Ted Cruz styles himself as the presidential candidate for America’s heartland. But when it comes to his campaign ads, the Texas senator draws heavily on Hollywood values.
Or maybe that’s not quite right. “Hollywood production values, not Hollywood values!” says Owen Brennan, an executive at L.A.-based ad firm Madison McQueen who has helped craft Cruz’s cutting-edge media campaign.
Of all the presidential candidates this cycle, none have released ads inspiring more praise — and more pearl-clutching — than Ted Cruz. From the SNL-inspired “Cruz Christmas Classics,” to the silver-screen melodrama of “Invasion,” to the Office Space parody “It Feels Good to Be a Clinton,” many of the Cruz campaign’s TV spots bring a measure of creativity rarely seen in presidential politics, especially on the Republican side. In close collaboration with a more traditional ad campaign, the unconventional commercials have driven tremendous media buzz and helped the campaign reach GOP voters more effectively than its rivals. In a campaign cycle dominated by Donald Trump’s unending provocations, their ability to arouse the general public’s interest is impressive. Their effectiveness is driven, in no small part, by Cruz’s unusual willingness to play along with his Hollywood handlers.
Sometimes the Hollywood edginess crosses a line. “We’re always looking to be bold and creative with Cruz’s advertising,” says Miller. “But we’re always going to make sure that we’re brand consistent — that we don’t run and do anything that he wouldn’t want to see us advertising with.” His team obviously fell short of that pledge with “Conservatives Anonymous,” an anti-Rubio spot featuring a former soft-core porn star. Cruz’s team quickly pulled the ad, but not before the news media and late-night hosts gleefully mocked the oversight.
It wasn’t the only ad to stir up controversy. “Cruz Christmas Classics,” which featured Cruz’s two daughters, inspired a Washington Post cartoon portraying the girls as dancing monkeys, with their father as the organ grinder. “Invasion,” an ad depicting lawyers and journalists sneaking across the Rio Grande like illegal immigrants, was panned on cable TV. “That’s just a weird ad,” said MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. “That’s not going to connect with anybody.”
#related#The Cruz campaign admits to purposely goading the outrage machine. “We understand the value of B roll,” says Brennan. “You get MSNBC and CNN apoplectic for 48 hours that anybody would have the tenacity to run these ads anywhere. Meanwhile, behind Chris Matthews or behind Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper, our ad is all over!”
Still, loads of free media and glittering production values can’t propel a campaign by themselves. Despite all the attention, Cruz couldn’t take down Donald Trump and a resurgent Marco Rubio in South Carolina on Saturday. If his campaign hopes to regain its post-Iowa momentum by Super Tuesday, it will need a lot more than some Tinseltown magic.
— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter for National Review.