Sleuth in Advertising


It’s the sad truth: Many Texans cast their votes based on political ads running incessantly on prime-time television. To give viewers some perspective on this season’s crop of campaign commercials, embittered ad man Tyler Stoddard Smith raises an eyebrow (a genetic “defect” common in geniuses and wolverines) and takes an objective look at the content and the effectiveness of Bill White’s and Rick Perry’s latest.

The Ad: “A Perry Home Companion”

Paid for by: Bill White and the Facebook group, “Whatever happened to C. Thomas Howell?”

Description: This ad begins with the ominous timbre of a once-esteemed actor doing voice-over work to pay the bills. “He’ll cut the budget for kids and old folks, but not his wine list,” intones C. Thomas Howell of Red Dawn and Soul Man fame. The ad then berates Gov. Perry for living in an opulent, state-funded shooting-gallery-cum-mansion outside of Austin while cutting funding for schools and nursing homes.

Analysis: To the outsider, the message might appear black and white. In fact, it’s more red and white. The accusation that Perry refuses to cut his wine list at the expense of Texas schoolchildren is only partially true. Yes, Perry recently placed an order for a case of 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvée Laurence, Domaine du Pegau, but the ad doesn’t tell you Perry parted with two bottles of scrumptious 1997 Nuits-Saint-Georges, Aux Murgers, Meo-Camuzet as a gift to Gail Lowe, chair of the Texas State Board of Education. While Perry will assuredly cut funding for pre-K, you must ask—what can be learned at such a young age anyway? ABCs? Please. Isn’t there an app for that?

The ad misses how most voters view the governor’s pleasure palace. Everybody wants a bigger house—get over it. We can’t all plunder the state’s coffers while raising a manicured middle finger to federal stimulus money. If we could, it would be called “socialism,” and we’d be left half-drunk on government-subsidized vodka, waiting for a spring thaw that never comes. Why didn’t the Democrats seize on something more tangible? Perry’s uninhibited and reckless use of Grecian Formula comes to mind. This seems like a missed opportunity for C. Thomas Howell, not to mention White and his team.


The Ad: “Please Report to the Cafeteria”

Paid for by: Rick Perry and Luby’s

Description: As everyone knows, there is only one way to attack former Houston Mayor White: Remind undecided voters that a vote for White is a vote for a man who resembles a boudin-blanc sausage with teeth. This approach puts White on his heels, and there’s nothing more compelling than pointing out the shortcomings of the frumpy and the bald. Unfortunately, the ad consists of Gov. Perry barging into a Luby’s, telling everyone he is “setting aside $8 billion for a rainy day.”

Analysis: Why our governor insists on wandering around a Luby’s dressed like he just looted a Neiman-Marcus is beyond me. This is not going to endear you to the working folk of Texas who’ve queued up to spend their hard-earned pay on artery-clogging foodstuffs. The viewer’s natural reaction is going to be “Oh, you’ve got $8 billion for a rainy day? How about staking us to a chicken-fried, or at least some Jell-O, while you’re at it, guvnah?” Don’t go bragging about your bankroll in a Luby’s unless you’re treating.

This goes to show, again, how out of touch the Perry camp can be when it puts its mind to it. Not to mention, you can tell from the beginning of the ad that Perry probably didn’t even bring his wallet. What’s more, he has probably never been in a Luby’s before. You have to get in line like the rest of us. Why not seize on White’s refusal to dye Buffalo Bayou blue and install a classy casino on Allen Parkway instead? Or at least implement a poignant tracking shot of Gov. Perry’s implacable coif? None of this. Instead of bridging a political divide, this ad widens the chasm between working-class Texans and an empty suit we can believe in.