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When Ads Go Strange: Carly Fiorina Spooks Viewers With Demonic Sheep


Her political campaign spots are oddly psychedelic, stranger than fiction.

In California, they're accustomed to hardball this time of year. But on the baseball field, not the web. Now, thanks to Carleton S. "Carly" Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), that's changed. The former corporate executive has commissioned two of the most talked-about political ads in this year's California GOP senate primary.

The spots, which first aired on the web this winter and are shown at GOP functions, quickly went viral. Both were produced by Fred Davis, a GOP political consultant known for his scathing spots. For Fiorina, Davis has created a three-minute "Demon Sheep" ad against Republican rival Tom Campbell and a seven-minute video mocking incumbent Democrat senator Barbara Boxer. The "sheep" ad shows Campbell not as a fiscal conservative but as a man in a sheep's costume, with illuminated devilish red eyes, crawling around the grass in a field of real sheep. It's not clear what the sheep signify.

The Boxer ad depicts the incumbent's head as a giant runaway blimp that crushes anything in its path, using real audio from Boxer's speeches to keep the floating head talking incessantly. It's followed by a three-minute bio of Fiorina.

Over-the-top political ads aren't new. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson ran the infamous Daisy ad against Barry Goldwater. The Arizona senator had said that a nuclear bomb dropped on North Vietnam was the quickest way to end the Vietnam War. The ad, created by the recently deceased Tony Schwartz, showed a bomb exploding as a little girl plucked a daisy. It ran once; Goldwater threatened to sue the President.

"The Boxer ad is used quite a bit before Carly speaks before live audiences," Davis tells Minyanville. "But the ads were done to get attention and to make a point." The demon sheep ad asks whether or not Tom Campbell is really a conservative. In the Boxer spot, "the goal was to contrast the differences between the two.

"In California, to run one ad per week on statewide television costs $5 million. If you make web ads that are attention-getting enough, you get $5-10 million worth of viewers for a handful of dollars," says Davis. "In addition, many people throughout the country see those ads; so it helps to nationalize the race. And when you run against a lightening rod such as Barbara Boxer, you want national attention and fundraising."

"The ad did exactly what we wanted; Democrats hated them; Republicans loved them," he adds. According to Davis, the sheep ad had a million hits; the Boxer ads had half of that. Davis also created the 2008 John McCain spots that linked Obama to celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Jim Ross, head of San Francisco-based Jim Ross Political Consulting tells Minyanville, "The Fiorina ads are geared for the insiders and activists in the party; not the general voter. They are great ads for their purpose. She's in a tough primary. [Assemblyman] Chuck DeVore sings to that hard conservative base and Campbell is respected on both sides of the aisle." Fiorina is in the middle; with someone more moderate to her left and more conservative to her right.

According to a Los Angeles Times/USC poll conducted March 23-30, Campbell leads former Fiorina by 29 percent to 25 percent in the race, with Representative DeVore at 9 percent. Four percent prefer another candidate and 33 percent are undecided. Campbell lost the Republican primary in 1992 and was defeated when he ran against Senator Dianne Feinstein in 2000.

Another sub-plot playing a role in the primary involves letters that Packard heirs are sending out; warning that Fiorina almost ruined Hewlett-Packard and not to allow that to happen to California. Ross said her opponents are running positive ads but have "fodder against her if they choose to go down that path."

Meanwhile another former tech executive is running for high office: Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay (EBAY) is running for governor of California on the GOP ticket and has already put $70 million of her own money in the campaign with a pledge to spend $150 million. Her net worth is greater than $2 billion; Fiorina is worth $20 million.

The primary is June 8. Stay tuned to your computer.
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