Herman Cain’s smoking,’ grinning,’ political ad has been the talk of the presidential campaign this week, so it seemed appropriate for Hot Dish to check in with a Minnesota ad guy who knows something about unconventional political ads.
Enter Bill Hillsman, the founder and driving force behind North Woods Advertising, the creator of some of the most attention-getting marketing campaigns of the past few decades, among them “Fast paced Paul (Wellstone)” and “Jesse the Mind (Ventura).”
Hillsman’s reaction to Cain’s smoking campaign manager:  “It’s not a very good commercial. I don’t think it’s good at all, and I don’t think it’s going to do much.”
He also added “dopey,” “amateurish,” and “poorly produced.”
Sure, everybody’s talking about the ad, but Hillsman blames that mostly on the press. “I think you guys are overreacting, because of the smoking thing,” he said.  “I don’t know really what they were trying to do. I don’t think the smoking thing was that big of a deal. Obviously it was thought through, and it’s in there intentionally to give some sort of signal to somebody. But big deal. Here’s a guy who happens to be smoking.”
No doubt, smoking spokesters are rarely if ever used anymore in commercial advertising, but Hillsman doesn’t even give the Cain add points for originality.

“If this is considered creative, I quit,” he said. “This is the furthest thing from creative.”

Nor does the ad do much to sell Cain, in Hillsman’s view: “If commercials like that worked, they’d be running commercials like that on the Super Bowl. But they don’t. It’s not going to be persuasive to anybody. It’s giving him his moment in the sun, but that’s mostly created by you guys.”
Not that Hillsman missed the anti-establishment, anti-government, anti-political-correctness vibe of the Cain ad. “I think they’re trying to intentionally create some sort of controversy on this, so they can say, 'We’re the people who believe in personal freedom and we’re not going to be dictated to, to have somebody tell us you can or can’t have somebody smoke in a commercial, anymore than we think the government or anybody else should be able to tell you whether you can or can’t smoke in real life.’”
But that’s about it. “If you take three steps back and look at it, it’s a lousy commercial,” he said. “Who does commercials featuring their campaign manager unless there’s nobody else they can possibly find to put on camera?… It’s the worst man-on-the-street commercial ever, because they didn’t even go out on the street and find a man. ”
For comparison's sake, here's Hillsman's 1998 ad for Jesse Ventura:

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