The wrong spokesperson

05Dec08

Maybe it’s just the shows I watch, but it seems like every prime-time slot is filled with those new Sprint commercials. You know, the ones where the CEO walks along the street and tells you why Sprint’s service and pricing are so great. Something always bothered me about this campaign, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. Until now, that is.

The way I see it, Sprint is trying to take an otherwise unremarkable personality and shoehorn it into their marketing and product positioning. This isn’t a knock on their new CEO — maybe he’s a great leader and innovator. Maybe he writes a great blog and interacts well with the media. But as far as the public immediately relating to him and admiring him in a TV commercial, I don’t see the connection.

In contrast, Verizon has gotten incredible mileage from their fictional “Can you hear me now?” guy. He’s presumably just a well-chosen actor who embodies their commitment to reliable service. At no point did they try to force their CEO or any other executive into this role when there wasn’t an obvious fit.

Looking outside the wireless market, companies that have well-known CEOs (such as Apple) almost never make them the centerpiece of the ad campaign. The product, either by itself or embodied by a tightly-defined yet fictional character, is the core of the message.

So if you ever feel inclined to make your CEO the key spokesperson in your marketing campaign, think about the sort of club you’ll be joining. Most of the time, it’s better to re-focus your message on the product itself and why customers would want it. Although the people behind the product are important, I’m pretty sure your CEO isn’t included with every unit you ship.



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