How awful are mayoral candidate Rick Baker‘s new television ads?
They’re so awful that the Rick Kriseman campaign is paying to sponsor a post on Facebook that essentially promotes them.
Think about that for a moment: Baker’s opponent is so confident that ads designed to make a positive impression on voters actually end up doing the opposite that Kriseman’s willing to spend campaign dollars to boost their reach.
Baker released two ads last week. Both stress the former mayor’s accomplishments while leading City Hall from 2001 to 2010.
In the first ad, a group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant chat about all the great things about St. Petersburg including such things as dog parks and the Dali Museum.
“You know that’s all because of the mayor, right?” a waitress asks.
The waitress laughs and says, “No, Mayor Rick Baker.”
She gestures behind her and the video cuts to a picture of Baker in sunglasses. Baker removes the glasses and says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Remember that moment during the 2016 presidential campaign when Jeb Bush blurted out, “Please clap” during a speech? Watching these commercials is like that.
A second ad has two people are in a record store and the clerk asks if they’re searching for the Rick Baker records. He points them out — Beach Drive, the Grand Prix, the “great Midtown comeback.”
Then the woman asks, “What’s this?”
The clerk says, “Kriseman record? No one’s buying.”
Baker enters, again wearing sunglasses. The clerk asks, “Hey, Rick, what you got?”
The second spot is not as bad as the first. But that’s like saying the second Star Wars prequel was not as bad as the one that featured Jar Jar Binks.
Of course, the Baker campaign is proud of the ads. Those inside the campaign say the spots work because they’re giving supporters something new to talk about after Baker underperformed in the primary. They’re relieved that Baker is finally saying something that does not involve the word “sewers.”
But do you want to know how bad these ads are? Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith likes them.
On Sunday, he wrote that they are “fun, memorable and presumably not intended to be taken too seriously.”
This from the reporter whose last major pronouncement was that Andrew Gillum was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor.
One of Smith’s go-to sources is Adam Goodman, the ad maker who cut these spots for Baker. After Baker finished behind Kriseman in the primary, I argued that Baker should fire Goodman and bring in new creative. I argued that Baker’s ads neither properly introduced the former mayor nor did they offer voters a rationale for giving Baker a third term in City Hall.
Obviously, Baker went in another direction. And that’s his prerogative. I’m sure Baker and Goodman like these ads. Maybe Baker, Goodman, and Smith are right and I’m wrong. But I’ve spoken to consultants and operatives on both sides of the aisle and almost all of them are critical of the ads.
“I can’t stop watching it. So bad,” texted one veteran GOP consultant.
“I bite my tongue on a lot of bad commercials, but this one is just so, so bad,” tweeted Democratic ad maker Kevin Cate.
Even the folks Adam Smith spoke with were taken aback.
“The sunglasses almost make me cringe,” said Richard Hughes, the chief creative officer of St. Petersburg-based ClearpH Design Firm, noting that his younger designers were especially turned off by that and the ads could actually turn off younger voters. (Hughes told Smith he thought Baker’s rebranding effort was “fun and memorable,” which is almost exactly what Smith himself said he thought of the ads … hmmm.)
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe, just maybe these ads are effective.
I, for one, don’t think they are and now believe Baker is in no man’s land, like a tennis player stuck between the service line and the baseline.
Baker no longer has the opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) himself to St. Petersburg voters. He just has a laundry list of projects he worked on (don’t forget about the dog parks!). Voters really have no clue about what he’s done since leaving office, such as his work at USF-St. Petersburg or toward revitalizing Sundial.
But neither is Baker articulating a clear vision for what he’d do. About the future, he says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” WE KNOW, that’s the damn point.
Meanwhile, the sewage system issue Baker mistakenly based much of primary campaign on no longer seems to resonate with voters (if it ever did), but Kriseman and his allies can continue to tie Baker to Trump because, well, Baker really doesn’t have an effective counter.
But here’s why Baker’s ads are genuinely so awful. It’s not their hipster vibe or flimsy message, it’s their opportunity cost.
To Baker needed to raise more money than Kriseman and then pummel him on the airwaves. Just like Jeb Bush was supposed to do in the 2016 presidential primary.
Instead, Kriseman is, at worse, not losing to Baker on the airwaves, while out-organizing him in the GOTV and field components.
No wonder Kriseman and his supporters are telling each other to “please clap” at Baker’s ads.