The Most Effective Political Ad of 2012 Is Back

The firm that made the most devastating anti-Romney TV ad in 2012 is back with a similar one going after the GOP Senate nominee in Georgia, and research shows it’s working.

Mike Earnest, the factory worker featured in the most memorable TV ad of the 2012 election.
National Journal
Scott Bland
Aug. 28, 2014, 1 a.m.

In 2012, Pri­or­it­ies USA, the biggest Demo­crat­ic su­per PAC sup­port­ing Pres­id­ent Obama, spent over $10 mil­lion to keep one par­tic­u­lar TV ad on the air. The ad, “Stage,” fea­tured an In­di­ana fact­ory work­er sit­ting alone in front of the cam­era and telling the story of when his plant got shut down after Mitt Rom­ney’s firm bought the com­pany.

It was the single most ef­fect­ive ad of the en­tire 2012 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, ac­cord­ing to re­search by Ace Met­rix, a tele­vi­sion ana­lyt­ics com­pany. And the Demo­crat­ic strategists who made the dev­ast­at­ing spot are us­ing the same themes again this year in Geor­gia’s Sen­ate race. How much weight the concept car­ries against someone oth­er than Rom­ney, though, is still in ques­tion.

The Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate in Geor­gia, Dav­id Per­due, is a wealthy busi­ness­man. And Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate Michelle Nunn has re­tained the same me­dia strategists, Shorr John­son Mag­nus, who made the mem­or­able anti-Rom­ney ads for the Pri­or­it­ies USA Ac­tion su­per PAC in 2012. The res­ult: Nunn’s latest TV ad, which stars former mill­work­ers (al­most all wo­men) from North Car­o­lina who lost their jobs when their com­pany, Pil­low­tex, closed down shortly after Per­due came and left as the chief ex­ec­ut­ive. “He left all of us there hold­ing the bag with noth­ing in it,” says one wo­man at the end of the ad, which con­tras­ted Per­due’s high salary with the work­ers’ pre­dic­a­ment.

It cuts right at Per­due’s biggest strength: his busi­ness ex­per­i­ence. And re­search Ace Met­rix con­duc­ted for Na­tion­al Journ­al shows just why ads like this work. The data sug­gest that while the Nunn ad isn’t quite as po­tent as the anti-Rom­ney one, it’s grabbing hold of Geor­gi­ans’ at­ten­tion just as their Sen­ate race starts to heat up.

What made the anti-Rom­ney ad so ef­fect­ive, ac­cord­ing to Ace Met­rix Vice Pres­id­ent Jonath­an Sy­monds, is that it got people’s at­ten­tion, made them feel like they learned something, and then com­pelled them to go find out more about Rom­ney’s re­cord. Ace Met­rix col­lects that data by con­duct­ing large on­line fo­cus groups in which re­spond­ents provide their demo­graph­ic in­form­a­tion and then rate dif­fer­ent ads across cat­egor­ies like these.

The new hit against Per­due also at­tracts more at­ten­tion than the typ­ic­al polit­ic­al ad, Ace Met­rix found, which is par­tic­u­larly im­port­ant giv­en that skyrock­et­ing polit­ic­al spend­ing is put­ting more ads in front of view­ers than ever. More people than av­er­age came away hav­ing learned something about Per­due, too. And among just in­de­pend­ents (who rep­res­ent a fairly small sample of the group, Sy­monds cau­tioned), the new anti-Per­due ad got the highest scores of any Geor­gia ad Ace Met­rix tested.

Ace Met­rix’s ana­lys­is of the Nunn ad also showed that it did par­tic­u­larly well with wo­men and low-in­come voters, two groups that the Demo­crat des­per­ately needs to turn out in Novem­ber if she is to cap­ture a Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing Sen­ate seat.

But it didn’t in­spire people to go dig through Per­due’s busi­ness his­tory the way the Pri­or­it­ies ad did with Rom­ney. That’s why the new ad doesn’t rate as highly as the 2012 one did. In fact, Ace Met­rix’s re­search gave two out­side group ads, one boost­ing Per­due and an­oth­er bash­ing Nunn, slightly high­er com­pos­ite scores than the anti-Per­due one.

“There had been a lot of found­a­tion­al work done on Rom­ney as a cer­tain type of per­son [in 2012],” Sy­monds said. “That’s not ne­ces­sar­ily in place for Dav­id Per­due.” In oth­er words, voters may not be quite as ready to go where the ad tells them to with Per­due, who didn’t grow up wealthy like Rom­ney or have a polit­ic­al ca­reer be­fore this elec­tion. Per­due also already weathered some at­tacks on his busi­ness back­ground, in­clud­ing his ten­ure at Pil­low­tex, dur­ing Geor­gia’s Re­pub­lic­an primary. And per­haps most im­port­antly, he’s in a state that is tilted in his fa­vor.

“Michelle Nunn’s as­so­ci­ation with Obama is just as much of a li­ab­il­ity as Dav­id Per­due’s busi­ness re­cord is, at least ac­cord­ing to the data we see,” Sy­monds con­tin­ued, re­fer­ring to the anti-Nunn ad (linked above) from the su­per PAC End­ing Spend­ing, which also got high marks from the Ace Met­rix re­spond­ents.

Demo­crats are work­ing quickly to build a found­a­tion for more at­tacks on Per­due’s busi­ness re­cord. Just after the Nunn cam­paign re­leased their ad last week, the Demo­crat­ic wo­men’s group EMILY’s List an­nounced a new ad cri­ti­ciz­ing Per­due over a pay-dis­crim­in­a­tion law­suit at a dif­fer­ent com­pany he ran. There will likely be more to come over the next two months.

“With two folks who have nev­er served in of­fice be­fore, we think it’s im­port­ant to show Geor­gia voters what ex­actly they’ve done,” said Nunn spokes­man Nath­an Click. “This ad tells that story in work­ers’ own words.”

“In­stead of de­bat­ing the is­sues that mat­ter to Geor­gi­ans, Michelle Nunn is des­per­ately re­cyc­ling old at­tacks against Dav­id Per­due that have already been dis­missed,” said Per­due spokes­wo­man Megan Whit­temore in a state­ment. “We ex­pect no less from the hand-picked can­did­ate of Barack Obama and Harry Re­id.”

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