Why would a candidate, running for an important and serious office, run an ad featuring, say, their campaign manager taking a slow pull of a cigarette? Or, I don't know, comparing their opponent to a demon sheep? Or, let's see, maybe even featuring the another former candidate for office wearing gloves and sporting enormous sideburns while being charmingly weird?
Because crazy goes viral, and viral means big publicity, and big money too.
While you might think that acting bizarre would hurt a candidates chances to hold the most powerful office in the country, you would be wrong. The same cultural capriciousness that squelched Howard Dean's presidential dreams has brought over a million YouTube views of Hermain Cain's strange ad. The Daily Beast's John Avlon writes that Cain's campaign saw a spike in fundraising online as well.
Remember Jimmy "the Rent is Too Damn High" McMillan? Of course you do, because who could ever forget him? My most staunchly anti-political friends were all posting his ads all over Facebook. Not because they liked his policies, or his nuanced take on fiscal administration, but because he was, well, hilarious. And it worked. I mean, no, he didn't become governor, but he did get 40,000 votes. And a music tour. And the undying love of a number of New Yorkers, political or otherwise. All he would have to do is declare that he's running for president in the 2012 elections, and he would instantly be all over the media, no spending necessary.
Carly Fiorina won her bid for the Republican nomination against her rival Tom Campbell, depicted as the crazy guy with glowing red eyes. While some of the publicity she got for that ad was negative, her campaign told the Daily Beast in another article that the campaign was "very pleased" with the reaction to the ad, and that it "energized" the campaign. With more than 750,000 views, her ad spawned multiple articles and even a parody video that claims to have been paid for by the "People Against Carly Fiorina Making Political Ads Society" ("Just please stop" it implores at the end).