Political Advertising

The Funny Anti-Trump Ad That Only Gamers Understood

You won’t get this. But I’ll help.

Sean Kernan
Oct 5 · 5 min read
Picture of a guy playing a video game on his brightly lit computer.
Picture of a guy playing a video game on his brightly lit computer.
This guy kinda looks like me, just a lil. Source: pic purchased via istock images

“Jane Marcus wants to roll a joint with your tax dollars.”

“Mike Smith laughs while snatching ice cream from toddlers in his free time.”

Every four years, an ominous shadow stretches across Florida. People scream and grab their belongings. They run for cover. They sprint for high ground. All before a towering wave of muddy political ads crashes over us.

The ads spill out into driveways, signs, and trees. There are sirens. People throw their keyboards. They get into arguments during Yoga class.

Living in a swing state sucks.

But every now and then we’re treated to very creative antics.

It’s not my intention to rag on Donald Trump any more than he already has been. It’s become a bit cliche to criticize him.

However, he was the subject of the most unique billboard attack ad I’ve ever seen. It’s unlike any you’ll ever see again. It’s funny if you get it, which you won’t. But I’ll help.

The Billboard Was Live in 2016

I’m from Tampa but we were on a road trip to the east coast of Florida.

This always mandates passing through Orlando, which can be a traffic nightmare that rivals any.

The surest sign you’re getting closer to Orlando is the increased frequency of tacky billboards, promoting cheap T-Shirts, corny dinosaur museums, and of course, theme parks.

We were working our way through the traffic. I was driving. My girlfriend was semi-sleeping in the seat next to me. There was a hum of music.

Then I looked up and saw a billboard and snorted with a laugh. My girlfriend said, “What?”

I said, “Nothing. I’ll explain later.”

Explaining the ad

This was it. Let’s see if you can get it:

Image of a billboard showing Trump on a computer, shouting into a headset.
Image of a billboard showing Trump on a computer, shouting into a headset.
Source: pic via eugamer

It’s an Overwatch reference.

It’s referring to a common problem in online gaming: flaming. There’s no sense of sportsmanship or dignity in defeat.

During team battles, a losing team will devolve into shouting contests, pointing fingers, and cursing each other out. I’ve heard grown men argue as if there’s an unpaid debt. It’s part of why I quit.

Decoding the quote:

“Donald Trump Mains Hanzo and complains about team comp in chat.”

Hanzo is short for Hanzo Shimada, a brooding, sad, angry lone-wolf character:

Picture of the Hanzo character from Overwatch.
Picture of the Hanzo character from Overwatch.
Source: pic via Imgix Bustle

Hanzo isn’t the best character. He’s only good in very specific situations and maps. He’s very difficult to play and useless most of the time.

“Donald Trump Mains Hanzo and complains about team comp in chat.”

Mains means “the main player he uses.” More bluntly, he uses Hanzo on every map. Which is the equivalent of playing 18 holes of golf with only your putter.

“Donald Trump Mains Hanzo and complains about team comp in chat.”

Team comp equals team composition, which is super important in Overwatch. Each character complements other characters. It’s a lot like a recipe.

The phrase “mains Hanzo” is actually typically used as a noun, “Hanzo Mains.”

Saying, “Shut up Hanzo Mains” is a more sophisticated way of saying “Shutup noob.”

Hanzo players tend to suck horribly at the game. They wander around the map, aimlessly firing arrows into the sky.

Hanzo Mains per Urban dictionary:

“1: A salty 11 year old that thinks he is good and everyone else is bad.

2: Someone who picks a useless hero and losses the match and blames everyone else and calling them bad when he had 67 deaths and no kills.”

What Made the Billboard Brilliant

One word: specificity.

Because it targeted such a specific niche, with the “in crowd” getting it, even gamers that love Donald Trump liked it.

It had political context too. This was when Donald Trump was complaining about the election being rigged, with everyone, including him, thinking he would lose. He was kicking and screaming at each stage of the process.

The billboard was sponsored by The Nuisance Committee. But, really, it was just Max Temkin, founder of the vulgar card game, Cards Against Humanity, which is filled with social and cultural commentary.

Temkin has a history of being a troll. He once raised $106,000 to dig a hole and then filled it for no reason, ticking off the internet mob by refusing to donate the money to charity.

His Goal With These Ads

He was trying to get the attention of voters with the worst turnout: college students.

The billboard was near UCF, which has the largest student body in the country (66,000+ students).

The billboard was misunderstood by 99.9% of passing cars. But it generated a ton of online buzz, with various outlets, including Business Insider, Forbes, and Politico, writing articles about it.

People were constantly saying, “Wtf does that banner mean?”

The phrase eventually became more well known, briefly crossing over into the mainstream.

Twitter User, Abrekke83, tweeted in 2017: “My daughter got in trouble for calling a kid who stole her pencil a Hanzo Main. My husband and I have been laughing for half an hour.”

The billboard spoke to one of the most common criticisms of Donald Trump: his inability to be accountable for mistakes and his finger-pointing. And the swirling stories of him cheating in golf.

You can almost hear him yelling at gamers in that image:

Image of a billboard showing Trump on a computer, shouting into a headset.
Image of a billboard showing Trump on a computer, shouting into a headset.
Source: pic via eugamer

If you went to the website advertised, it had a list of ads that all played off of the Hanzo Mains Archetype:

Trump depicted as a kind of mech-warrior, for another ad.
Trump depicted as a kind of mech-warrior, for another ad.
pic via i.inside

The Takeaway

It’s OK to confuse people, just as long as the payoff justifies it.

As a writer, there’s a phrase I live by, “Giving something to the reader.”

Some initial ambiguity is fine, just as long as there’s an intellectual reward in letting them figure it out. (“Give them something. Don’t spoon-feed all of it.”)

And as an aside, we’re almost through another election, people. Just hang in there a little longer. We can almost hold our breath before it will pass.

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Sean Kernan

Written by

Quality over quantity. That guy from Quora. Enjoy? Follow for more. https://seanjkernan.substack.com/ Open to gigs seanjkernan@gmail.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

Sean Kernan

Written by

Quality over quantity. That guy from Quora. Enjoy? Follow for more. https://seanjkernan.substack.com/ Open to gigs seanjkernan@gmail.com

Better Marketing

Marketing advice and case studies to help you market ethically, authentically, and effectively.

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