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September 30, 2011

2012 Ad War: Rick Perry's Glossy Pitch

This is the first in a guest series from Inkwell Strategies analyzing the 2012 campaign ad war.

In the coming weeks and months, the Republican primary campaign will shift from debating and handshaking to the far more expensive - and often uglier - realm of paid media.

While we haven't yet seen many candidates go up on the airwaves, we are seeing an uptick in the number of web ads - commercials designed not for a television audience, but for online viewers.

Web ads are a great way to tinker with the candidate's message while earning free (or very inexpensive) coverage. Think of them as spring training for media consultants.

Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry released a powerful ad that almost surely previews his traditional television advertising campaign to come. Politics aside, the ad is not only a master stroke by his campaign team, but required viewing for anyone interested in the art of candidate marketing.

View Perry's ad here:

Note that the piece runs for a full minute and 45 seconds; a clear indication that this video will never be aired on television. The New York Times describes it as "a grim picture of a broken economy presided over by 'President Zero.'"

"Grim" is an apt description of first 40 seconds or so of the ad.

We're hit with frame after frame of empty, darkly-lit vistas. From overcast skies to abandoned factories, from boarded up homes to a child's swing-set swaying ominously in the rain, the video plays like a veritable "who's who" of foreboding clips.

Perhaps the most visually striking moment - which almost takes a page from a Hollywood horror flick - comes at the 16-second mark, where we get a back-alley view of a brightly-colored Obama "Hope" poster, slowly aging and withering in the rain.

The implication is easy enough to understand: Obama's policies have turned our once bustling bastion of vitality into an economically barren wasteland. Whether this accusation is true or not is another discussion. But what is apparent is just how emotionally effective the pitch is.

The video works because it doesn't come across as vitriolic or mean-spirited. If anything, it's the political equivalent of that oft repeated of parental sayings, "I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed."

The second part of the video is like the moment when everything turns from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz. Suddenly, the colors are bright, the images are clear, and the message is simple: Rick Perry will solve our problems.

We see a child running in slow motion (are these the same children who abandoned the swing earlier in the ad?), and American flag billow out behind Gov. Perry. There even are appearances of fighter jets and horses galloping through the water.

These images are intercut with Perry delivering a clear message from a very presidential podium:

"We don't need a president who apologizes for America. I believe in America. I believe in her purpose and her promise. I believe her best days have not yet been led."

An effective message for sure, yet not without risk. As Perry's debate performances have led to a slide in the polls, it seems an increasing number of Republican voters question whether he has the gravitas for the presidency. For example, the jobs plan on his website runs just 163 words. This advertisement clearly plays on his strengths: simple messaging and compelling delivery.

Yet it may leave some voters asking, where's the beef?


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