Humanizing the Ad Business

“Mad Men” fever has taken the country by storm, depicting the changing moods and unwritten rules of America in the 1960s and how the ad business worked then. It’s made me re-focus on what approaches that all-powerful business used to make us spend and buy in the old days. Which is why I’m especially interested in a new trend in the ad business today.

Have you noticed that something’s happening to the way products- and companies- are now being marketed? Have you noticed what’s happened to GE ads? They’re not showing their superior products any more. They’re zooming in on various workers on the job in their jet engine who are telling you how they feel about building these things?

“From the time I was a kid I was fascinated by planes and how they can get off the ground” or “People see engines as just a lot of metal. These are made by hand, piece by piece” or “I’d give anything to see one of these babies fire up and take off”.

Cut to an airfield. A lineup of jet engine workers standing on the tarmac. Here comes the plane, zooming past them -up up and away…

“Wow!”, “Did you see that?”, “Ooh” followed by grins, high fives, hugs and an overall team sense of pride. Of ownership. Of “we made those.” Identifying the grandeur of the machine by focusing on the people who made it. They’re showing the people who make turbines (cut to a train zooming at you and the workers cheering) or compressors (“you wouldn’t have cold beer without us!”).

There’s another very touching one – all about GE’s cancer-connected X-ray and radiation machines. Again–it shows the people who make the machines talking about how they work on something life-saving. One says “I’d love to meet someone who’s been helped by these” Next shot–a group of cancer survivors walking into a GE building and meeting the workers. Hugs, deep looks at each other, close-ups of survivors saying how lucky they are. Very moving, very touching, very human and personal. What a new sales angle!

Remember how products used to be sold? It was always about the product or machine itself. The “It” factor. How strong, reliable, fast, unique, avant-garde it was. How slick or economically solid it was, how it was the most advanced in the field, how its new twists and turns make it the best, the most. “Don’t get left behind. Run- do not walk. Get one NOW. “

But suddenly there’s a complete about-face. A new face–not It but Who. Selling a product or a company by concentrating on the people who make their stuff. To identify the prestige and personal connection of a company by focusing on the basic component of any business – the people who make it happen.

Interesting. How come? Why did GE come up with this idea? What is it telling us? We all know that marketing- the life blood of any business- always looks for what can reach the public best. What new wrinkle, what new gimmick, what new approach can grab the public and persuade. And if GE has decided that it helps to make their company more appealing, more attractive to the marketplace- and the general public by identifying its products with folks, not its brilliant mechanical advances — what an interesting implication. Does it suggest that GE may be looking at its workers and respecting them and their needs differently? That they recognize that it’s good business to acknowledge them as the heart of the business?

Hmmm. In the midst of our age of supertechnological advances, someone is remembering that it’s people who actually make the stuff…