When Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Vinny Minchillo to join its creative team, he didn’t hesitate. Minchillo had worked on number of political campaigns, including George W. Bush’s 2004 re-elect, and many of his old colleagues, like Stuart Stevens, were already at Romney’s headquarters in Massachusetts. And Minchillo, now a principal at Plano’s Glass House Strategy, notes that Boston had at least one advantage over the Metroplex: 24-hour cannoli shops. He stopped by the Texas Monthly office at the end of November for a debrief about the art and science of political advertising.
You were living in the horse race. Was it fun?
I don’t know if I could do it forever, but it was fun. You get up in the morning and look at your emails with the headlines from overnight. We’d watch Morning Joe every day so we’d know what the other side was doing. At least for me and my roommate, that was our big idea: “We’ll know their talking points if we watch Morning Joe!”
How fast can you get an ad out there? 24, 48 hours?
24-48 hours? We don’t have that kind of time. I’ll give you an example. Late in the race, the president made a comment about hiring a secretary of business. When we saw that in the clips, it was 11:30 at night. We pulled everybody together and went back to the office and created a spot and got it done and through approval in the course of, say, 90 minutes. And it was in the news the next morning. So it can go that fast.
Are you in the Nate Silver/Sasha Issenberg camp of data-driven campaigns?
My background is that I’m a traditional ad guy. I came out of brand advertising. For brand advertising, there’s data, and there’s a sense of what your brand can and can’t do. So, for example, for Romney, we didn’t do wacky comedy commercials, because that’s against the Romney brand. If we did a wacky comedy commercial it’d be like, “You guys have lost your mind.” Data’s really important, but you can be a slave to the data—there’s still an art to it.
Is it possible to rebrand a candidate once the brand is set?
Like, during the campaign?
Well, during the campaign, or over time.
To me, there’s even a little bit of a problem with that notion. The brand has to be an organic thing; the brand has to come out of who that candidate is. I wouldn’t take Candidate A and try to morph him into something else. If that person is a businessperson, kind of sober and straight-shooting, his or her ads ought to reflect that. If they’re a big personality, kind of gregarious, their ads ought to reflect that. So I think that brand should be a reflection of that person.
This is kind of existentially complicated. What if the person changes?
There’s no question that a person who goes through a political battle changes. It’s a bit of a magnifying glass. Whatever personality traits they have, they’re there, but they become bigger because you’re looking at them so closely.
It reminds me of Robert Caro’s comment, that people think power corrupts, but actually power reveals.