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Fiorina's Demon Sheep Ad: Feels Like Old Times

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina AdUm, where to begin? Have you seen California senatorial candidate and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina's YouTube ad? The one that characterizes republican rival Tom Campbell as a cheesy wolf in a sheepskin rug with demon eyes, crawling around the pasture on hands and knees, presumably trolling for helpless constituents to slaughter.

Well, you should. You really should.

I bet Hewlett Packard's board directors have seen it. I bet their initial reaction was to cringe, shortly followed by sighs of relief at the bullet they dodged when they put their rock-star CEO out to pasture and replaced her with Mark Hurd, who has since executed one of the most brilliant turnarounds in tech history.

Whew ... that was a close one.

Okay, so we get why she did it. Instead of spending $5 million to blanket California with a well-produced TV ad, she did, well, this. She got some crazy viral ad guy to cut and paste this thing together and throw it on YouTube. Well, it's viral all right. And sure, she got her message across, that Campbell is a FCINO, aka fiscal conservative in name only.
Fine, but what else came across?

I mean, I'm all for taking risks to get over the constant roar of the Internet. And I've seen and done quite a few viral, grassroots-type campaigns. But there are 100 ways to do just about everything, and the one out of the 100 that you choose says a lot about you, the candidate, or you, the executive, the manager, the business owner, whatever.

Okay, so the "message" came across. Fine. But tell me, what did you "feel" when you saw the ad? Yes, I mean after you stopped laughing. Want to know what I felt? I felt sad for whoever thought this silly and amateurish garbage was a good idea. I felt sorry for whoever thought it was a sensible representation of the communications strategy of a candidate for one of the most powerful offices in the land.

I cringed for Fiorina. And you know what? It felt familiar. It felt just like it did as I watched her stumble her way through trying to turn around one of America's greatest technology companies, HP. I cringed then too.

So what's the management lesson? Well, two things.

  1. Communications isn't just about getting the message across. It's also about the feeling your audience has when they're getting the message.
  2. As I said the other day, Failure Leads to Success. That said, sometimes, when it's pretty clear you're in over your head, and you get knocked down, you should just stay down. I guess that means "know your limitations."