Facebook Twitter RSS

And the winner is… Worst political ads named

Date Published: 05/01/2009


And the winner is... Worst political ads named

Star Tribune | May 27, 2004
By Dane Smith

The winner of the "Daisy" award -- the worst TV ad by Democrats attacking Republicans -- was a 1994 mini-drama that showed a beer-drinking truck driver about to crash his semitrailer rig into a station wagon full of cute kids.

This horrifying prospect, it turns out, was based on the fact that GOP Congressman Mac Collins of Georgia committed the sin of owning a trucking company that had been tagged with a number of safety violations over many years.

The winner of the "Willie" award --the worst ad by Republicans attacking a Democrat -- was a 2000 broadside that suggested New York U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Clinton was pro-Palestine and anti-Israel. This charge was based on a video clip of Clinton briefly greeting and embracing a daughter of Yasser Arafat at an official function.

Obviously enjoying the Academy Awards-style send-up, more than 600 Minnesota political types from all major parties yukked it up Wednesday night at the first "Worst Political Advertising in America Awards."

The event at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis was the main draw for a fundraiser for Growth & Justice, a new non-partisan policy organization with a liberal and DFL inclination. Most of the award presenters were DFLers.

But Republicans such as House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, and 2002 Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny, also were featured as presenters. And the skewered targets were roughly equally divided between the two larger parties.

Lee Lynch, a board member of Growth & Justice and an advertising executive who organized the event, said the show was designed primarily to draw as many contributors as possible to the think tank's fundraiser.

"But one of our goals also is raising the level of discourse," Lynch said. "And we chose to highlight this by showing the least civil form of discourse in America, and that's political television ads."

Sviggum said he attended "because I was asked. It was fun. We need to lighten up and not take ourselves too seriously all the time."

Twin Cities adman Bill Hillsman, who has won several legitimate national awards for political advertising, said he thinks the "Worst" awards are "pretty original" and probably a first nationally. He has won several "Pollies," bestowed in Washington, D.C., every two years for creative and effective political advertising, for DFL, Independence and Green Party candidates in Minnesota and nationally.

Daisies and Willies

The "Daisy" gets its name from a legendary TV ad aimed at Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. It featured a little girl plucking a daisy in a field, then shifted to a scene of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear bomb, with the clear suggestion that Goldwater as president would provoke a nuclear holocaust.

The "Willie" has its roots in the George Bush-Michael Dukakis campaign of 1988, when a pro-Bush group launched an ad tying Massachusetts Gov. Dukakis to the parole of a black man, Willie Horton, who later kidnapped a couple, stabbing the man and raping the woman.

Other provocative categories were the worst ad featuring animals and the worst ad featuring animation.

The winner in the animals category was an ad from a North Carolina gubernatorial contest featuring monkeys jumping on a desk. The organizers of the event cited the ad as a classic example of how political ads attempt to ridicule institutions and candidates.

The winner in the animation category was an Internet ad by independent California gubernatorial candidate Arianna Huffington last year. That spot superimposed the faces of all her opponents in all parties, and the faces of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, on the cartoon bodies of prostitutes in a western saloon.

Some people might have found the ad amusing, Lynch said, but "portraying the president and vice president with G-strings and pasties really is tasteless."

Lynch said he hopes that the "Worst" awards becomes a once-every-four-years tradition, but he isn't sure that will happen.

Before the 1996 election, Lynch led a major bipartisan effort to get politicians and parties to clean up and elevate the tone of their ads. But that initiative went nowhere, and if anything, political ads are worse than ever, he concedes.

"I don't predict any improvement in the future in the quality and civility of political commercials," Lynch said.

Growth & Justice was founded by Joel Kramer, former publisher of the Star Tribune and the lieutenant governor running mate of state Sen. Becky Lourey in her unsuccessful bid for the DFL gubernatorial endorsement in 2002.

Lynch, a lifelong DFLer, described the group as "progressive and pro-justice" but also as "pro-business and pro-growth." The group recently released a report identifying public investment in education and training as the most important step to growth and prosperity in Minnesota.

Many of the community leaders on the group's board have ties to the DFL Party and liberal causes. But there also are a few moderate Republicans, including former Congressman Arlen Erdahl and Kris Sanda, a former cabinet official under former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.

Support Our Work