"Celebrity" and "The One" were two campaign ads released by Senator John McCain's presidential campaign in the early summer of 2008.
The "Celebrity" ad featured pictures of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and then pictures of Barack Obama's gigantic rally in Berlin. The voice over states that "He is the world's biggest celebrity...but is he ready to lead?" and then mentions soaring gas prices and taxing electricty (which were the biggest issues facing people in those Halcyon days, so long ago). The ad is a brief 32 seconds.
"The One" is a longer ad, and shows clips of Barack Obama beaming and making optimistic predictions that, without their context seem to be bordering on meglomania. The ad than shows a clip of Charlton Heston playing Moses in The Ten Commandments before asking again, "Is he ready to lead?".
Both of the ads, when created, caused quite a stir, and seemed to have some success in breaking the momentum of Obama's campaign. The advertisements, I believe, successfully struck at the thin zone of vulnerability that Obama had-at least temporarily. I have written previously about this election, and my largest prediction was there would be a limited amount of attacks that McCain could make on Obama. While Obama's race and foreign parentage and upbringing might be fair game for some on the far right, bringing them up would paint his party into a corner in the future. And yet, Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt are a normal part of campaigning, and are not even considered dirty tricks. So McCain's campaign team had to find some way to raise doubts about Obama, without seeming to raise any type of identity politics that would backfire. Thus, turning Obama's charisma and historical nature, respectively, into something that would raise people's doubts while not seeming too divisive or nasty was a clever move. The advertisements were, after all, funny enough and could be seen as joking. The one way that they did step over the line was how "The One" ad seemed to accuse Obama of messianic pretentions--something that could play the beliefs of some on the paranoid-right who have made claims that Obama is a hidden Muslim antichrist.
As stated above, while the ads did cause a lot of buzz, and did cause McCain to get a brief run of media initiative, they didn't seem to have a lasting effect. The first reason for this is that comparing Obama to vapid media figures is hardly fitting-while he Obama does have a thin resume for a presidential candidate, his former position as a professor at University of Chicago hardly mark him as an intellectual lightweight. As far as "The One" ad, it might have had a bigger splash if it had gone over the line more, and actually accused Obama of megalomania. Instead, it seems like a silly pack of insinuations. But more than anything else, the ads failed because the nature of political campaigns goes very fast, and the narratives of the advertisements didn't stick for long, especially because the campaign would be continued to be dominated by economic issues and the continued link (in much of the public mind, at least) between McCain and the administration of George W Bush.
In conclusion, while a subtle smear that manages to refocus people's attention without going too far over the line is a clever accomplishment, it is not enough to turn the attentions of an electorate that has many other things on its mind.