YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Schwarzenegger Makes His Pitch

The gubernatorial candidate has been dropping favorite brand names into campaign speeches.

August 18, 2003|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

On the campaign trail, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't telling voters what he'll do about taxes. But in at least one speech, he let slip that he stays trim by riding a Lifecycle exercise machine in the morning.

He has no stated plans for dealing with traffic congestion or auto pollution, but last week the gubernatorial candidate declared, not for the first time, that he likes Hummers. And while he has made no proposals for how to keep more movie production in the state, he has sprinkled his statements with references to his latest project, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," which is now in theaters.

On half a dozen occasions, Schwarzenegger has worked into his public statements the brand names of products with which he has long business, charitable and personal associations. Offered as tiny asides, the product references have provided the few specifics of his campaign appearances.

With so few policy positions to attack, one of his opponents, Arianna Huffington, has resorted to contrasting his enthusiasm for the gas-guzzling Hummer with her devotion to a gas-electric hybrid.

The products reinforce what has been a theme of Schwarzenegger's campaign: Californians want a strong, vital governor.

"It may well be a very strategic way of reinforcing his political brand by association with certain products that show fitness or strength," said Dominique Hanssens, a marketing professor at UCLA. "In that case, you have a win-win situation, in which the brand helps the candidate and the candidate helps the brand."

Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Rob Stutzman says he hadn't even noticed the name-brand dropping. "Most of what you're citing is him thanking companies that have been supportive of his charities," Stutzman said. "With all due respect, you guys are over-thinking this."

The products the actor mentions along the recall campaign trail are ones he has long promoted in his movies and other business. Friends say his use of them in the recall campaign reflects not calculation but rather his long-standing practice of blurring promotional, personal and career endeavors. In campaign appearances, the candidate himself has asserted that politics is not a departure from his career to date but rather a natural extension of it.

"The bottom line with Arnold is that he's very straightforward -- if he likes something, he likes to talk about it with everyone," says Jim Bentley, a friend in Chatsworth who handles product placement for Gilroy-based Indian Chief motorcycles, another Schwarzenegger favorite. "He's not big on formal endorsements, but when he has a chance, somewhere he'll work it in."

The plugs began when Schwarzenegger alluded to "Terminator 3" after his announcement that he would enter the recall race. In subsequent days, he mentioned repeatedly that during a conversation with former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, he had been working out on his Lifecycle. One of those mentions came before a crowd of hundreds of media and fans outside the L.A. County registrar-recorder's office in Norwalk.

He has made references to his Indian Chief motorcycle when talking about his successful campaign for Proposition 49, the ballot initiative that voters passed last fall to set aside money for after-school programs. Indian Motorcycle Co. was a supporter of that campaign.

And last week during a public appearance in New York that was recorded by 33 TV cameras, he repeatedly praised Hummer for its cars and its donations to his after-school charity.

"They are not only a great vehicle but they are also are very generous," he said, referring to the company. In Harlem, he presented a Hummer-made bicycle to a teenager who suggested the new name for a charity Schwarzenegger supports.

Schwarzenegger is not an official sponsor or paid endorser for any of the companies he mentions on the trails, company officials say, though each has provided him and his charities with certain benefits.

Augie Nieto, the founder of Life Fitness, the maker of Lifecycle exercise bikes, first met Schwarzenegger in a Santa Monica gym 25 years ago and remains a friend. Schwarzenegger liked and used the bicycle, Nieto said, and appeared on a brochure. At one point, Schwarzenegger entered negotiations to purchase an equity stake in the company, but pulled out, Nieto said.

The actor has continued to plug the machine. Nieto still recalls his excitement when Schwarzenegger suggested that Danny DeVito get a Lifecycle during media appearances for their 1988 comedy "Twins." Nieto, in return, has donated Lifecycle machines for Schwarzenegger's charity events and arranged for Schwarzenegger to have a Lifecycle in his hotel room or trailer when he is on the road.

Schwarzenegger's mention of the Lifecycle on the campaign trail reflects his thoughtfulness, Nieto says.

"This is purely about the fact that we're friends, that I helped him when he started and he helped me when I started," Nieto says.

Los Angeles Times Articles