Together, they clock 12-to-14-hour days in their shared offices and try to apply what they’ve learned in careers marketing Colgate toothpaste, Big Macs, BMWs and Nationwide Insurance to help pitch to the American masses a product that lacks a dominant market share: Mitt Romney.
“It’s like a foxhole,” said Vinny Minchillo, the game-show contestant who made ads for brands such as J.C. Penney and Subaru before going into politics 10 years ago. “Normally these two worlds just don’t see eye to eye. But in this case, people who believe in the cause have come up here to Boston and said, ‘You know what? We’re going to try to do some great creative work here.’ ”
Much of the money that Romney raises falls into the hands of the Mad Men, who already have cut spots and laid plans to blanket the airwaves in battleground states throughout the final 10-week sprint. Romney can raise all the millions there are to raise, but if his ad wizards don’t make compelling and persuasive ads, it won’t do him much good.
“We can keep throwing ads up there all day long, but is there an idea that’s really going to touch people? It’s going to get them to pull that handle, and we’re going to win,” said Jim “Fergie” Ferguson, the Texan.
The creative team is trying to create an emotional bond between a candidate who reveals little emotion and a still-unsure body politic. And they are trying to tell the story of “the Obama economy” — searching what one of them dubbed “the trail of tears” for powerful voices among the roughly 23 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed or have stopped looking for work.
One day this past winter, Ferguson came across a news story about an Iowan who lost his job at a grain elevator and became a part-time gravedigger. Ferguson drove around for days in a snowstorm until a mortician in Waterloo connected him with Troy Knapp.
After filming Knapp talking about the shame of being on unemployment, Ferguson recalled, “I cried.” Ferguson made Knapp and two other struggling Iowans the focus of a Romney video, “A Few of the 23 Million.”
“A lot of people around here, when Barack, you know, was running and all that, everyone believed, everyone had hope,” Knapp says in the video. “They all thought, ‘Man, this guy’s going to get something done.’ When he is in office now, it just seems like nothing’s getting done.”
Steering the massive ad campaign are Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, Romney’s top strategists, as well as Ashley O’Connor, the campaign’s director of advertising. They’re hoping that the handful of corporate advertising stars can do for Romney what they do so well for consumer products: shape, sharpen and simplify the pitch.