Ed Whitcare and the pitfalls of Chairman as salesman

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General Motors is offering a 60-day money-back guarantee on it’s core products – Chevy, GMC, Buick or Cadillac in the US. And as proof of seriousness, they got their current Chairman, Ed Whitacre to act in a commercial. The commercial is being panned by pundits and consumers alike.

The commercial is as bad or as good as zillions of other car ads – so many claims it could get an insurance company worried. The decision to use the top dog at the client side as a spokesperson, comes with risks. From a creative execution point of view, the executive is expected to be personable, credible, affable (you can add your own -bles now) and also deliver the message forcefully and with conviction. Bit much to ask of fat cat CEO’s who are used to bigger things in life. Not everyone can be a Lee Iacocca. The benchmark of CEO commercials remains the Lee Iacocca hosted Chrysler ads of the ’80s. Those ads were helped positively by Mr. Iacocca’s public persona of a business leader. In contrast, Whitacre admitted recently when taking over as Chairman of GM that he ‘knew nothing about cars’. Only to be followed by this ‘take my word for it’ kind of car commercial.

The difference is not just in personality. The copy makes a difference too. The Iacocca commercial begins with an attention grabbing line: ‘a lot of people think America can’t cut the mustard anymore’. That would perhaps resonate more with Americans who feared foreign brands and also conveys subliminally that the CEO speaks my language.

In India, we haven’t had very many company CEO’s as spokespersons except in retail ads of regional players (Vasanth & Co., in Chennai) where the print ads are adorned with a smiling CEO in folded hands. The MDH masala ads also feature the owner (?) though not with ‘this is my guarantee’ kind of message in all the ads. In times of crisis too brands have used the company spokesperson in their ads. GM India recently reassured consumers here that all is well (despite the reports of trouble with their US business) with their 3-year no-maintenance offer, signed off by a firang senior executive.

Any thoughts on all this?

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  1. you forgot the Country club boss. The most irritating character appearing in all commercials.

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