Executive Insights | August 2012 | By Julie Knudson

Get Ready for Prime Time

CEOs find marketing success in the mirror.

Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle starred in advertisements for the pizza company.
Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle starred in advertisements for the pizza company.
Bookmark/Share this post with:
Email this story Email this story
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

While many quick-serve companies turn to actors or celebrities to star in their marketing campaigns, some are finding just as much success by putting their chief executive in front of a camera. In fact, new research from TV analytics firm Ace Metrix shows that commercials featuring CEOs generally outperform those that do not.

The way CEOs are leveraged in a campaign and the strength of their message are often factors that determine these ads’ success or failure, says Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix. “In general, when used correctly, the CEO really can convey sincerity, genuineness, and the whole ‘the buck stops here’ attitude,” he says.

Daboll points to Domino’s Pizza ads from 2010, in which CEO Patrick Doyle told viewers that the company’s pizzas weren’t as good as Domino’s wanted them to be. In instances like this, Daboll says, CEOs can often grab consumers’ attention in ways others might not.

“I think people really respect the honesty, the trust, and the commitment that only a CEO can deliver,” he says.

Doyle says the decision to appear in the ads was made after discussions with Domino’s marketing team and ad agency, and that it made sense for the CEO to deliver such a serious message. “It really needs to be me who walks out front and takes responsibility,” Doyle says.

Christine Specht, who’s been president and COO of Cousins Subs since early 2008, became visible as her brand’s spokeswoman in January 2011. One reason the executive team was keen to pursue the idea, Specht says, was they believed the company’s leadership could make a great impression on customers. And since Specht is the daughter of the brand’s founder, they agreed she was the right person to breathe new life into the company’s story.

“It’s a family business,” she says. “It’s a real business, with people serving and supporting our guests and serving and supporting our franchise community. It’s really very relational.”

Wienerschnitzel also developed an ad campaign featuring its company leader. John Galardi, the brand’s founder, appeared in several recent TV spots that take viewers back to the heyday of the ’60s, when he founded Wienerschnitzel. Tom Amberger, vice president of marketing for the company, says Galardi is the perfect spokesman to give the campaign authenticity—he speaks from the heart in all of the commercials, often ad-libbing.

“He’s not just a suit,” Amberger says. By projecting a down-to-earth persona, Amberger says, Galardi is able to communicate the brand’s message in a way that resonates with customers. “I think they feel much more comfortable connecting with a real person—in this case John, our founder—rather than just a faceless organization,” Amberger says, adding that Galardi has instilled strong values in the brand, which he communicates in the ads.

Being an ongoing pitchman for Domino’s isn’t something Doyle is interested in. Instead, he sees his involvement coming from “an accountability and honesty standpoint.” And while he’s engaged in shaping the strategy around how the company is being communicated to customers, Doyle relies on his team’s judgment when it comes to appearing in a commercial.

“I want to do things that it makes sense for the CEO to do, because I’ve got to be the one to take responsibility,” he explains. “The buck stops here.”

On-air charisma is often key to delivering a strong message, and Daboll says that while Doyle’s ads have done very well, some CEOs just don’t have the right mix of personality and presence to succeed on TV.

“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and not all people are born communicators,” he says. If a CEO is wary of the experience, Daboll says the viewer is likely to pick up on that. “Sometimes it can come across as boring, frankly.” A better solution, he says, is to find a spokesperson who can portray the brand in a positive way.

One of the basic goals of advertising, Doyle says, is getting people to notice an ad (what he refers to as “breakthrough”), where they recognize and connect it to a brand. Leveraged in the right way and at the appropriate time, his position as CEO can be a powerful way to achieve that recognition, he says. “When the CEO of a company goes out and says our old pizza wasn’t very good, you’re going to get breakthrough,” he says.

The desire to be set apart from the “faceless organization” stereotype is something that drives advertising at Cousins Subs. Specht says her presence in the TV spots helps humanize the brand. “It’s real people working to meet the needs of other people, and we’re not just some faceless, cold corporation,” she says. Specht is a self-described “people person,” and she says that comes across in her role as the company’s spokeswoman.

“I think the CEO really needs to reflect the personality of the brand, and the person really needs to be able to bring that brand to life.”

Ultimately, whether an ad is selling customers on a new menu item or showcasing a can’t-miss promotion, the key is making sure the message is honest and straightforward, Amberger says.

“Don’t try to be something you’re not,” he warns. “Just be who you are, and usually consumers will respond positively to that.”