There's a perfectly good reason why you're seeing firefighters, cops, and teachers speaking out on TV in favor of the initiative to hand over the


Costco Uses Republican I-1183 Consultant to Create a Non-Corporate, Blue-Collar Message

There's a perfectly good reason why you're seeing firefighters, cops, and teachers speaking out on TV in favor of the initiative to hand over the state's liquor sales to private industry: I-1183 would most likely fail if its ads portrayed the real-life overlords of the campaign.

By having contributed a record $22.7 million to sell (buy?) the initiative--turning a democratic process into a capitalist plot--the corporate white collars at Costco Wholesale are able to dictate I-1183's strategy. As a result, the campaign's consulting firms came up with less-than-realistic blue-collar ads, currently fouling the air like locusts.

It's ironic that I-1183 spokesperson Kathryn Stenger defended Costco's latest contributions dump, $8 million this week, as necessary to combat the "level of deceptiveness" used by I-1183 opponents.

While the other side hypes some of its claims, are they more deceptive than a corporation hoping to inflate its earnings by claiming that school teachers and public-safety officers practically beg that we expand liquor sales?

Obviously, a bunch of suits happily huddled around a ballooning sales chart isn't the sort of campaign image Costco and other deep-pocket initiative backers want to send. That's why I-1183 hired, among others, political consultant Target Enterprises of Los Angeles to zero in--"micro-targeting," the firm calls it--on voters most malleable to the campaign's grass-roots message.

Specializing in voter profiling, identifying specific media audiences, and the targeting of ad placements, the firm has earned almost $8 million from the Costco-led campaign in the last month and half.

Millions more have been paid to other consultants and image creators as Costco helps tailor the campaign's narrow line--"a good deal for taxpayers"--while steering cameras away from their boardroom machinations (Costco officials do not take press calls on the topic).

Costco clearly learned from its last, failed, attempt to privatize liquor sales. It has revised its proposal and sic'd its consultants on thirsty, frugal voters. As Target explains in its sales pitch to prospective clients:

For too long, the focus of media efforts has been greatly centered on the creative, with less attention given to the targeting, placement and buying methods . . . in today's world of more outlets, more options and a fight to make the best use of limited resources, the "Target Story" is more relevant than ever.

Typically, Target's target audience would be Republicans, according to literature about the firm (which did not respond to a phone inquiry). Its political clients usually are GOP candidates, and its president is Adam Stoll, a Republican Party adviser who was ad director of the 1996 Bob Dole White House campaign and campaign manager for New York Governor George Pataki's 2002 re-election campaign.

For Costco, Target is, presumably, targeting drinkers from either side of the aisle, including those who apparently would rather drive to the warehouse store than the liquor store. The end to the state booze monopoly is being fashioned as a deal for consumers, even though new taxes and Costco's liquor markup could lead to higher-than-current prices.

It is a good deal for the corporation, of course, certain to expand Costco's hefty profit margins. Even without hard liquor sales here, the nationwide corporation cleared $478 million in just the last quarter alone, although that didn't stop executives from raising customer membership fees 10 percent.

But that's another corporate video you won't see. Instead, as the campaign strategy dictates, you get public servants such as firefighter Kris Holien. "Now, more than ever," he says in one of I-1183's new promos, "we need our tax dollars for public services, not state liquor stores."

Helmet in arm, he appears ready to respond. Very good. If voters buy the Costco initiative to expand booze sales fivefold statewide, he may be needed "Now, more than ever" on our highways.

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