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.

National Journal
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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.

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.

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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