ANA Annual Meeting 2015

GE CMO Explains Why the Company Likes to Be First on Digital

Linda Boff Articulates TV, Digital Content Strategies in ANA Talk

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GE's Linda Boff at ANA Masters of Marketing
GE's Linda Boff at ANA Masters of Marketing  Credit: ANA
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GE is 123 years old and sells big industrial things that typically are not for sale to the average person. So why does the company spend so much energy on its advertising?

Because "brand matters a lot. It matters in recruiting. It matters in investing. It matters in relevancy," GE Chief Marketing Officer Linda Boff said Friday, fielding that question during a presentation at the Association of National Advertisers "Masters of Marketing" conference.

And even though GE operates primarily in the business-to-business space, the company's marketing has broken through in popular culture just as much -- if not more -- than the average consumer brand. Look no further than "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." That is where the GE brand has been featured prominently in a segment called "Fallonventions" in which Mr. Fallon, dressed in a GE-branded white lab coat, shows off inventions from kids who submit their ideas via YouTube and Facebook.

GE approached "The Tonight Show" about the idea around the time Mr. Fallon was taking over hosting duties. "Jimmy Fallon fell in love with this idea and made it his own," she said.

GE also takes pride in being an early adopter of emerging media platforms, she said. The company was the first brand on Vine and also an early user of Instagram, she said. Recently, the company sponsored content on MikMak, which features short, shoppable infomercials, dubbed "minimercials."

"Sometimes people say, 'Are you chasing the shiny object?' Ms. Boff said. "Maybe a little bit. But we do this for a reason," she added. "We think you only get one chance to be out front. The moment passes and it passes quickly. Platforms get saturated. People move on. And the spoils go to the first early adopters."

When it comes to TV advertising, GE confines its buys to sports and late night "because we want to put ourselves up for the best opportunity for success," Ms. Boff said. The newest campaign, which is by BBDO, is called "What's the Matter with Owen?" and positions GE as a digital industrial company.

GE is also producing a new TV series called "Breakthrough" that will begin airing on the National Geographic Channel in November. The marketer partnered with producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer at Imagine Entertainment on the six-part documentary series that will spotlight science and technology innovations.

Ms. Boff called it a"global TV event" that will air in 140 countries. Mr. Howard, she noted, got his start as an actor many years ago on "GE Theater" hosted by Ronald Reagan. "History comes forward again," she said.