take a chance with a crazy song.

Oct. 26 2011 05:03 PM
Bad Politics

Herman Cain meets the Smoking Man:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZQDd_d7fzY

Oct. 26 2011 04:36 PM
D Eaves from NYC

An absurd analogy on its face. Comparing a Republican presidential candidate's flash in the pan popularity to the Beatles. And Cain on his best day produces nothing that nears the quality of the worst stuff the Beatles ever did.
Lennon rolls in his grave...

Oct. 26 2011 04:11 PM

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