I’m worried about Obama’s several hundred million advertising budget deficit. But, as a marketing guy, I started to think about what Romney’s ad have to do to get enough votes to win and it made me feel a bit better. Maybe it’ll make you feel better too!
The key point is that Obama is a very well defined brand and Romney is not going to able to redefine him with the money he has in the bank (and that is his stated strategy). Obama is the presidential brand equivalent of Coca Cola (everyone has tried Coke, knows what it tastes like and its issues). It would cost 20x what Romney has (per year, over many years) to create Obama’s brand. The amount of free media he’s had as President and electoral phenom is immense. So, it is going to be very hard for Romney to change people’s views about Obama. He might be able to reinforce existing views but he’s not going to – in a few months’ time – flip someone with his ads. Fox – and the GOP– have already “spent” many times over the past four years of what Romney has (think about what it would cost to pay for all the anti Obama programming on Fox and elsewhere since Obama has been President). So, Obama essentially already owns the negatives he will own into the election. Unless Obama makes a major gaffe (or there is some revelation) Romney is not going to be able to make much of a dent by running negative :30 spots on old material. As this is what they are spending the bulk of the $, so this is good news for Obama.
Romney will have to focus on ads that boost his positives to win. He is not that well known – in truth –to the electorate so this could be a viable strategy. But, he’s limited in what he can play up. His personal story – he’s a rich kid who got richer on Wall Street – is not compelling. He’s policy approach is problematic – trust the rich guys. He does look the part of the President and his family is an asset as well but I think voters are so cynical about politicians that they just tune out trope “inspiring” life stories and attractive spouses and kids.
I am also heartened by what I learned about his ad team. It is headed up by a political ad person , Ashley O’Connor who seems to be more of a production person than a top creative) and has for its creative stars the guys who created the campaign “Beef, it is what’s for dinner” and “BMW, the ultimate driving machine.” These are well done campaigns but very focused “guy” ads that appeal to older white guys. Romney already has older white guys. He needs to appeal to women and enough of the Hispanic vote to win. These are not the kind of ads this team can create.
Finally, it is important to think about how advertising works. Advertising is about getting someone to look at/notice and ad, deliver enough emotional impact to them to form enough of an emotional bond with the product to make the desired decision (in this case, vote for Romney). People see so many ads that the more times you can show the ads (frequency) they more likely someone will actually “watch” or “experience” the ad. So, Romney’s money will buy lots of frequency and help with the look at the ad part. But, this is only half the equation. If the ads don’t deliver on the emotional component of the product (which in this case has to be positives for Romney) the frequency doesn’t matter. Bad products don’t sell even with tons of advertising and promotion (e.g. new coke, many us cars, Microsoft Zune).
And, frequency has a limit. The goal is to get someone to focus on an ad and respond to it. Running it beyond that point – if the ad doesn’t work and the product doesn’t sell – is just wasting money. And, it seems like Romney is going to go past this point. I think Romney is going to waste a lot of his money. The election is so close that – of course – that the ads might buy enough votes to work but I don’t see it. And, people can be brainwashed by advertising (look at all the crap people buy) but it is a lot harder than simply buying a lot of time and saying “buy this, don’t buy that” which appears to be Romney’s strategy.
I have seen lots of rich guys who really don’t understand how marketing/advertising works (and think “just promote my great product and it will sell!”). You’d assume Romney – after supposedly running Staples – would know what he is doing but I don’t see it. Just look at his crap, 1960’s homemade logo.
I’d be curious what other marketing people think but, in thinking about it, I am a little less worried about all that Romney ad money.