‘Mr. Employer, I’m Ready for My Close-up’

Discussion
Mar 17, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Retail executives are always saying that store-level employees
are their most important asset because they are the ones interacting with customers
day-in and day-out. Now, chains are taking the importance of workers one step
further by featuring them in television commercials and other customer-facing
communications.

According to a report by Brandweek, the practice of
using workers in ads is on the upswing. It points to recent campaigns from
Domino’s Pizza, Lowe’s and Zappos as examples.

The Zappos campaign makes use of
puppets known as Zappets to portray actual employees of the e-tailer. Aaron
Magness, director for brand marketing and business development at Zappos, told The
New York Times
, “The goal is when you see the
ads, in TV, print or digital, you’ll say, ‘That’s the Zappos I know,’ or ‘That’s
a company I want to do business with.'”

The Lowe’s
commercials use actual employees in stores helping shoppers properly prepare
for home improvement projects. “Consumers’ mind-sets have changed,” Tom Lamb,
vp, consumer marketing, told Brandweek. “It’s forced us to
rethink our offerings. There’s a return to sweat equity and expense control.
Customers are looking for a lot more advice.”

Domino’s found that using franchisees
and employees in its spots had greater benefits than it expected. Russell Weiner,
Domino’s evp, CMO, told Brandweek, “The campaign became great ‘invertising’
as well,” he said. “Our franchisees and employees loved seeing themselves.
It was compelling to consumers and motivating to our staffers.”

Discussion Questions: Is the use of employees in ads any
more or less effective than other creative approaches? What company’s advertising,
current or in the past, do you think used employees most effectively?

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20 Comments on "‘Mr. Employer, I’m Ready for My Close-up’"


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Steve Montgomery
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

The use of employees in ads has always been effective (as long as the ad is well done and is believable). We have seen everything from CEOs (Lee Iacocca) to local ads that are effective. What typically hurts employee ads is the poor quality either in its content or production values. This happens more often with the local ads than in regional or those national in scope.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Using company employees in ads is effective when the retailers deliver on their promise of good customer service. For consumers, the “win” is in having knowledgeable, friendly help inside stores. For retailers the “win” is in building morale and not having to pay high priced talent to appear in ads. That being said, if retailers that use employees in their ads don’t make great customer service part of their DNA, their carefully crafted image could take quite a hit.

Joan Treistman
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Advertising that incorporates real employees always has the potential of being more engaging and effective. It’s a more direct connection for the target audience to see someone with whom they can associate the retailer, the message, and themselves. A real employee offers instant credibility.

Of course it has to be well thought out.

I think the Blinds to Go advertising is very convincing. The employees are straight forward, touting the advantages for the consumer. There seems to be the right mix of seeing the person and the video images of the message. It’s a more rational approach. As a consumer you’re hearing the well thought out reasons to buy from Blinds To Go, and you’re hearing the story from someone you can trust.

Creatives still have a large canvas for their end product. It’s easy to understand why employees relate to the advertising as well. After all, they can point to the advertising as a representation of themselves and the organization they work for. Everyone enjoys feeling proud.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Walmart seems to use employees quite a bit in their ads. I think mostly because they are too cheap to hire models. I’m not so sure if using employees is any more beneficial than using actors portraying employees. Often when watching a TV commercial for a retailer, I ask myself how come when I go to the store I don’t see good looking people like this? We have to be realistic. A retailer is not going to show the stereotypical downtrodden, unfit, retail employee in their ads.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 1 month ago
Just like with celebrity endorsements, brands need to make sure their employees are squeaky clean before they get featured in an ad–all you need is one bored reporter digging into these employees’ backgrounds, or into how much they might or might not have been paid to be featured, or whether they are still employed by the retailer, and it could all blow up in your face. However, I think the benefits–advantages–of using real employees are real. We’re entering a new age of consumer demand for transparency and genuine credibility, and using real people who work for you as the face of your brand (aren’t they already anyway?) works. One more caveat, though–what you promise through your ads you better deliver in all of your stores. For example, Burger King has funny, edgy ads, and they put a lot of effort into the in-store signage to carry that through, but the effort dies as soon as you see the employees behind the counter. They look about as edgy and fun as you’d expect from someone who… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 1 month ago

Hire only good looking, good natured employees (if you can) and then showcase them both in the store and in ads. Who doesn’t appreciate an up-to-date retail store that is always clean, always bright, and always has well dressed, friendly, good looking associates? Nobody! Put ’em in the ads.

Ben Ball
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Whether or not the use of employees (or CEOs for that matter) in ads is effective depends entirely on the credibility of the employee for the message offered.

When the employees manufacturing diabetes test strips and meters tells you they are sold on the benefits of their products because they, or someone in their immediate family, has diabetes, that’s credible.

When a guy tells you he cares about Toyota quality because his family depends on Toyota for a living–not so much.

When a CEO tells you his company “really, really cares about our employees and our customers”–short the stock.

David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Utilizing “real” employees in retail advertising is potentially very effective.

Bob Pagura
Guest
Bob Pagura
11 years 1 month ago

Several commentors have mentioned that using employees in ads won’t work if customers don’t experience good customer service. Guess what, if the business doesn’t provide a good customer service experience, it doesn’t matter who’s in the ads.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Consumers love ads featuring store associates, but they understand that the message is aspirational. Customers are still walking into stores and finding that they’re not ready for prime time. Can’t wait for the message to catch up with reality!

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? What IS effective in advertising today? Employees? CEOs? Humor? Animals? Authenticity? Or, more than likely, none of the above? Very hard to tell, even when all is said and done.

But if I had to develop an add campaign today, I’d shoot for aspirational, like McDonald’s did 3 years ago. To me, the idea of real people only goes so far…I see those real people every day, some days in your stores–so, thanks but no thanks. I’d rather meet VERY effective associates in the stores that I have to interface with than dolled up versions in an ad campaign. Whereas, the cool kids in the McD’s ads? I’ve never seen any humans look that good! I’d love to be even remotely like them.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

For years, smart companies that have great employees and are also a great place to work have been using employees to attract other great employees with great success. When employers who are really not great employers use employees to talk about how great their company is, those ads fail.

Simple adage: “If you can’t sell it on the inside, you won’t be able to sell it on the outside.”

Danielle Ormon
Guest
Danielle Ormon
11 years 1 month ago

Lowe’s uses actors in its spots, not real associates, according to a NY Times article last month. “In a campaign for spring, which will begin this week, Lowe’s will celebrate its employees, whom the retailer calls associates, by giving the actors who play them as much screen time in the initial commercials as the actors who play customers.”

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

If being rated as highly annoying counts, then some of the ads on British television are very effective. One bank in particular has been getting complaints for years but keep on keeping on, using employees in ad after ad after irritating ad. Another has followed suit but uses staff to chat with “real” customers rather than bursting into song and dance. The second in their series follows the same customers to see what happened months after their initial advice session. Asda has had staff patting their back pockets for years. DIY chain Homebase recently got in on the act. Perhaps these ads keep their brands in customers’ minds but do they actually have positive associations? Is making ads on the cheap, and possibly persuading employees that they are both valued and extremely talented, really worth the antagonism that they arouse? I’m not sure how resulting sales–either an upturn or downturn–can be measured.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Advertisers have been using employees as long as I can remember. In the right situation they have been very effective. They are often used when the objective is double barreled. There is a message to the consumer, but also a message to the employee. The auto companies have used that model frequently.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

It depends on the type of ad being considered; i.e. is this one of those “real person” campaigns and, if so, why not actually use… you know… (your) real people?

Of course, the product will end up reflecting those employees. Best Buy had a series of spots that reflected the apparently edgy nature of their associates that were fairly entertaining, but any number of bank or insurance companies have had efforts that would make Bernice’s mentions look good…if you stayed awake through them.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 1 month ago
Using employees in ads certainly brings a more personal touch and connection with consumers. As many comments have already pointed out, quality of the ad is important. It is also important to vet out employees who have a story beyond just being an employee. One of the best examples of this type of ad is Home Depot when they promote employees that are also Olympians. Other samples: 1) “I have been with XYZ Retailer for 23 years…” This type of story sends a great message about the work environment. 2) “I was the employee of the month last month because of my efforts around customer service.” Focus on Customer Service 3) “Not only do I work at XYZ Retailer, but I shop here too. I am proud to work here and buy what I sell.” 4) “When I am not helping customers on the job at XYZ Retailer, I am putting out fires in XYZ city…” This is great message about the character of employees. Sharing a story/message beyond being an employee helps tie together… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 1 month ago

The impression that is left with viewers of store associates in commercials is not nearly as important or enduring as the experience they have with store associates in the stores. Unfortunately, all too often there’s a disconnect between the two. Managements can feature their (very best)employees in their advertising all they want, but their track record of being able to deliver top-flight customer service and a memorable customer experience is spotty at best. And in the end, that’s what customers are really looking for from store associates when they go into a store.

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 1 month ago
“If you can find a better car–buy it!” We all know who said that and we remember it. He had the credibility to say it and the personal power to pull it off. I can’t think of one ad by a CEO or a ‘real employee’ that I can not as equally or even close to as memorable to brand connecting since. Contrary to popular belief, William Shatner is not the CEO of priceline…:-). Now, that milkaholic Lindsay, I remember that! I can even associate it with a brand. Make great ads that associate create a lasting association with the brand and you’ll win. Employee spokesperson or not, if it’s not a great ad and you can’t associate it to the brand 20 minutes later, it doesn’t matter. In retail, there is a 70-200% turnover rate depending on sector. I don’t think it’s a great investment in ad dollars to use a ‘real’ associate as a spokesperson. A ‘fake’ one maybe? How about ‘Denise’? I heard she can get you a great deal.
Benjamin Smith
Guest
Benjamin Smith
11 years 1 month ago

Best Buy’s ads are top of mind when I think about retailers featuring their associates in ads. The blue shirts are increasingly important as the products they sell commoditize and others close the price/assortment gap. Best Buy is selling an experience and the Blue Shirt is the ambassador. Much better than the old Idea Box ads!

Of course I do recall reading that the associates they feature are also associates with an interest in acting, so I’m sure they come with headshots in hand–but still, these are people who live and breathe Best Buy.

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