Here’s my latest column from the print edition of weekly Variety, taking a look at the onslaught of ads that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is running and whether there really is a risk of overexposure — as much as Jerry Brown’s supporters would like to think.
California audiences watching the recent Emmycast
were more than likely to have seen one of the state’s ubiquitous new
stars of local commercial breaks: Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief who
is running for governor.
During the past year, Whitman’s become a
familiar face on TV and voice on radio in the state, so far spending
more than $100 million of her own money to help fund an unprecedented
onslaught of ads. And while the spots have introduced her to voters,
they’ve also invited a question perhaps more familiar to reality
sensations milking their 15 minutes of fame: Is she in danger of
The idea that a politico’s ad blurbs can be so
plentiful as to begin working against them is embraced by many
supporters of her chief rival, Democratic California attorney general
Jerry Brown , whether out of earnest belief or mere jealousy. With
nothing near her resources, he has yet to air a single spot.
blog post last month, Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer cited the
Brown campaign’s survey that asked whether those who’ve seen Whitman’s
spots have a better or worse opinion of her and Brown. Some 8% said
their opinion of Whitman improved, but 27% said it worsened; 31% said it
was unchanged. Some 6% said their opinion of Brown improved, 4% said it
worsened and 31% said it was unchanged.
The caveat, of course,
is that the survey comes from the Brown campaign.
But some of
Brown’s supporters, nervous that he’s been all but absent from the
airwaves, take heart in the fact that, despite having made a huge
outlay, Whitman is even or only slightly ahead of him in the polls.
O’Connor, most recently the director of the Institute for the Study of
Politics and Media at Cal State Sacramento, says overexposure is a “real
issue” for Whitman, particularly in the ever-changing media
“She has got to change the mantra,” says O’Connor,
adding that it’s especially true in drawing attention in the era of the
DVR. “I sit in on focus groups, and what people say is they are now
fast-forwarding through the commercials.”
The risk is that the
more people see Whitman’s spots, the more they will associate them with
her spending huge amounts of her personal fortune to land the
governorship, a notion certainly not helped when Jay Leno jokes about it
on “The Tonight Show,” O’Connor notes. While Whitman had to start early
to introduce herself to voters, and recent spots have been “softer,” it
remains to be seen whether she can connect with voters, O’Connor adds.
has got to get a message that resonates — ‘What are you going to do to
make my life better?’ — and she has got to do it at a very granular
level,” O’Connor says.
Ken Sunshine, whose public relations
consultancy reps public figures and entertainers, sees parallels between
Whitman and Hollywood stars: In the digital age, once you seek
attention, you have less and less control over your image.
is a danger, it can backfire, and it is much harder to fight against,”