What is General Electric? A multinational conglomerate, sure. A manufacturing powerhouse? Most definitely. But a place for programmers to thrive?
In September, GE released a series of ads called “What’s the Matter with Owen?” produced by the ad agency BBDO New York. In the ads, embedded below, college graduate Owen has been hired as a programmer at the company; only, his friends and family know GE as a manufacturing company, setting the stage for some awkward comedy.
“You can’t lift the hammer, can you?” Owen’s skeptical father says in the "Hammer" ad. The father is thinking about GE as a manufacturing company, not as a digital company. But GE is both. As the video’s tagline reads: “The digital company. That’s also an industrial company.”
What makes these ads successful is the message. GE is trying to re-establish itself as more than a manufacturing company and encourage Gen Y and Gen Z to consider the company as a place where Internet developers can thrive. In fact, each video links to GE’s jobs section.
The content of the ad presents an attractive message to the younger demographic. In “Hammer,” after Owen’s father chides him for not having the strength to lift the hammer, Owen’s mother tells him that’s fine. “It’s OK,” she says, “you’re going to change the world.”
That notion, of course, fits with the growing narrative about the vocational goals of younger generations: “Millennials want to both do good and do well,” says Jennifer Deal, senior research scientist for the Center for Creative Leadership, in a June Market Watch article. These ads show millennials that potential exists at GE.
And although these ads are funny and self-deprecating, humor does not necessarily make for a more effective ad.
Humorous ads attract more attention and are better liked than serious counterparts, but humor is just one part of the equation. Looking at a study of 2012 Super Bowl ads, which, in general, are funnier than other ads, ad testing firm Ace Metrix found being funny doesn’t necessarily make an ad better. It's humor, relevance, and information that “really make an ad work,” says Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix to Advertising Age.
Setting — how and where you advertise — also plays an important role in the success of advertisements in reaching a targeted audience. GE's ads debuted on CBS in early September during the first “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
That night, CBS attracted 6.6 million viewers, more than double other late night shows in that time slot. Colbert came to CBS from Comedy Central, a network with a young viewer base, and many of them moved with him. That first night, Colbert’s show finished first among adults 18 to 49, according to the Wall Street Journal.
To be sure, the average credit union does not have the ad budget of GE. But credit unions can imitate what GE did with its “What’s the Matter with Owen?” spots. It’s a matter of tapping into the motivations of the Gen Y and Gen Z marketplace and putting forth an opportunity that appeals to that.
Don’t listen to Owen’s dad. You can pick up the hammer.