SD Rostra

Nathan Fletcher and Losing The Air War

by John Nienstedt, President, Competitive Edge Research & Communication

My firm, Competitive Edge, uses Perception Analyzer™ dials to test TV ads, speeches, debate performance and even movies. Remember the movie “2016: Obama’s America”? We dial-tested it to uncover some fascinating findings about what aspects of the film – down to the second — influenced voters’ thinking.

TV ads are our most common dial test subjects. And why not? When campaigns have hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad buys to execute, they need to know what to bet on and what to avoid. Campaigns should employ dial-testing to make their ads stick with voters.

The Faulconer for Mayor campaign in San Diego dial-tested rough cuts of different TV ads and worked through the moment-to-moment analysis to make the ads more persuasive. Based on survey research, the campaign knew former Mayor Jerry Sanders was Faulconer’s best messenger. Employing the dials not only confirmed that Sanders was dynamite on the TV screen, it also showed how to present the former Mayor along with Faulconer in the most effective way possible.

One of the most important insights had nothing at all to do with the Faulconer campaign. You see, another benefit of dial-testing accrues when campaigns carefully examine the TV spots in the other side’s arsenal. In this way, campaigns are able to see the power of what’s coming at them so they know how to react.

We dial-tested Nathan Fletcher’s introductory 60-second YouTube video early in the initial election round.  It featured Fletcher and his wife, with the good-looking candidate saying “I’m Nathan Fletcher and I want to be your next Mayor.” The video made our campaign nervous because it strongly resonated with voters. Play the clip and see for yourself.

The white line in this graphic corresponds to the average moment-to-moment sentiment of all the dial test participants. Anything above 60 is working to move voters in Fletcher’s direction. After the 40 second mark, Fletcher hits 80 and keeps it there, even among conservatives. The media questioned the video’s roughness and the candidate’s unpolished delivery, but he knew what he was doing. The dials don’t lie. This was a devastatingly effective introductory piece.

Well, it would have been effective had it aired. Puzzlingly, Fletcher didn’t air the ad at the beginning of his campaign. He didn’t air it as he started to get hit hard with charges that he did not show up for work. Fletcher, the new Democrat, didn’t air it even as his other opponent, longtime Democrat David Alvarez, began to contrast himself with Fletcher. In fact, Fletcher never aired this ad. It sat on YouTube while he belatedly ran a 30-second version that necessarily removed much of what made the ad effective.

Unwilling or unable to run the full ad, a damaged Fletcher limped to a third place finish and missed the runoff election. We can learn a valuable lesson from this: employ dial-testing to know your strengths so that you don’t keep one of your most valuable players on the bench.

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