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Mark Z. Barabak in San Francisco
Los Angeles Times (latimesblogs.latimes.com) Political
February 5th, 2010
Fred Davis — the man who introduced vermin, Paris Hilton, bad hair and now demonic mutton into our political discourse — is a bit taken aback by the reaction to his latest creation.
"More sheep in my day than I was expecting," he said after sorting through messages from reporters across the country, all of them wanting to talk about the online video — an instant cult classic — he created for Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina. "You certainly never know what's going to catch on."
To recap, the spot assails rival Tom Campbell as a profligate wolf in fiscal-conservative-sheep clothing. (Yes, that's a tortured description, but the three-minute, 21-second production must be seen to be appreciated. Somewhere Monty Python is chortling. Or not.)
Much of the response has been of the what-were-they-thinking variety, though Davis says, by his estimation, the reviews have been split 50-50. Regardless, he notes that plenty of people are talking about the ad, which has been broadcast nationally on cable TV and viewed on YouTube nearly 150,000 times.
"My goal is to get things noticed," he said. "The best you can hope for is water cooler talk. People are blasting it as the most insane ad ever. Others are calling it a stroke of genius. If, when the furor dies down, they simply remember they should maybe question whether Tom Campbell is telling them the truth, then it will have been a success."
Davis, who has the commendable habit of not taking himself too seriously, operates with the instincts of a political guerrilla (think Abbie Hoffman, not Che Guevara), often wielding humor as his weapon of choice.
He was the man behind the flashbulb-popping 2008 ad comparing celebrity-candidate Barack Obama to Paris Hilton. (It was the most effective John McCain spot of the campaign, as Team Obama grudgingly conceded.) More recently, he created a loopy ad for Andy McKenna, a GOP candidate for Illinois governor, placing the luxuriant mane of the disgraced Rod Blagojevich on men, women, children and even the Capitol dome in Springfield. (McKenna finished third in Tuesday's primary.)
But the closest comparison to the Fiorina spot — in both its feral audacity and the response — is the infamous commercial that Davis created in the 2002 Georgia governor's race for a little-known, underfunded farmer named Sonny Perdue. The ad showed a giant rat — with a gold crown and bling spelling "King Roy" — marauding Godzilla-like across the Georgia countryside and scaling the state Capitol.
A "shameful display of bad judgment" — "sad and disappointing," said Gov. Roy Barnes' campaign manager. Others denounced the spot as just plain weird, which it was.
"Last I checked, Sonny Perdue was governor of Georgia," Davis said.
So the latest barrage of ridicule concerns him not at all.
"When you're in a state where it costs $5 million to run a 30-second ad statewide… you have to think differently. You have to think outside the box," Davis said. "It's tough to get the attention of people in California. This has caught the attention of people across the country."
For the record, the role of the stealth sheep was placed by a nameless crew member. "Not a professional sheep impersonator," Davis said, "or anything like that."
In fact, the auteur in him practically apologized for the low-budget production.
"The rat costume cost about $20,000" Davis said, sounding almost wistful. "This one probably cost $200."
And just in case you haven't seen the ad yet, you can watch it below.