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Why does Jeff Immelt personally manage the GE brand?

Every month I sit down with my advertising team to review all the ads they are proposing to support our overall company brand. I have been doing this since I became CEO and, in that time, have seen dozens of ads, most of which I love and a few, that I didn’t.

So why would I spend hundreds of hours over the years to review all of these ads? I would imagine that our advertising team asks themselves that question at every one of these reviews. The answer is that owning, protecting and nurturing the brand is one of most important jobs of a CEO.


I have strong views and occasionally suggest a few new lines, or shots or ideas. I am not particularly artistic, but I do know what we stand for. I have a great appreciation for our creative talent in GE and our agency and their ability to tell our story.


If it were up to me, I would make our products the hero of every ad. I think a locomotive is beautiful … but that is just me. Recently, my team convinced me that an ad called “Childlike Imagination” would register with the outside world. This is an ad of a young girl bragging about the wonder that her Mom creates at GE. They were right.

A new ad is called "The Boy Who Beeps" and it is terrific storytelling by our team and our longtime creative partners at BBDO. I won’t ruin it for you but it isn’t the typical story about industrial technology or people. It’s about what we call the “industrial internet” and the outcomes that companies like GE can produce for families, friends and communities. I think the ad team used the word “metaphor” about a dozen times during our screening.

So for a guy who grew up selling our products, it wasn’t what I usually look for in our ads – big, powerful GE turbines, engines or blowout preventers – that are invented, built and sold by our people around the world. I always ask myself in these reviews, what would one of our customers take away from this ad about GE? Would a utility executive, an airline CEO or a hospital administrator want to do business with us because of what he or she just saw on Thursday Night Football or on Squawk Box? Does it tell a deep industrial story of efficiencies, savings and productivity that usually get customers excited?

At first, The Boy Who Beeps didn’t check these boxes for me. But, in watching the ad and others over the years, I have come to realize that sometimes I need to listen to the team … I am not the audience. I have learned that a company like GE also has to put a human face on technology and demonstrate that our products are an important part of everyday life. And it helps to understand that our customers are people too. So an engaging, emotional story like The Boy that Beeps is another way to reach them -- and to say something larger about GE’s culture and people. Another new GE ad, "Ideas Are Scary", doesn’t show a single GE product or service. But it demonstrates that GE people are determined inventors and entrepreneurs who love good ideas, regardless of their source. For a company to stay relevant for 135 years, our ads need to make people think of GE in a whole new way. Both The Boy Who Beeps and Ideas are Scary do that extremely well.

Our brand is worth close to $50 billion. That’s real money. Every decision I make must support the long-term health of our brand, including which ads to run. It must trump other shorter-term considerations. Few others in the company have as broad, or as passionate, a point of view on this as the CEO. While I review every ad, I encourage our team to be different. Working together, we tell a meaningful GE story to the world.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ramesh - excellent and relevant story. Thanks. Priyankur

Sumit Roy said...

Wish there were more CEOs who are prepared to listen to their "inner human" rather than their "business sense".

Most CEOs still don't know that products have rationales while brands are built on emotionales.

Sumit

Kuruvilla Abraham said...

What about a successful company that does not advertise; who owns that brand?

Kuruvilla Abraham said...

It's a think line between being a hand cart manager and a guiding light and Jeff Immelt has articulated the right stance very lucidly