If you want to see what market research looks like on the screen, check out Karl Rove's new super PAC ad supporting Mitt Romney. The New York Times gushed over the ad as a more subtle and effective take-down of the president's record than previous efforts by the Republicans. The ad reads like a compendium of middle-class nightmares — the future uncertain, retirement savings in doubt, health-care costs out of control. The narrator-actress portrays a former soccer mom — actually a basketball mom — who now presides not only over her worries but also over her brood, who have had to move back home because there are no job prospects. (Talk about a nightmare — the kids back home!)
The key research piece that informs the ad is that the way to discredit President Obama must be done more in sorrow than in anger. In other words, the president isn't disliked as much as he is viewed as a disappointment, and a frontal assault wouldn't be successful. You have to come at him from the side, which this ad does.
You can judge for yourself, but I think this ad is a powerful message that is executed in a ham-handed way. It's not only the spray-lacquered hair of the mom-narrator, it's her phony resuscitation of what are clearly results of polling questions and focus-group comments. Great political ads operate on a deeper symbolic level than that.
In 1984, President Reagan's ad-makers knew that there was lingering anxiety about the Soviet Union's military power, but instead of hiring some actress to recite a poll-driven script, they used the metaphor of a bear in the woods as a symbol of America's foreign policy concern. The result was powerful and memorable. This latest ad against Obama has a very powerful message, but its execution inhibits its memorability.