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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Adman Behind 'Demon Sheep,' Boxer Blimp Has No Idea How He'll Top This

Posted By on Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Fred Davis' message is simple: "Carly Fiorina, in our opinion, is a more appealing and proper candidate than Barbara Boxer." The Southern California adman has chosen, intuitively enough, to convey said message by depicting Boxer's head swelling grotesquely like Jerry Quarry's after one too many salvos from Muhammad Ali until she becomes a dirigible, crashes through the roof of the Capitol Building, and soars across the Golden State, terrifying racially diverse actors.

"You don't wake up with those thoughts?" says the president and CEO of Strategic Perception, Inc. with a laugh.

To quote Brandt from The Big Lebowski: "That had not occurred to us, Dude."

Tom Campbell, no! Don't tax me, bro.
  • Tom Campbell, no! Don't tax me, bro.
Actually, if you can believe it or not, the Boxer blimp ad started with a focus group. It's a good bet that whomever was impaneled wasn't consulted about their opinions on lighter-than-air vehicles, but they did mention Boxer's ego annoyed them.

A straightforward ad might have simply had the gravel-voiced narrator mention "Her ego has grown so large that she's no longer an effective senator. Well, no one would have noticed that," says Davis. "So, I was thinking of a way to visibly portray [this] and I thought of her head growing and when your head grows it fills with hot air and floats." Davis acknowledged that the ominous, blimp-like device that barked instructions at citizens in the nightmarish cityscape of the film Blade Runner was a major inspiration. It shows.

Of course, airships are filled with helium -- or, disastrously, hydrogen -- and not hot air. And Davis missed out on portraying a helium-filled Barbara Boxer talking like Alvin the Chipmunk. But, then, nitpicking isn't a concern for a man who chose to impart the message that would-be Republican Senate candidate Tom Campbell is a fiscal moderate by portraying him as a red-eyed, demonic quadruped.

The point is, people talked. People gaped. People made easy jokes. But they watched. And Fiorina didn't have to buy any TV ads. And those are expensive -- even if you're playing with Carly Fiorina dollars. And, unlike the demon sheep -- which was such an outright zany idea that many viewers probably have no recollection it was in a commercial about Campbell -- the Boxer blimp literally has Barbara's face on it.

Will we be seeing demon sheep and senators morphing into zeppelins on TV? "Odds are we won't," said Davis. There are some things that work on the Internet that folks getting ready to watch Jay Leno -- and actually looking forward to it -- won't appreciate. Davis has no idea what he'll do next. It remains to be seen how he'll top this. 

click to enlarge Stanislavski be damned, there's no method acting for a scene like this!
  • Stanislavski be damned, there's no method acting for a scene like this!

SF Weekly asked Davis a number of detailed questions about how he filmed the blimp ad -- and he was a good sport. For example, toward the beginning of the piece, Boxer's head swells and she ascends to the top of the Capitol rotunda, she crashes through the dome. We can't help but notice the elderly actors portraying fellow senators hurling themselves beneath the desk in a panic. How do you impart the proper direction to a couple of guys playing a bit part in a Republican attack ad on how to throw oneself beneath the desk with gusto as detritus from the mega-hydroencephalitis-sized head of a three-term senator is making its deadly mark below -- and action!

Well, whatever Davis did sure worked; those guys are ducking as if they were about to receive testimony from Tony Montana. That move was done in three or four takes. And it was executed using a plain old green screen -- the penicillin of all special effects!

On the other hand, the outdoor scenes were not shot via a green screen but via actual set pieces here in San Francisco -- thanks for showering money upon our moribund local economy, Strategic Perception, Inc.! Davis is unsure if the folks pointing skyward and running in horror are local actors or not -- but we sure hope they are. San Franciscans excel at pointing and running; it'd be a shame to bring in out-of-towners to duplicate our efforts.

Finally, responding to the oft-repeated line that his campaign ads of late have begun to resemble drug-induced visions, Davis calmly notes that this is not a very GOP way of looking at things.

"I think that's the way most Dems look at that," he says. "The way to fight [these ads] is to say the message is missed and it's a drug-induced craze.

"I don't hear that from many Republicans."

And that , finally, is a statement coming from the mind of Fred Davis that folks on both sides of the aisle can agree on.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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