They may be multi-millionaires, but so far their expensive political ad buys aren’t helping their fledgling campaigns to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the August 2 primary election.
That’s how one of Michigan’s top media strategists, Robert Kolt, views the efforts of “quality guru” Perry Johnson and auto dealer Kevin Rinke, after viewing their initial television and online advertising buys over the past month. The 8/2 victor earns the right to take on incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.
Rinke’s ad comparing Whitmer to a Yugo automobile was launched weeks ago. Johnson’s $1.5 million campaign has run since February 13 and will continue through March 6, including Super Bowl ads that aired in most markets across the state. Depending on the market, the ads appeared pre-game, during game, post-game, and in some markets there was more than one ad. The buy included network television ads, cable ads, radio ads, social media ads, and digital ads across many platforms.
Johnson says: “I know how to improve the quality of the government that taxpayers receive for their money because we developed the methods that improved quality in the automotive industry and American manufacturing across the country. We did it for American business, and then around the world, and we can do it right here for our government in Michigan. The people of Michigan deserve better, they demand better, and they will have better government.”
But Kolt hasn’t been impressed by what he’s witnessed, and he’s seen a lot over the past four decades. Kolt is President & CEO of Kolt Communications, Inc. He’s also been a “Professor of Practice” for 29 years, teaching Michigan State University students Advertising and Public Relations in MSU’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences.
Kolt has also worked with the Michigan Political Leadership Program (MPLP) since its creation. He’s been a media strategist for several statewide ballot issues and worked as a media consultant and key political advisor to former Governor James J. Blanchard and former Secretary of State Richard H Austin. He also served as the Public Affairs Officer for the Michigan Department of Treasury under Treasurer Bob Bowman in the Blanchard administration and the Executive for Communications in the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) under director Jim Pitz.
Kolt may be best known for his widely-publicized ratings of Super Bowl ads during the past 25 years, in concert with MSU’s Advertising and Public Relations faculty.
Question of the Day for Robert Kolt: Did you see the Perry Johnson for Governor Super Bowl ad? If so, what did you think of it?
Kolt: I watched the 1 minute ad in a post game show and once on YouTube — the spot did not air DURING the game in the Lansing market. On a scale of one to 10 — one is the lowest, 10 the highest — I give it a two. Some of the animation and graphics were nice.
Q): Can you maybe elaborate a bit?
Kolt: People who watched the ad with me said Perry Johnson looks a little creepy. I’m sure he likes himself, but he may be the only person who does based on this ad, along with maybe some TV stations and his own consultants who make money off him. I don’t know where he is walking to in the ad, but apparently he is in a hurry. And he wrote a book once — well, good for him! And he has pretty good hair. Really, this ad makes him look like a clown who is taking credit for everything, including every job in the auto industry. That’s just laughable. This ad makes Perry Johnson look like just another rich guy massaging his own ego on TV.
Q): So you don’t think he got his money’s worth?
Kolt: I don’t know how much money he is spending, but he should save his money. This ad isn’t doing anything for anybody and is probably turning a lot of people off. It was not a good use of his money. I think some campaign consultants, TV stations and production companies just soaked Perry Johnson out of cash. It was a waste of his money and a waste of my time watching it.
Q): How about getting his name ID up? Doesn’t that count for something?
Kolt: Yes, he could generate some name identification and awareness, but after that, people are not going to like him. This ad creates a very negative impression. Any Democrat should hope he spends a lot of money on it and freezes out other Republicans because right now Johnson looks very beatable in a general election. Does he really want to be known as the rich Republican creep talking about perfection? And do I really have to thank him when my car door closes? This guy seems very self-absorbed. I don’t want to see this ad again, and, if I were a Republican, I would never want to meet him. I’m a Democrat who actually likes most Republicans personally. “Governor for a perfect Michigan.” Oooooh geez — Let’s start a campaign lying to voters — nice play, Shakespeare!
Q): Thinking back 12 years to the “One Tough Nerd” ad of Rick Snyder, also during the Super Bowl, in 2010 — did you think Snyder’s ad was effective?
Kolt: Snyder’s ad WAS effective — and moved his name identification up nine points overnight in polls. The difference between Snyder’s ad and Johnson’s is that people wanted to hear more about Rick Snyder after watching the Super Bowl, and he was immediately in the political game as an overnight contender in a field of hardly-known other candidates. This Johnson ad makes people want to stay away from him.
Q): At that time 12 years ago, did you really think it would boost Snyder to accomplish what he did?
Kolt: I had no expectations from the Snyder ad, but it worked. I wasn’t surprised, but I did not predict it, either. Rick Snyder’s Super Bowl ad was simply good. And Republicans CAN run good ads — I thought (former U.S. Rep.) Mike Rogers ran a lot of good ads while he was a Congressman.
Q): Do you think Snyder’s ad enabled him to eventually win the Republican nomination, or were there other factors that were more important?
Kolt: The Super Bowl ad didn’t win the election for Rick Snyder; he did that on his own. The Super Bowl ad just put Snyder in the game when most journalists completely wrote him off as a non-starter and loser.
Q): Despite what you say, do you think Johnson’s ad could prove to be just as effective as Snyder’s?
Kolt: No way. There is nothing in this Johnson ad that makes people want to like him or watch more of this grandiose nonsense. People like people who are like themselves, and there is nothing in this ad that connects with most people in Michigan. I don’t know who the Johnson ad is supposed to persuade, but it sure wasn’t me or most other people who watched it.
Q): Let’s look at all this another way. After 8 years as governor, do you think Snyder’s record is a plus or minus for Johnson? They both are multi-millionaire successful businessmen without prior political experience, and so if people liked Snyder’s job performance maybe they’ll decide, “Hey, this looks like Snyder 2.0. Let’s do it again!” On the other hand, if they didn’t like Snyder, whether it was the Flint Water Crisis, or signing a Right to Work law or just in general, maybe that will automatically disqualify Johnson in their minds. On the other hand, there are obvious differences between Snyder and Johnson. Snyder really WAS a nerd, whereas Johnson is a motivational speaker, among other things, although there is always the question of whether he’s a GOOD motivational speaker.
Kolt: I don’t think Rick Snyder’s record has anything to do with how Perry Johnson will be perceived by voters. Nobody is perfect. Claiming perfection as an expectation in any way is just a political lie that I think might soil all politicians.
Q): Another thing — Johnson is a lot older (74) than Snyder was in 2010, if that makes a difference. Also, Johnson may have a lot MORE money than Snyder, and be prepared to spend a lot more. Of course, Kevin Rinke the auto dealer has said he’s prepared to spend $10 million, and he could cancel Johnson’s money out.
Kolt: As a Democrat, I say “Go for it, Perry and Kevin, spend more money now!” That would just help Gretchen Whitmer raise more money in her campaign. My guess is the winner of the Republican primary will need to spend at least $10 million, and $30 million more to win the general election. Sure, money could determine who wins the GOP nomination. Republicans want a candidate that they don’t have to contribute money to and can save some of their own cash for other races. Money is a great advantage in a political campaign, but cash doesn’t always win an election. As for the Rinke ad, calling Governor Whitmer a Yugo in the spot translates into calling the Governor a failure. It’s an insult, not very sophisticated and not at all persuasive. Here we go again, an old white man attacking a woman in a political campaign. Shameful. Apparently Rinke is not running against other Republican candidates in the primary, he just assumes they will all be losers to him. So, is being a car dealer a good background to brag about to serve as Governor? I don’t think that’s a good place to start a media campaign. The only good thing I can say about Rinke’s ad is that he’s driving a nice old car. The ad itself is not very memorable.
Q): If Johnson should win the Republican nomination, is he the best candidate for the GOP to oppose Gretchen Whitmer?
Kolt: No, Johnson will lose to Gretchen Whitmer.
Q): Already, another Republican candidate (Tudor Dixon) has a campaign consultant who has attacked Johnson for advertising himself as a “quality guru.” Fred Wzsolek says: “The last thing Michigan needs is a GURU!” And Johnson’s campaign consultant, John Yob, has belittled Rinke’s Yugo ad. What do you think of Rinke and the other candidates in the 13-candidate field?
Kolt: At this moment, it looks like a group of losers. I’m not saying they are bad people. I’m saying I don’t think anyone in the Republican field now can beat Gretchen Whitmer in the general election. I always enjoy watching Republicans attack each other. Go after the GURU gang!