December 02, 2009

Meg Whitman's eBay Resume a Target In CA Governor Race

Although there is a full month left before the calendar flips to 2010, candidates for next year's gubernatorial candidacy in California are already lining up to take the state's top spot when Arnold Schwarzenegger leaves office. Among them is Silicon Valley notable Meg Whitman, whose years at the helm of eBay are being made the centerpiece for much of her promotional advertising, including radio spots and a good part of her online presence. Early polls have her tied with repeat runner Jerry Brown at 41% in a hypothetical matchup. But as great a story as eBay has been, the company's focus just lends itself to creative opponents and speechwriters.

Start with the tagline... Will Meg Put Your Children's Future Up for Auction?

Of course, replacing "your children's future" with "your business" or "your home" or whatever your favorite buzzword is still works.

And don't forget what auctions are all about... Selling out to the Highest Bidder. Without saying I think Meg is any better or any worse than Brown, in a world of politics where lobbyists are frowned upon and outside influence is distrusted, one could spin Meg's approach to politics or issues as doing just that.

After all, can't you just name a "Buy It Now" price at eBay? What is the price for a politician?

Whitman's bio, an impressive record including her education at Princeton and a Harvard MBA, floats through her work with Bain & Co., Stride Rite, Procter and Gamble, FTD, Hasbro and Disney - talking about her taking what ended up bring a dream job, when she joined eBay in 1998, and delivered an "unparalleled business success story", saying she "revolutionized the way goods are bought, sold and paid-for on line."

There is no question eBay changed the game online - managing to fight off competition from Amazon, Yahoo! and others - an unquestioned success. But if I were in politics, I would highlight the fact that eBay is the place to take old junk you don't want any more, or a place to find last year's models today. Meg Whitman's audio ads are talking about "change", just like every other politician talks about change to elicit voter interest, even as eBay's current campaign says things like "This season's shows still look great on last season's HD TV."

While it's easy to anticipate GOP opposition targeting Brown, who served from 1975-83 in the role of governor, as recycling old ideas, being tied so much to a company that champions this very thing doesn't exactly put Whitman in the driver's seat in terms of next generation forward-looking thinking.

Additionally, during Whitman's tenure at eBay, at 2005, the company very visibly purchased Skype for $3.1 billion. While the company also purchased PayPal on her watch, which has been a fantastic success, the majority of Skype was sold from eBay earlier this year, with a valuation well under that mark, after the deal never really made sense after years of stalling. Brown and other opponents' handlers could see the Skype buy as a costly billion dollar gamble that distracted eBay from its core business. With California being in such budget peril these days, it's a story that almost writes itself.

Regardless of your political leanings, it is clear these kinds of comparisons are going to come up. And lest you think we have moved on in politics away from soundbites and taglines, we haven't. If Whitman becomes the GOP candidate, or a front-runner, eBay could be as much a hindrance as it ever was a benefit. Her opponents should be dreaming of fun taglines, and her team should be getting ready to respond when they do.

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