“It’s imperative for us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors,” says Glantz. “If in some small, intangible way I can play a role, then at some point that small intangible occasionally will drive theater guests to us instead of others.”
Be authentic: While usually amateurish and sometimes annoying, car dealers starring in their own local TV ads nevertheless have always comprised “one of the best examples of CEO connectivity on an authentic basis,” says Greg Portell, lead partner in the global consumer practice for A.T. Kearney consultants in Chicago.
Louie Gentine is the second CEO to star in national TV ads for Sargento, the Plymouth, Wisconsin-based, family-owned cheesemaker, following in the footsteps of his father, Lou Gentine. The latest Sargento campaign emphasizes family ownership with a timeline and old photos.
“Authenticity always matters, and when you see Lou and I in the commercials, that’s pretty much how everyone at the company sees us every day,” Gentine says. “And we’ve got recent market research which shows that people associate Sargento with being a family-owned company more than any other cheese brand. That makes an instant connection.”
Make it entertaining: Glantz has dressed up as a Jedi knight for videos that have run before Star Wars sequels and more recently as a baby shark, after the popular Internet meme. Ghilani says he gets “passionate and theatrical in providing what otherwise seems like boring information—but is extremely exciting to our company and hopefully our clients.”
Sandberg says Brembo’s “challenge is in making our podcasts entertaining. You want to find a human angle, maybe talking about employees. It doesn’t have to be about brakes. Sometimes we add a co-host. The key is that you can still market your product but you must have that human connection and entertainment value.”
Don’t expect to like it: Often CEOs are busy running companies and must be talked into “going Hollywood” by their marketing folks. CEO Alessandro DiNello was hesitant to star in a TV ad for Flagstar, the Troy, Michigan-based regional bank holding company. Flagstar had signed an endorsement deal with Blake Griffin, a pro-basketball star traded to the Detroit Pistons in 2017, and marketers wanted to pair Griffin’s life-long ascension in the sport with DiNello’s own rise from accounting student to the spearhead of an impressive corporate turnaround.
“They thought this would resonate most with the public,” says DiNello. “They said you’ve got to take one for the team here. I was a reluctant participant because it’s just not my style.” He did it anyway.
Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison was chagrined by the demands when he starred for the first time in one of the company’s national TV ads, early this year. “It’s surprising how many people it takes and how long it takes,” he says. “I shot for three hours.”
The time-crunch for podcasts is much lower. Sandberg has a production-quality microphone installed in his home office. And Walters says, “For each 15-minute podcast, I have maybe an hour or an hour and a half into it. It’s even quicker if I’ve got a guest.”
Prepare for the results: After they see his vignettes, Glantz finds Emagine patrons seeking him out via email to discuss his in-cinema ads and other topics. “I don’t invite them, but they find me,” he says. “I’m not hiding from anyone.”
But sometimes marketing that features CEOs can turn bad quickly, and catastrophically, in an era of instant communications and hyper-intensive public reactions. “You want to provide a bit of creativity in the business environment but not mess up a huge brand,” Portell says. “When celebrity CEOs were on the rise, you could control the messaging. But now the access points are 360 [degrees], so when a CEO does something bad, everyone is going to see it.”
In other words, don’t expect to hear “Hi, I’m Mark Zuckerberg…” anytime soon.