Meet the Man Who Brought You 'Demon Sheep' & Who May Change the Face of GOP Ads Forever
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It’s an April afternoon in Hollywood, and a black Porsche purrs down a sun-drenched Olive Avenue. It cruises past Warner Brothers, where John Wayne once glared down desperadoes at high noon. It turns down Barham Boulevard and races past Universal Studios, where Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” still roams the waters. The car winds up Lake Hollywood Boulevard, co ming to rest at a bright, multi story yellow house. It’s a stone’s throw from the “Hollywood” sign that’s lured aspiring stars to Los Angeles since the 1930s.
The driver’s door opens, and out steps a thin, handsome man in his mid 50s. With shoulder-length silver hair and deep blue eyes, he’s dressed in studio business casual -- blue polo shirt and black jeans with frayed cuffs. He’s reached his home office, and it’s probably no surprise that this man -- who lives and works at the center of the world’s entertainment industry -- is a filmmaker who knows a thing or two about movie magic.
But this filmmaker hasn’t brought tales of extraterrestrials or talking animals to the silver screen. Instead, he has brought a Hollywood sensibility to a line of work more associated with Washington D.C. than Southern California -- the world of political advertising. In one of this man’s ads, a Georgia governor is depicted as a giant rat with a tiara, running through the streets of Atlanta and imperiously telling people what to do. In another , a Senate candidate in California turns into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And not just any wolf, but one with red laser-beam eyes -- a controversial creation political and media observers quickly dubbed the “Demon Sheep.“
The creator of these monsters and purveyor of these viral video memes is Fred Davis, CEO of Strategic Perception , one of the few political consultants to share an area code with Brad Pitt and James Cameron. Davis serves as advertising advisor to Republican Party stars, including California’s Senate challenger Carly Fiorina and John McCain. While most of the heavy hitters in his business congregate in the Beltway, Davis finds creative inspiration in a world that’s less Harry Reid and more Harry Potter.
“I love movies. I love having the ArcLight, the Cinerama Dome and Mann’s Chinese Theater right down the street,” says Davis, who moved to Hollywood from his native Oklahoma in 1985.
As Davis entered the world of Republican political advertising, Newt Gingrich led the GOP to a conquest of Congress, gaining 54 seats in the House of Representatives and eight in the Senate in 1994. That year, Davis -- who had worked in commercial advertising since the mid-70s -- crafted ads for his uncle, Republican James Inhofe. Inhofe, a stalwart conservative who later became famous for proclaiming global warming a “hoax,” was running against Democrat David McCurdy for a U.S. Senate seat in Oklahoma. Davis decided the winning strategy was to focus on McCurdy’s support for the Clinton Administration’s crime bill, which Davis thought would strike Oklahoma voters as “soft on crime.”
Davis seized on one provision of the bill, which stipulated that community activities like dance lessons could help prevent crime. His pitch for Inhofe extrapolated on this claim with an absurdist 30-second spot . Instead of hiring commercial actors, Davis had real-life Oklahoma convicts on one-day furlough playing parts. In an inspired bit of political theater, Davis dressed these inmates in pink tutus and had them pirouetting to the tune of Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube Waltz.” In the background, a warden shook his head in disgust and pounded a billy club into his hands. The main political message in the commercial was that the Oklahoma Fraternal Order of Police had endorsed Inhofe, but what most Oklahoma voters remembered was the bizarre way Davis managed to make a standard political talking point stand out.