One of my rules over the years has been to avoid companies whose CEO makes himself or herself the focus of the company’s advertising. CA, a leading IT services firm, recently began running an ad showcasing its CEO, John Swainson. It will be interesting to see if CA will be the latest embodiment of this rule, or if it will somehow manage to be the rare exception.
From everything I’ve read, CA appears to be a successful, well-run company. They’re the biggest independent IT management software company in the world, and they’re growing both sales and earnings despite a rough economy. But while they may know a lot about IT, they don’t appear to know much about effective marketing communications–at least not yet.
I’ve always felt that CEOs should be the focus of your advertising only if they bring badly-needed credibility to the brand–as Lee Iococca famously did for Chrysler in the 1980s–or if they possess exceptional charisma that can uniquely and effectively position the brand. Since Mr. Swainson is largely unknown and far from charismatic, it’s hard to see why someone thought it would be a good idea to make him the star of this ad.
The ostensible point of the ad is to educate viewers about what CA does. Having seen the ad several times, however, all I’ve learned is that CA makes really boring ads. And while Mr. Swainson may well be a highly capable CEO, he is not a particularly charming or telegenic spokesman. If anything, his drab business suit, dated hairstyle (too long on the sides) and monotonous, unsmiling delivery all conspire to fight the high-energy, state-of-the-art feeling the company was no doubt hoping to create.
Sometimes a starring advertising role for the CEO reflects an out-of-control ego that is dangerously manifesting itself in other parts of the company as well. I have no reason to believe that this is the case at CA. In fact, it may well be that Mr. Swainson and his marketing people are smart–and honest–enough to eventually realize that this ad is not doing the trick and that it’s time to go back to the marketing communications drawing board.
If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see their new ad and finally learn exactly what it is that CA does.