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Affinnova to Mitt Romney: You should have picked a woman running mate

Affinnova Inc., a Waltham company that has repurposed algorithms devised for genetic research to address such consumer-product issues as how to design beer bottles and supermarket cereal aisles, claims that Mitt Romney may have missed an opportunity in not choosing a woman as a running mate.

Ditto for President Obama. If Hillary Clinton were to be his running mate, he’d have a good chance of connecting with swing voters, said Affinnova, which said it used its optimization software to sort through millions of combinations of vice presidents, platforms, slogans, and candidate images.

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According to Affinnova’s analysis, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would have made for an excellent Romney running mate.

Typically, Affinnova uses its technology to help such companies as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Post Foods launch products and conduct consumer research. Those same analytical methods found that strong political women appeal to this year’s swing voters. Affinnova partly reached this conclusion by getting feedback from 1,000 swing voters in early August, and then a few days later, measuring the potential for success of Romney-Rice and Obama-Clinton tickets with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 likely voters.

Whether such technology is as applicable to politics as it is to consumer products is an open question.

One recent Affinnova project was helping to design a new bottle for Grimsbergen, a beer that can trace its history back nearly 900 years to an abbey in Belgium. Grimsbergen is now a Carlsberg Breweries brand. In helping Carlsberg reach its decision, Affinnova said its technology platform considered more than 6,500 combinations of bottle shapes, sizes, and label graphics.

Of course, using business techniques in political campaigns isn’t new. In “The Selling of the President, 1968,” author Joe McGinniss detailed how the campaign team of then-candidate Richard Nixon relied heavily on marketing techniques.

The technology and techniques that Affinnova uses didn’t start out with a business mission. But Noubar Afeyan and Kamal Malek, two Ph.D’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thought that technology developed for other purposes could be equally relevant for evaluating the challenges that face consumer products companies.

In 2000, the two founded Affinnova on the idea that computational advances would support using the “collective mind” of the Internet to determine the ideal design of new products.

If employee head count is any guide, Affinnova is growing smartly. It ended 2011 with 151 employees and is on pace to end 2012 with 186 employees, a projected increase of 23 percent, a company spokeswoman said.

Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.
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