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Are bad campaign ads the new norm? We asked the guy with the worst one of the 2018 cycle.


Dan Helmer knew he would need to do something out-of-the-box to stand out in a crowded Democratic primary field in Virginia's 10th Congressional District, so last month his campaign released this ad.

It was dubbed the worst campaign ad of the 2018 cycle.

Even late night comedy host Stephen Colbert mocked Helmer's ad.

But for all the negative attention, Helmer's "Top Gun" parody did exactly what it was supposed to do: it got his name out there.

In fact, Google searches for Helmer's name have soared past the number of searches for his opponents in the Democratic primary and have also outpaced searches for Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock.

"I mean, people love to hate stuff. But, I actually think that yes there's a lot of that, there's a generation of people who don't know that we're in on the joke. But we enjoyed it," Helmer said in an interview.

"We knew all along that this was fun and it was interesting, we were gonna let our hair down. And, so yeah there were gonna be people who hate it. There are people who love it. We've seen a lot of that too. And, we're excited that people are talking about a really important race right now," he said.

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It definitely got people talking. In just one week after Helmer's ad dropped online, it had nearly half a million views on YouTube and Google searches for Helmer's name have outpaced searched for his opponents in the last 30 days.

There's no such thing as bad press right? As long as people are talking about you? That's a strategy we've seen before. Donald Trump was a master entertainer on the 2016 campaign trail, and it helped set him apart from the crowded Republican primary field.

Michael Cohen, a professor at George Washington University whose research focuses on political messaging, social media and public opinion, said that what works for Trump doesn't always work for other candidates.

That's because, while Trump was a political newcomer, he still had decades of experience as a successful entertainer and came into the race with a well-cultivated brand.

But Cohen says despite this, we can expect to see more political candidates attempting to use humor and other unique strategies to stand out.

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"To break through all of the media clutter, you have to somehow find a way to go viral," Cohen said. "And what you're going to see is some situations that work really well, like with the ad with the woman saying, 'Please take my husband and let him be elected so he can get out of the house,' which was fantastic. And then you'll see the flip side of it which was the Tom Cruise send-up."

Cohen was referring to a campaign ad for Travis County Commissioner candidate Gerald Daugherty featuring his wife Charlyn.

Helmer said he's not sure whether viral campaigning is the new norm, but said he's glad the ad has received so much attention.

"That was first and foremost in our mind. How do we get people to be interested in the ideas we're presenting, which is, let's not be the same manicured coiffed politicians who hide who they truly are, who won't talk about what their real feelings are, who pretend they don't sing bad when they do Karaoke," Helmer said.

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