Two decades ago, Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca appeared
in a memorable and much talked about television commercial
with the catchy tagline, "If you can find a better
car -- buy it."
It was a great spot that communicated a powerful and
compelling message. It challenged consumers in a very
direct way. Yet, beyond the message itself, the messenger
was just as important. That's why Catherine
Zeta-Jones is the on-air spokesperson for T-Mobile.
Now, a new Ford Motor Company commercial called
"Rebirth" is hitting the airways. The star of
the spot is Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Ford. The ad
appears around the same time Ford announced that it
planned to close 14 factories and slash as many as
30,000 jobs over the next five to six years. In the TV
commercial, Bill Ford talks candidly about the
automaker's plan to improve performance and admits his
organization has had some problems -- which begs the
question, how candid is too candid?
Why would the Ford TV ad focus on the
company's problems, particularly if it's delivered
by the chief executive? Doesn't that hurt? It is a
high-risk move. But the Ford communications team must
have felt their credibility was on the line.
Media reports about the company's production
problems and massive layoffs forced them to deal head-on
with potentially negative public perception. That is an
aggressive communication strategy, which breaks a standard
rule of advertising, which is to never focus on the
negative. However, in this case, it may be warranted. But
if the company highlights its problems, how can it then
ask you to buy its product? Most of us can only focus on
one message at a time. So which is it? That Ford has
problems that its boss Bill Ford acknowledges?
Or, that his cars offer a great deal and that you
should buy one right away? Another basic rule of
communication is that we are lucky if we can communicate
one message effectively. Only time will tell if the Ford
spot struck the right balance. How much of a challenge
here is that you have to communicate the message in a
30-second window? Time is always an issue when
communicating. The 30-second commercial limit is a big
factor in how Bill Ford presents himself.
When you communicate in 30 seconds or less, you need to
be even more concise than normal. You have no
opportunity to elaborate. No chance to respond to a
question by anyone seeking clarification on your message.
You just get one shot to make a connection, which is
extremely difficult when consumers are being bombarded
with so many other messages. So is it a good idea to
have a chief executive appear in a television commercial,
or is it better to get a professional communicator or
celebrity? It depends. Bill Ford is a solid communicator.
He is not especially exciting or dynamic, but he is
credible and his name is Ford. That helps.
However, I have seen other company chief executives
appear in their own spots with terrible results.
Interestingly, some of the most effective commercials
featuring company bosses involve some nontraditional, yet
Think of Frank Purdue. He sold a lot of chickens with
his unique and seemingly genuine communication style. He
didn't look like a TV star. In fact, he kind of
looked like a chicken. Like I said, he was memorable.
Also, locally, Tom Carvel appeared in his own ice cream
commercials. He mumbled, clearly was not charismatic, but
again he connected with people. So, in the end, whether
you put the company chief executive on or not depends upon a
few factors. Is the chief executive credible? Will people
believe him or her? And finally, does he or she connect in
the TV spot on a personal and human level? If so, I say
Steve Adubato coaches and speaks on
communication and leadership. To ask a question, write
firstname.lastname@example.org or call (973) 744-5260. His Web site is