29 March, 2010

Who Does Fiorina’s Demon Sheep Really Target?

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina’s ‘demon sheep’ ad has bought the US Senate hopeful centre stage. The video attacks fellow Republican primary contender Tom Campbell - branding him ‘Fiscally Conservative In Name Only’ (hence the sheep in wolf’s clothing imagery.)

Yet the newspapers have barely spent a breath on Fiorina’s claims; and the 650,000 people who’ve caught the YouTube video are unlikely to feel Campbell’s fiscal reputation has been muddied.

Instead, the 250+ Google News articles on the vid put a magnifying glass to Fiorina’s success in social media – and whether it will tank her campaign.

For example, in a 2 February article for HuffingtonPost.com Jason Linkins recognises in the video not a campaign ad but a grab for the social media market.

The video makes ‘Fiscally Conservative In Name Only’ into a mangled acronym. Linkins says regarding this: “Oh, sweetie. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but stop trying to make "FUH-SEE-NO" work because it is not happening.”

He shrieks as though Fiorina had championed an ill-thought out fashion craze. He assumes (rightly) that FCINO has value not as a political label but a popular term, and assumes the role of public barometer of its failure.

By the same thinking Fiorina’s ad has value not as political theatre (it’s inept) but as a social media exercise. Fiorina has earned exposure rare in national political races, let alone the Republican primary of a US Senate election.

Hence the question is not: Is Fiorina’s attack on Campbell fair? Instead, the question is: What kind of attention has the ex-HP CEO earned herself? Followed by: How will the vid affect her campaign?

The web’s shared gaze looms over Fiorina – but as someone at which to laugh, or accept for office?

At Cnet.com, Chris Matyszczyk recalls the parable of Tom Cruise in his 5 February article. The diminutive star wrecked Oprah’s upholstery in 2005, picking up countless YouTube hits for the pleasure. Yet he might have been driving nails through the coffin of his reputation.

In short, the internet’s gaze is not uncritical. Fiorina might follow up the ‘demon sheep’ video by appearing naked in public, and it might win her similarly stratospheric exposure. Yet (unless the species declared itself insolvent at the bank of morality) the stunt would drive her Senate campaign off a nearby cliff.

The net is a concert hall where ten million violinists play together. It’s tempting to start whacking yourself about the noggin with the instrument to stand out. The other violinists will goggle. But after that eyeful they’ll resume playing – and you’ll be bloodied and alone.

Of course, Fiorina’s demon sheep isn’t self-mutilation with a musical instrument - but it’s the same concept. The ex-Hewlett Packard CEO may think she’d unearthed a recipe for social media success. Her campaign promises more political ads in a similar vein.

Yet even if the net’s stare does not abandon her, with each release Fiorina becomes more bloodied. By the campaign’s end, her features may be misshapen completely.

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