Why Is GE Hawking Jet Engines to a Football Crowd?

We Don't Know Much, but This Pitch Seems Wide

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If you were one of the tens of millions of people watching "Sunday Night Football" on NBC this past weekend and thought it odd to see a grown man fondling/caressing a running jet engine and crying while singing the Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt song "Don't Know Much," you're not alone. For the past two weekends, General Electric, which owns NBC, has run ads during the football broadcast pushing its jet engine line and wind turbine building capabilities.

The series of ads, created by Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, make up "Campaign GE," according to GE spokeswoman Lisa Lanspery, and they are not necessarily intended to give viewers a hankering for a jet engine. Instead, they are "designed to accelerate brand-building and the reputation of the company, including the awareness of our broad portfolio," Ms. Lanspery said via e-mail.

Ad Age's sibling publication BtoB reported on the campaign in July, noting that it launched after a June speech by GE Chairman-CEO Jeff Immelt where he said: "The world has been reset. Now we must lead an aggressive American renewal to win in the future. An American renewal will be built on technology."

In the article, BtoB noted that the ads would run on news- and business-focused channels such as CNBC, CNN, Fox and MSNBC, which makes perfect sense in terms of targeting. But the "Sunday Night Football" crowd?

Target audience
When asked why the company started airing the ads during football games, Ms. Lanspery replied: "We aim to reach business professionals in various mediums during different times of the day. Business professionals watch football."

Ms. Lanspery noted that a different version of one of the current ads ran a few years back in select markets and generated such a good response that GE decided to update the spot and air it nationally.

Of course, that was before Twitter. While some in the Twitterverse commented on how humorous they thought the "Don't Know Much" ad was, others were less amused and viewed the ads as reckless spending on GE's part or a case of the company just showing off.

"I just saw an ad for GE jet engines. Every time I see them I wonder who the f*** their intended audience is," one person tweeted. "Does GE believe that the 'Sunday Night Football' audience is the target demographic for selling jet engines?" posted another. And another wrote, "Anyone know where I can purchase a 'new' jet engine? Never mind. Money well-spent GE, hawking engines to the football Plebs."

While many consumers who felt they weren't the intended targets of these ads believed they were a waste of money, some marketing professionals aren't as quick to throw a flag on GE for improper use of media dollars. Matt Pensinger, senior VP-marketing services of Publicis Group's Relay Worldwide, an experiential marketing, sports and entertainment sponsorship agency, said buying jet engines is probably the absolute last thing on the mind of your average NFL fan. But he thinks the ads go beyond an appeal to purchase airplane components. It's corporate-image advertising, and the audience for that specific message is probably within the universe of people who watch NFL football, he said.

Hitting the target
"'SNF' is premium and prime-time real estate, so that can be an expensive venue for an image-advertising type of campaign," Mr. Pensinger said. "If you looked at it purely as a media buy, it's got some great reach. But it is a little bit curious as to the specific target."

Mr. Pensinger said he couldn't necessarily call the "Sunday Night Football" media buys a waste of money on GE's part. But, he said, if he were looking at it from a sports-marketing perspective, wherein a brand typically tries to "tie into the fan's passion for the sport and their favorite team and introduce the brand into that equation," the effort comes up short.

"If you remove yourself from analyzing it as a sports-marketing play and think about it from a media buy, I don't think you can go as far as saying it's a waste of money," he said. "But typically you wouldn't use mass media to reach a handful of potential real buyers."

One other industry executive agreed that most "Sunday Night Football" viewers are not in the market for a jet engine but said the buy makes sense for two reasons. "GE is simply using the jet engine as an example or a byproduct of the company's innovation, not to literally sell them to would-be buyers," the exec said in an e-mail.

"[And] GE owns NBC and runs a fair amount of their advertising on NBC Universal media properties, which includes 'SNF,' no doubt at a discounted rate and at the pleasure of GE shareholders."

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