Mitt Romney is up with the first significant ad spend in the presidential campaign. His campaign bought $134,000 on WMUR, the Manchester station that covers a lot of New Hampshire. (The Boston media market covers the southern part of the state, but is an inefficient buy.)
Romney’s ad spend, presumably the first of many for Romney, can be translated into terms that most of us can understand if you know what a “GRP” is and how many he is buying. A “GRP,” or “gross rating point” is an industry term for calculating media measurement and weight. It is based on Nielsen, which gives each show a rating, based on monitoring TV viewership. Each point represents a percentage of viewership based on the total number of possible viewers. Some shows, for example, on cable, might struggle to reach even one gross rating point, while a mega-television event, like the Super Bowl, might total 40-50 GRPs depending on the demographic and the market. To calculate the strength of an ad buy, one can simply add up the number of gross rating points of the shows purchased. Based on that, Romney’s $134,000 ad spend translates into approximately 400-500 GRPs (To confuse you further, Romney’s ad is 60 seconds in length; if it were the more standard unit length of 30 seconds, the GRP total would double).
This little explanation isn’t to bore you, but rather to give you a sense of the kind of throw-weight well-funded candidates put against media buys. In campaigns, given their date certain sale and winner take-all result, the media planners have become like SAC commanders at Dresden: carpet-bomb all targets, all day and night.
While the average major consumer advertiser — say, McDonald’s — might place about 100 to 150 GRPS in the Manchester market in a month, the Romney campaign will be buying that every two days. (This kind of approach to media planning, of course, explains why people get so sick of political ads.)
Now, with that long wind-up, how’s the ad? Workman-like, which seems to be Romney’s style. It takes the obvious path — bash Obama on the economy, and then stroke the Republicans’ id on issues like getting rid of Obamacare to somehow create more jobs. (There is a little controversy brewing that the Obama quote about the economy at the top of the ad was in reference to John McCain — not sure why Romney couldn’t find one without any contextual baggage.)
All in all, I believe the ad is a wasted opportunity for Romney.
There are two things most primary voters are looking for from campaign advertising at this early stage: who is the candidate — his story, his values — and what’s his plan.
Over the years, consistently, the most effective initial presidential campaign ads are bio spots or “here’s my plan” spots. In 2000, the single most effective ad run by the Gore campaign, as confirmed after the race by the Bush team, was a 60 second bio spot. It was simple and conventional, but told voters a lot about who Gore was, establishing a more personal connection. In 1992, Clinton ran an extremely effective ad touting his detailed plan on the economy. Voters responded.
Romney has taken a different path. Not a huge mistake, but probably a waste of money. Every Republican already believes Obama blew it on the economy and Obamacare has to go. What they don’t know is, “who the heck is Mitt Romney?” The longer he stays silent on that question, the more his opponents will answer it for him.