Associates are starring in retailer ad campaigns

Discussion
Photos: Facebook/@luckybrand
Apr 06, 2021
Tom Ryan

For the 22nd year, ShopRite associates will be featured on limited-edition Cheerios boxes to recognize their efforts fighting hunger in their local communities.

The campaign in partnership with General Mills encourages customers at checkout to contribute by rounding their grocery purchases up to the nearest dollar. ShopRite will unveil the customized cereal boxes at in-store celebrations during March and April. Two employees from each winning store are featured on the boxes, as well as online, at ShopRite’s EssentialThanks.com website.

Bill Fields, the late former president of Walmart U.S., created waves by featuring associates as well as customers for the first time in Walmart’s advertising circulars in the early ‘80s.

“We thought he was an idiot,” Jan Mauldin, a copy editor in Walmart’s marketing department, said in a profile on Mr. Fields that ran in the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal in 1991. “We told him it’d take 15 times as long, shooting with amateurs, not models. It was a logistics nightmare.’”

However, employees lined up for blocks to be featured. Ms. Mauldin said, “Fields’ idea turned out to be a smash.”

Associates are starring in retailer ad campaigns
Photo: ShopRite; General Mills

Burberry and Lucky Brand were among the fashion brands that used employees in campaigns over the last year as in-person photoshoots became challenging during the pandemic and tighter budgets squeezed out influencers. The campaigns, shot from employees’ homes with a phone camera, weren’t as polished but were a fraction of the cost of traditional campaigns and aligned with the pandemic’s need for authentic storytelling.

Deanna Bedoya, Lucky Brand’s senior director of brand marketing and creative services, told Glossy, “We did a survey on Instagram asking people what they wanted to see from us, and the No. 1 things requested was for us to be real and raw.”

Employees were also likely thrilled to participate.

Michael Kors featured employees rather than celebrity ambassadors for the first time last October in its Watch Hunger Stop campaign. “Casting and photographing our employees for this campaign was very special,” said Michael Kors, honorary chairman, in a statement. “People talked about their pride in working on Watch Hunger Stop over the years, and their eagerness to help those in need.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see significantly more advantages in using employees to support campaigns over models, influencers and celebrities? What campaigns are appropriate for featuring employees? What are the shortcomings?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Associates telling their stories is light years more authentic than social influencers on the prowl for likes and follows to build their own personal brands."
"Yes, featuring real employees in campaigns can humanize a brand, resonate with consumers and build trust."
"Any company can pay for an influencer. But seeing an employee endorse the company they work for and its products speaks volumes for how the company values employees..."

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25 Comments on "Associates are starring in retailer ad campaigns"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

I think using employees in ads is a great idea. As a marketer of mobile devices at a couple companies, showing the product in action was essential. I chose to use employees and it was a big cost and time saver. The employees that were selected felt honored. At NRF, when it was last held in-person, I saw a video that featured me and I thought it was kind of cool – even if it was about 10 years old…

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Maybe it’s my age talking, but I am so over models and influencers. I know that these people are hired to endorse product and I know that they are there to smile to entice consumers to make a purchase. I don’t buy any of it, nor do I care about what they have to say. Now, store associates in ads? That’s something I can get behind.

Bill Fields had the right idea in the ’80s, I wonder why it took so long to catch on? Are there downsides? Of course, but there are downsides to hitching your brand to celebrities and influencers as well. You only have to look at the current Rachel Hollis debacle to see that.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Bill Fields? Wow! Now you are reaching back into the annals of retail history!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I worked for Ben Franklin Corporate back then. Sam Walton had been a Ben Franklin store owner so everything Walmart did was of ultimate importance. Tom reminded me about that in his article.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Ben Franklin was a client of mine (GERS) in the mid-90s. I wonder if we worked together then? Retail is indeed a small world!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Probably! I was Director of Visual Merchandisng. The store supplies buyer was one of my direct reposts. We should talk sometime!

DeAnn Campbell
Guest

The flip side is, of course, too much authenticity, like The My Pillow Guy.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Using employees in advertisements and in product demonstrations lends an amount of credibility and realism to both. Consumers are people and people relate to people, especially if they believe that the “actors” are genuine.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Like anyone believes Tom Selleck needs a reverse mortgage. 😉

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

But he said it’s not his first rodeo! 🙂

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

LOL!

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

You can’t get any more authentic, which is what younger shoppers want. Every business has to have people who would be comfortable enough in front of a camera and can deliver a simple line. What is advertising, really, but, “please come and shop at my store” or, “please buy my product”? I would also expect that it boosts employee morale to see “one of their own.”

DeAnn Campbell
Guest

Employees who feel engaged and valued are a superpower for any business. It takes courage for a company to put employees up front that are not model perfect, or polished by speech training – but the end result is almost always perceived as a powerful display of authenticity. You can’t hire integrity, you have to live it. We have moved into the post-Mad Men era, when customers will take a genuine but slightly stumbled endorsement over a slick marketing piece to make them feel affection for a brand.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

In this era of over-hyped and over-everything marketing, authenticity is differentiating. And associates telling their stories is light years more authentic than social influencers on the prowl for likes and follows to build their own personal brands. I’ll take real people over real polished every time.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes, featuring real employees in campaigns can humanize a brand, resonate with consumers and build trust. Younger consumers in particular reject slick, big-budget marketing in favor of user-generated content and authentic behind-the-scenes glimpses of brands.

Showing a company’s culture and telling its people’s stories can connect consumers to companies and help brands stand out. “Buy local” promotions, corporate social responsibility initiatives and recruitment campaigns can be more powerful by showcasing employees.

If companies stick to honest depictions, quality storytelling and show a range of associates, there are few downsides.

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

This is an example of brands combining aspirational marketing with use of models and approachable marketing. The most effective strategy combines both and the “right” mix can be based on the brand DNA, the cultural zeitgeist and more. With the rise of authenticity on TikTok and the effect of the polish of Instagram diminishing — plus, of course, the lack of shoots due to COVID-19 — it isn’t surprising to see the pendulum swing toward authenticity in marketing.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust
While I do believe that employees can provide some authenticity to a brand when used appropriately, it has to fit the goals of the brand and the positioning of the brand. This type of campaign may also be helpful for smaller retailers that want to demonstrate their local roots and outstanding employees and create a greater sense of trust with their communities. Celebrity endorsements can also have long-term benefits if it is a good fit for the brand strategy. The breakfast of champions campaign from Wheaties, has had decades of success with celebrity endorsements which through association insinuates that Wheaties can make you a champion. From Lou Gehrig to Bruce Jenner to Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods that brand has been built through celebrity endorsement. Where would Wheaties be if they used Joe, the cashier at Jewel in Cicero, Illinois, or Barbara at the deli counter from Kroger in Dayton, Ohio? Neither approach is always right but in the current age of distrust by consumers for brands, it may be the time to feature employees… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Employees scream authenticity and credibility. Celebrities, et alia, scream hype and con. Now, sometimes the results are — well — a little weird. Johnsonville Sausages, for example, has some fairly bizarre spots, but I love them. Give me the guy who apparently hallucinates he is eating sausages and laughing with raccoons over Ice-T telling me he can’t affirm to get his car fixed any day. I don’t know what an inappropriate campaign would look like, but on the flip side, it is hard to believe that any employee would be telling you the whole truth. After all, they have to go back to work after the cameras stop rolling. But it’s like they say about sincerity — once you learn how to convincingly fake that, anything is possible.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

There are many advantages to using employees in campaigns instead of influencers or celebrities.

Any company can pay for an influencer. But, seeing an employee endorse the company they work for and its products speaks volumes for how the company values employees and the overall quality of its products or services.

Campaigns featuring employees just ring more authentic.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Ideas like these can be outstanding IF the advertising people treat them honestly. But, especially with TV, that’s unlikely. The inside stories from shooting commercials like those focus group ads for Chevrolet make it clear there was no authenticity on the set — only a clear desire to make it appear authentic.

Over 25 years I’ve filmed a lot of real people (non-actors) talking and the single worst thing a director can do is attempt to get them to say specific things — it always shows. Yet directors do that all the time and the footage is horrific. But few film crews are willing to take the risk of having a real discussion with people then sorting it out in edit.

Retailers should take care. A long running campaign where the honesty is solid can be a great thing. As a short term “cool idea”? I’d leave it in the pile of rejected ad concepts.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

There are a few good things going on here that need to be highlighted. For a neighborhood store like a ShopRite, being seen as a good neighbor is important for business. To that cause, contributing to such community initiatives makes sense. Secondly, they have figured out a great way to get the store associates as well as the shoppers excited to contribute to the initiative. Thirdly, General Mills is using this initiative to build stronger brand awareness of their being purpose-driven. All in all, everything seems interconnected — build brands by helping the community, using local heroes.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I’ve no use for “influencer”s (full stop). As for the other three approaches, each has its strengths and weaknesses: associates usually bring “authenticity” — indeed this angle is sometimes played up by including outtakes of nervous smiles and miscues — but it’s easy to overdue this element and forget that ultimately you have to have something to say. And of course there have been many memorable ads over the years featuring actors. No one approach will — or should — eclipse all others.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I’m the kind of cynic who runs (or clicks) the other way when I see an “influencer” coming, so using employees in ads seems comparatively promising.

Then again, asking staffers for public endorsements may be something like coercion if not handled with finesse. This can be made worse if the outside creative team brings cynicism to the shoot.

So a word of caution: If your brand has successfully empowered team members and created a product with bulletproof quality and impeccable social responsibility you have a decent shot of conveying authenticity using associates as your endorsers.

Do not suffer the delusion, however, that positive words from a few smiling staffers will cure underlying deficiencies in your brand.

Liza Amlani
Guest

The pride that an employee would have in being cast in support campaigns is not only authentic, but it brings pride to the employee as a true brand ambassador. It humanizes a retailer/brand and the campaign translates into stores as these are the people that will actually be customer facing. It’s a fantastic idea.

When Walmart enlisted its employees in their TikTok feed, I believed it. I watched. I was engaged.

When Walmart enlisted social media influencers in their TikTok, it seemed fake and unbelievable. Let’s be real. These influencers would never be caught dead in a Walmart.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Authentic. Real. Believable. Employees bring all of this to the table as compared to those influencers who you know really don’t shop at a store or use a product. Will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Associates telling their stories is light years more authentic than social influencers on the prowl for likes and follows to build their own personal brands."
"Yes, featuring real employees in campaigns can humanize a brand, resonate with consumers and build trust."
"Any company can pay for an influencer. But seeing an employee endorse the company they work for and its products speaks volumes for how the company values employees..."

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