Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's Wrong With Meg Whitman

The political season is starting to ramp up and, as with other election cycles, I sometimes find myself surprised by the things that happen. One of my greatest disappointments this year happened when Techcrunch published a "guest author" with an endorsement of Meg Whitman. While Techcrunch has published some political posts in the past, my recollection is that most of them were much more issue-focused, typically centered around tech or policies that impact VCs or start-ups.

Of course, I wasn't the only one surprised by the post; the comments section raged. For me, the most amusing comments centered around blunders she made as CEO of eBay -- like in the execution of the acquisition of Paypal or the complete failure of the acquisition of Skype. While your average member of the public might equate "successful company, former CEO" to "CEO produced success", here in Silicon Valley business is one of our pastimes and it probably gets more coverage than sports.

But I found that the greatest irony of the Meg Whitman post was the positioning. The Techcrunch post (and others that I've seen) positioned Whitman as "the Silicon Valley candidate", leveraging her experience here as justification for her candidacy. Of course, if you look at the polls, Whitman isn't leading here in the Bay Area. Instead, she polls better in the central valley and conservative regions of the state where they're happy to eat up her parroting of Fox News-Tea Party positions.And when she did a press event in the offices of Yelp the other day, she faced a cynical audience who questioned her misrepresentative advertising.

Considering that Whitman has spent over $100 million dollars of her own fortune to put her campaign into the position she now holds, one marketing lesson that you can take from this whole experience is that, with a large enough marketing budget, you can buy some level of market adoption. This strategy seems oddly more in line with some of the tactics from Microsoft, like with Bing and Internet Explorer. Maybe instead of being Silicon Valley's candidate, Whitman should position herself as the Redmond candidate.

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