The current GE campaign, “What’s the Matter with Owen?,” is sheer brilliance because it does what good advertising should do. It embraces an element of truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, and deals with it head-on in an attempt to change perception of a brand.
The GE brand is a classic, but in most cases it’s mired in a sense of historical relevance -- or irrelevance, depending on your perspective. So the ads feature Owen, a college grad diving into a promising career as a developer. His friends and family are disappointed to hear he is going to work at GE, apparently foregoing his education.
This is exactly what college grads have been thinking for many years: GE represents a stoic, yet stable, old brand. It is not positioned as innovative or groundbreaking. Through some simple copy put in Owen’s mouth -- and a touch of humor – the spot starts the process of reinventing the perception of GE, reintroducing it to a generation of people who will be its lifeblood for years to come.
I don’t work with GE in any way, and I don’t even know anyone who works at GE -- but if I did, I would pat him or her on the back. Good advertising is not afraid to deal with the truth, and perception of truth is reality. Your brand is exactly what your audience thinks it is. If they think you’re old, you’re old. If they think you’re exciting, then you’re exciting.
Good advertising takes an uncomfortable truth and flips it. Great advertising changes a negative perception to a positive one. This campaign is, in my eyes, an example of great advertising.
The devil is in the details, of course, and it depends on how holistically GE embraces this campaign. It has to be more than an ad on the NFL’s Sunday games. It has to be a campaign activated across all channels, including recruiting efforts and day-to-day business.
One of the best examples of this kind of holistic approach is one I heard dating back about 15 years for Burger King. Burger King really embraced its “Have it your way” campaign, going so far as to change the hinges on its restaurant doors so they opened both in and out, further supporting the idea that you could have your entrance “your way.” This may seem trivial, but it exemplified the brand.
GE needs to find nontraditional ways of broadcasting its message to its audience, embracing digital, creating apps and games that bring the message to life and finding new ways to engage the people it want to hire and the companies it wants to partner with. However it's operated for the last 20 years needs to change -- update it all.
That is what truly great advertising can do. It can lift the heart, open the mind and create new connections in the brain that make you think differently about a brand, product or service. It can be the impetus for a brand to do things in a vastly new way, and it can resurrect businesses from the abyss.
OK, maybe I am overstating it a little bit, but I do love what advertising can do -- and I love this creative campaign.