Employees Are Becoming the Newest TV Stars

Excerpted from Forbes, “Forget Celebrities. Employees Make Compelling Ad Stars In Tough Times” By Helen Coster, Apr 17, 2009

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A few employees who haven’t lost their jobs suddenly have a new one: advertising.

At a time when consumers are distrustful of big companies and their leaders, marketers are putting employees in ads in an effort to make their brands seem more transparent and trustworthy. These ads, from companies like Ford Motor, ExxonMobil, and Alabama Power, among others, are geared to make customers and employees feel better about these companies. Honda Motor Co. features at least 30 employees, including Chief Executive Takeo Fukui, and a few luminaries, including race car driver Danica Patrick, in three seven-and-a-half minute online films dubbed “Dream the Impossible” …

Nationwide Insurance is taking a similar approach with its new TV, print and radio campaign called “I Am On Your Side.” The TV ads feature Nationwide claims adjusters and customer service representatives talking about their experiences on the job. In one spot, property claims representative Terry Medley talks about how people prepare for a “prize fight” before they talk to an insurance adjuster. “We wanted to come across as authentic and genuine,” says Nationwide spokesman Michael Switzer …

[T]he TV spots … mark a sharp departure from the company’s previous ad effort. Themed “Life Comes at You Fast,” it featured celebrities such as Kevin Federline and Fabio showing the bad things that can happen to people when they aren’t prepared.

In some cases, marketers hope to demonstrate that by treating employees well, they will do good things for customers too. A current print ad from Verizon Wireless talks up innovation by touting its training programs for employees, including Philip Morisky, who is pictured teaching his son how to ride a bike. The tagline: “Our people. Our network.”

Companies tend to trot out employees as spokespeople when the economy or the company is in trouble. “Because of the financial crisis, there’s a growing anger about big companies in particular … People think that CEOs are overpaid, that big companies don’t respect the environment. … This is the natural reaction of some companies to say: “We’re on the consumers’ side. We’re not the enemy.”

Will people really buy more cars if they relate to the Average Joe in a Honda ad? “I think in the long term [they will],” says Honda’s Center. “It’s always controversial when you do institutional advertising but, as a marketer, you have to be able to juggle a couple of balls. One of them is to sell products and generate revenue in near term while continuing to build the foundation your house is standing on. That’s why we’re doing these things, even in these tough times.”

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