Obama and his allies spent less on advertising than Romney and his allies but got far more — in the number of ads broadcast, in visibility in key markets and in targeting critical demographic groups, such as the working class and younger voters in swing states. As the presidential race entered its final, furious phase, for example, millions of college football fans tuning in to televised games saw repeated ads for Obama but relatively few from the Romney campaign.
All told, from June through Election Day, the Obama campaign and its allies aired about 50,000 more ads than Romney and his allies, according to the research firm’s data.
“The Obama guys put more lead on the target and were buying their bullets cheaper,” said an attendee at the briefing, Will Feltus, a senior vice president at National Media, the firm that represented Romney in 2008 and President George W. Bush in his 2004 reelection effort.
That contrast is among a series of revelations creating a stir in recent days as GOP consultants conduct postmortem meetings to review what went wrong in Romney’s surprisingly lopsided loss. To some Republicans, the ad-buying strategy reflected other problems with the campaign, including an insular nature that left it closed to advice from the outside. Romney campaign officials rejected the criticism.
Interviews with Obama campaign officials as well as independent analysts show that the Obama team, in carrying out its ad strategy, took advantage of discount rates and used sophisticated buying techniques and precision targeting to make the most-effective buys.
Romney not only paid more for his ads but also missed crucial opportunities to advertise, for instance during the political conventions and on Spanish-language television, according to the campaign officials and analysts. Spending by super PACs — such as Restore Our Future, set up by former Romney campaign officials — compensated for some of the advertising shortfall, but even with those expenditures the Obama campaign had a clear advantage.
“Obama’s quality and quality control beat out quantity of dollars spent” by Romney, said Elizabeth Wilner of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a nonpartisan organization that monitors ad spending.
Retrospective criticism of losing campaigns is a tradition in Washington. But charges of profligacy and poor management take on particular meaning in Romney’s case because of his reputation as the tough-minded, data-driven founder of Bain Capital, the highly successful private-equity firm.
Romney campaign officials dismiss the criticism, saying they managed well, watched spending closely and pursued an independent advertising strategy intended to save on overhead and commissions.