Why Mitt Romney is losing the TV campaign ad war, again

Mitt Romney is launching new TV ads in Iowa Friday. But so far Mitt Romney's campaign ads have not been very good, says DCDecoder.

(AP Photo/Romney Presidential Campaign)
This ad, "Believe in America," by the Mitt Romney presidential campaign is running in New Hampshire.

With just a little over a month to go before the Iowa caucus, we’re starting to see more ads by the GOP candidates. Mitt Romney has recently released two ads in New Hampshire - the first, hitting President Obama on the economy, drew criticism for taking an Obama quote completely out of context. The second is a positive (if somewhat bland) ad about Romney’s business experience and the need to cut spending. 

This morning, the Associated Press reported that Mitt Romney is launching new ads in Iowa Friday on the economy as well.

Which got us thinking: if there’s one thing that seems to encapsulate the problems with Romney’s candidacy, it’s his ads. They’re not bad. They just somehow lack personality - they don’t give you any intrinsic sense of who he really is.

This was true for Romney throughout the 2008 cycle. Decoder recently went back and watched a whole bunch of 2007-2008 ads from the Republican candidates, and our main takeaway was this: Romney got creamed in the ad wars.

The undisputed, hands-down winner for best GOP ads in 2008 was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Remember the hilarious Chuck Norris ad? (“My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris.”) Or the folksy subliminal-cross-over-his-shoulder Christmas ad? Pure brilliance.

The runner-up for best ads that year was clearly John McCain. While McCain’s ads didn’t have quite the entertainment value of Huckabee’s, McCain used the footage of his POW experience in Vietnam incredibly effectively. And frankly, since his ads seemed more presidential than Huckabee’s, they may have been better in ways that counted most.

Either way, Romney’s ads seemed lame and uninspiring by comparison. He also went negative more than anyone else.

Interestingly, while the whole point of ads is to manufacture an (admittedly artificial) image of the candidate, they often still tend to reveal something genuine. Watch enough of them, and you do begin to get a feel for who these candidates are - for better or worse. So far this year, we’ve had the Rick Perry ad where he left out the word “is” (they couldn’t get a better take than that?). And the Perry ad where he calls himself “a doer, not a talker.” And of course, Herman Cain’s weirdest-ever web ad featuring his campaign manager smoking a cigarette.

Starting Friday, Cain will begin airing a new ad in Iowa, which somehow strikes us as classic Cain. It’s got a strong economic message, a touch of humor (“this is baad”), and of course, the “I Am America” theme song (though we confess we can’t listen to that song anymore without picturing Stephen Colbert jamming away).

Since Romney has only recently begun spending money on ads, we suppose he may release some better ones in the weeks to come. But based on his track record last time, we sort of doubt it. We’re just waiting to see what Newt Gingrich comes up with.

Want more?

  • Check out nearly all the candidate ads to date (most of which have been web-only) in this fabulous archive courtesy of the Political Communication Lab at Stanford University .

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