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10 Dirty And Disturbing Political Campaign Ads

by Marc V.
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The world of politics is a dirty and unforgiving business, so it’s no surprise that people are willing to commit acts of skullduggery to get an edge over the competition. One of those methods happens to be running political advertisements with content way beyond the norms of traditional decency. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t. But in politics, anything goes.

10The Danish Parliament’s Voting Superhero

Danish parliament to vote on controversial migrant bill

To attract young voters in the May 2014 European Parliament elections, the Folketinget (Danish parliament) created a cartoon featuring a muscle-bound bruiser named Voteman who used force to get people to vote. The ad heavily featured sex and gore, including scenes of Voteman having an orgy with several women and then violently shoving and punching people into polling booths. The ad also featured Voteman’s backstory: As a young man, he regretted that he forgot to vote and vowed that he would not let others repeat his mistake.

The ad received so much controversy that the Folketinget pulled it a day after it debuted on YouTube and Facebook. They clarified, however, that they’d only wanted to encourage the youth to be more pro-active in a “humorous way.”

9Paul Ryan Throws A Grandmother Off A Cliff

Granny Off the Cliff

This attack ad, made in 2011 by the progressive group The Agenda Project, illustrated that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed cuts and plan to privatize Medicare would kill off America’s elderly. A well-dressed man, presumed to be Paul Ryan, takes a wheelchair-bound grandmother for a walk in a forest. The scene becomes horrific as Ryan leads the grandmother to a rocky cliff and pushes her off to her death.

The ad garnered great controversy after its release in several stations across the country. Ryan’s hometown station in Wisconsin flat-out refused to air it.

8LBJ’s Ice Cream Girl

LBJ – Ice Cream 1964 Campaign Ad

Remember “Daisy Girl,” that infamous ad by Lyndon Johnson showing a girl counting daisy petals followed by a nuclear explosion? That wasn’t the only outrageous ad LBJ made against rival Barry Goldwater in the 1964 elections.

Playing again on the public perception that Goldwater’s tough right-wing views meant he’d more willingly use nuclear weapons, LBJ and the Democrats ran an ad showing yet another young girl, this time innocently licking an ice cream cone. A voice-over says that children need vitamins, not radioactive fallout. The voice then contends that Barry Goldwater wants to continue and even increase the number of nuclear bomb tests.

Just like “Daisy Girl,” this ad achieved its goal of painting Goldwater as a mad dog, which greatly contributed to his loss to Johnson in the elections.

7Walter Mondale’s Anti-Reagan Nuclear Ad

Walter Mondale – “Teach Your Parents” (Political Ad, 1984)

Ronald Reagan played hardball with the Soviets, so during his 1984 bid for re-election, his opponent Walter Mondale ran this ad claiming Reagan’s policies would trigger the end of the world. Set to “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, it intercuts images of children watching something innocently with shots of nuclear missiles and explosions.

Mondale promised that he’d negotiate with the Soviets to regulate nuclear weapons and ban the deployment of weapons in space. His attempts to rouse fear among voters, however, fell short. Reagan beat him in one of the most lopsided defeats in US election history.

6The Labour Party’s Demonic Eyes

New Labour New Danger Conservative Party Political Broadcast

In a bid to discredit their rivals from the Labour Party just before the 1997 UK elections, the ruling Conservative Party ran an eye-catching yet unsettling advertising campaign called “New Labour, New Danger.” In these ads, the Conservative Party portrayed their rivals as a threat to a peaceful and prosperous UK by depicting them as demonic eyes hiding in the darkness.

The most disturbing thing to have come out of the campaign, however, was a poster superimposing demonic eyes on Tony Blair. While a British advertising journal awarded the creepy image of a demon-eyed Blair the title of campaign of the year, its creators got a stinging rebuke for maligning a political opponent’s reputation.

Unfortunately for the Conservatives, the huge publicity garnered by their campaign did nothing to prevent them from being soundly defeated by Tony Blair and the Labour Party in the elections.

5Richard Nixon’s Psychedelic Anti-Humphrey Video

Nixon attack ad ’68

During the 1968 US presidential elections, Richard Nixon released this ad showing how he claimed the country would fare if his rival Hubert Humphrey won the presidency. The wordless commercial showed images of a smiling Humphrey mixed together with pictures of the Vietnam War and unrest brought on by the civil rights and anti-war movements. Together with the music and the erratic fast-paced cuts between images, the commercial had the subliminal effect of equating Humphrey with America’s problems.

The ad ran on NBC a week and a day prior to the elections. The network received hundreds of complaints about its poor taste. Although the Nixon camp removed the ad, it still garnered publicity later on when the Hunter-Brinkley Report aired it as part of its report on the controversy. Still, Humphrey would soon show the public that he wasn’t above using dirty tactics himself.

4Hubert Humphrey Laughed Maniacally At Nixon’s Running Mate

Humphrey laughing at Spiro Agnew 1968 political ad

In this ad, Humphrey made fun of Nixon’s Vice Presidential pick of Spiro Agnew, a virtual unknown in the political arena save for being governor of Maryland. To bring home the point that Nixon’s running mate was nothing more than a joke, the ad plasters the words “Agnew for Vice-President” on the screen against a man’s maniacal laughter. It ends in a groan and the phrase “This would be so funny if it weren’t so serious.”

Nonetheless, Nixon and the Republicans won the election by a narrow margin. Agnew served as Vice President and would be best known for resigning in 1973 after bribery accusations. Of course, his boss followed in his footsteps only a year later.

3Howard Phillips’s Anti-Abortion Ad

1992 “Phillips For President” Political Ad

Although this 1992 ad by presidential candidate Howard Phillips received less airtime than those belonging to his more-prominent rivals, that didn’t make it any less disturbing. At the start, the ad shows a video of healthy, smiling babies. Then come images of aborted fetuses. Afterward, Phillips admonishes the audience for tolerating abortion while recoiling at the sight of its consequences.

This ad was perfectly in line with Phillips’s views. Once a Republican who felt that that GOP was not conservative enough, Phillips left and formed the US Taxpayers’ Party, which later became known as the Constitution Party. Running on a deeply right-wing platform that includes banning abortion, immigration, and all welfare, Phillips mounted three presidential runs in 1992, 1996, and 2000 without much success.

2The Jean Chretien Face

Jean Chretien “Face Ad”

One of Canada’s most offensive political ads came from then–Prime Minister Kim Campbell and her Progressive Conservative Party against Liberal leader Jean Chretien during 1993’s federal elections. The ad shows several images of Chretien’s face, contorted due to Bell’s palsy. It then asks the audience if they’ll let a man with that face lead Canada and cause a national embarrassment.

Critics condemned the Conservatives for their poor taste. Their faux pas led more sympathizers to go over to Chretien’s camp, ensuring that he and the Liberals later won the election and became the dominant force in the House of Commons. The defeat devastated the Conservatives; they were not heard of again until 2003.

1The Dancing Cossacks

Dancing Cossacks anti Labour party political TV ad

In one of the most effective and infamous political ads in New Zealand history, the New Zealand National Party during their 1975 general elections showed how their rivals, the ruling Labour Party, planned to turn New Zealand into a communist paradise.

Created by Hanna-Barbera, the ad blasted the Labour Party’s mandatory superannuation scheme, which they believed would give Labour enough financial power to buy out the entire country. This purchase would make the government an all-powerful ruling entity modeled after the Soviets, as exemplified by an appearance by dancing Cossacks.

Although the historically incorrect ad (the Cossacks generally hated the communists) only aired twice, it was apparently effective. The National Party won in a landslide victory. New Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was an ardent anti-communist, and his new government abolished the scheme.

Marc V. is always open for a conversation, so do drop him a line sometime.

fact checked by Jamie Frater