When Ohio kicked off its new tourism TV campaign, Governor Bob Taft knew something was wrong: There wasn't enough footage of Governor Bob Taft.
So, according to a Department of Development spokeswoman, Taft ordered the ads reedited to include more shots of him surrounded by children. His motives were obvious: When making summer vacation plans, most families choose their destinations based on how the governor looks when surrounded by children. That's just good science.
But a cynic might conclude that Taft vainly mistook the tourism initiative for his own campaign ads. Spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey huffily dismisses such talk. "It's not a campaign ad at all. Other governors from other states promote their states." Translation: It's a perk of the job.
Yet, when most ad execs are looking for a telegenic spokesman, rarely do their casting calls include nice but rather homely fellows with the charisma of a toaster oven. Sharkey begs to differ. "How did Lee Iacocca sell cars? You put a name and a face to sell your product. That's marketing-advertising 101."
There is, of course, a sizable difference between Iacocca, a rough-and-tumble businessman, and Taft, a politician. Few people would even trust a politician to repair their muffler. Could one ever make for a credible spokesman? "Your questions have kind of a negative tone," Sharkey responds, trying to get The Edge off the phone.
So we turned to Dr. Richard M. Perloff, a Cleveland State professor finishing his second book on the art of persuasion. He says the governor may sell "older people who identify with values Taft projects." Translation: The golf courses and bingo halls will be full this summer.
But there's also a downside: "People may presume the governor is doing it for his own self-aggrandizement." And when that presumption is made, says Perloff, "they disregard the message entirely." Translation: Most people will change the channel to WWF Smackdown!
Fortunately, the state also has a new slogan. "Ohio, the Heart of It All" is out; "Ohio . . . So Much to Discover!" is in. State officials bet the new exploration theme will be enough to assure us that, come summer, legions of Pittsburghers will jump the border to blow their workers' comp checks, all for the chance to see Governor Bob Taft surrounded by campaign props . . . er, children.