The Corporate Pitch
Who Speaks for Your Company?
The new General Motors strategy of offering employee pricing on all new models resulted in a 47-percent sales increase in June. Ford promptly followed suit.
Chrysler went them both one better by not only offering employee discounts but bringing back Lee Iacocca--the man who saved the company in 1982 and became its spokesman--to do the TV commercials, complete with the line he made famous, "If you can find a better car, buy it."
In 1955 Ogilvy & Mather dreamed up the idea of using the CEO of Schweppes USA, the elegant, bearded Commander Edward Whitehead, as the centerpiece of the advertising campaign that proclaimed the glories of "Schweppervescence!"
In persuading the commander to take on the added duties of pitchman, legendary huckster David Ogilvy told him, "People are more interested in individual personalities than in corporations."
However with the exception of Commander Whitehead, Ogilvy was fiercely opposed to using the CEO as the public face of the corporation and even put his objections into verse:
If the client moans and sighs,
Show his logo twice the size.
If he still should prove refractory,
Show the picture of his factory.
But only in the direst case
Should you show the bastard's face!
The Pioneer: Frank Perdue
In the 1970s, Mr. Perdue started the ad campaigns that would make him famous. He appeared in 200 different ads from 1971 to 1994.
It helped that he looked like a chicken. And Ross Perot. And Edward I. Koch, the mayor of New York. His bald head, droopy-eyed expression and prominent nose made people smile and feel comfortable with him. They tended to trust him more than they did slick-looking announcers.
It helped, too, that he had a nasal twang that contrasted with the unctuous tones of the usual pitchmen.
Frank Perdue obituary
The New York Times, April 2, 2005
Frank Perdue was the first of the CEO media celebs who went on television hawking their wares.
Humor is dangerous in advertising. But when Frank Perdue looked directly at you and said, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," the viewer had to smile and feel good about this homely man who was truly believable.
Perdue was never comfortable in front of the camera. In a 2003 interview with Julie Sloane of Fortune he said, "Filming those ads never got easier for me. I never liked to do them, but they worked--after two years of radio advertising, our sales went from $50 million to $80 million. After one year of the TV commercials, 51% of New Yorkers recognized the Perdue label. I ultimately did 156 different ads in all."
The result of Perdue's amazing performance--both as CEO and spokesman--was that he changed an ordinary commodity into a nationally recognized brand. With his hard-driving management and quirky TV persona, Perdue took the company from annual sales of $56 million in 1970 to become a $2.8 billion giant with 20,000 associates and 7,500 independent farm families that produce 48 million pounds of chicken and 4 million pounds of turkey a week.
Perdue will be remembered for his obvious passion for excellence and his long-time presence in American living rooms with such lines as:
My chickens eat better than you do. A chicken is what it eats. If you want to start eating as good as my chickens, take a tip from me--eat my chickens.
Freeze my chickens? I'd rather eat beef!
Following in Perdue's Footsteps
Lee Iacocca was one of the handful of CEO media stars that followed Perdue's lead. Others included:
* Orville Redenbacher of popcorn fame
* Remington's Victor Kiam who "liked the shaver so much I bought the company."
* Richard Branson of the Virgin empire, who was once asked how you become a millionaire. Branson's reply: "Be a billionaire and buy an airline."
* David Oreck, with his eight-pound vacuum cleaner
* Richard Thalheimer of The Sharper Image fame
* Martha Stewart, who bounced back from jail and is hotter than ever
* KFC's "Colonel" Harlan Sanders must be included in this list, but as I recall he was a gentle, avuncular presence in his white suit and kindly demeanor rather than a spokesman.
A Recent Catastrophe
One CEO who should have heeded Ogilvy's advice and stayed the hell out of the corporate ads was the former doyenne of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina.
Her ouster caused an avalanche of I-told-you-so media analysis of the many flaws in her management style, not the least of which was her decision to become the figurehead and mouthpiece of the company.
In the words of Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Kanter, author of "Confidence," a book on leadership and management, "Ms. Fiorina might have set herself up for failure from the beginning when she put herself in H.P. commercials. She was an outsider, and that doesn't bode well for building support."
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Rich Karlgaard listed Fiorina's seven deadly sins, the first of which was that she acted like a rock star.
In the U.S., only entrepreneurs get to act as rock stars. Hired guns do not. Fiorina failed to grasp this distinction. Here, we celebrate Gates, Buffett, Dell, Ellison, Jobs, Schultz, Fred Smith . . . even Leonardo di Caprio as Howard Hughes--borderline crazies overcoming great odds. We love our entrepreneur rock stars so much, we let their sins slide. Fiorina was excoriated for a boneheaded move--giving Compaq shareholders 37 percent of HP's profitable printer division in a swap for Compaq's flagging PC business. Founder-CEOs are allowed to get away with far worse.
Letters to the Editor
In response to "Making E-correspondence and Web Sites Readable," which was published 7/12/05:
I am a big fan and have been reading your work for years! Your book "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Sales Success" is one of my favorites!
Typeface, and its readability, is topic of personal interest for me. The best book I've read on the topic is "Type & Layout: How typography and design can get your message across--or get in the way." If you haven't read it, I highly recommend taking a look--it's a great one!
The author, Colin Wheildon (foreword by David Ogilvy), studied readability by printing articles in different typefaces and testing readers' comprehension. The results agree with Vrest Orton, in that serif type is best to read for comprehension. Of course, I agree with both.
But there is something I have been thinking about, and that is, "Is this true for screen (computer) comprehension?" It would make sense that it is, however, I do find it more comfortable to read sans serif on a computer monitor, but on the printed page, serif is clearly smoother to view.
Or is it that I'm more used to reading serif type since most sites, like Yahoo, Google, and even TargetMarketingMag, use sans?
My theory is that the quality of serif type, that makes it readable, which is, the thin to thick lines, is more difficult to recreate accurately in vector fonts for the screen. The thin lines get "pixilated" and don't look as they do on the printed page where they are in high resolution. Of course, onscreen graphic images (high resolution) tend to look better in serif over sans.
Take another look and let please let me know what you think.
Keep up the great work!
--Scott Bilker, with Press One Publishing
Three minutes after reading the 'readable font' article I was looking at the University of Phoenix site -- blue type on browny grey -- ugh -- could be sophisticated in hard copy but virtually unreadable on screen.
--Betty Lehnus, with Johnson Communications spc
Just read the font wars commentary. It brought to mind my thought that serif fonts may not be more readable in print or online for many people today, especially the young. I first noticed the change in young graphic designers and copywriters about 8 years ago. They don't like to design with serif fonts, which could be interpreted to mean they prefer to read non serif fonts. In addiiton, many folks have now grown up and many more will grow up reading Arial, Helvetica and Verdana, etc. My hypothesis is that their brains have been and will be trained. But since that's just an observation, I would like to test which fonts have the higher readability in the young versus older segments of the population. I think we old time serif font believers might be surprised at the results.
I just wanted to add a few further comments into the typeface debate. First, let me say that your newsletter looks much improved, and is considerably easier for me to read now. Second, I will add that while sans-serif fonts work well for the computer, I do find they can look rather cold and sterile on the printed page. I believe that there are definitely separate rules for both media.
--Rose Crowe, with Techni-Lux, Inc.
As a Parsons School of Design graduate and and instructor there for over 12 years, I've studied typography not only from the design aspect, but also from the readability standpoint. This has been invaluable in my direct marketing career ... after all, getting someone to read the copy is critical.
I always started my type classes off with this statement—"Most people are lazy (myself included) when it come to reading." If something is difficult to read, we try to read it but usually will give up. Look at a readers' magazine like "The New Yorker" ... you'll stumble across pages upon pages of text with little to no breaks. But, then look at a magazine like "Entertainment Weekly," and you'll find more "bite size" pieces of information than any one person can handle.
I've always told my student to consider how a person reads on a subway ride. If they look at a page and there are several visual stopping points (subheads, cations, pull quotes, initial caps) they'll see these breaks and subconsciouly say "okay I can read to the first pull quote before I have to get off the train." They see it in bite-size chunk that are edible and therefore are not overwhelmed.
Then there's the font issue. Sans serif, serif (slab serifs, hairline serifs, round serifs), condensed, expanded, all caps, intial caps—all of the rules and design issues are too much to go into in a letter. And honestly can take several years of study and/or work to truly appreciate. But what is really different now is paper vs. screen.
You have infinate control on paper and almost no control on the web (okay I'm being a little extreme as a print guy getting used to the screen world). The rules for font usage on paper are somewhat different than for screen. Why? Mainly due to pixels. Every screen has a slightly different resolution. Remember in the print world it was always considered bad to screen type because the halftone dots could break up the text and make it hard to read. Well, that's all pixels do--break up the text. Now, a person needs to develop two sets of trusted font favorites for the two different mediums.
Layout wise, things are still pretty similar between the two mediums when it comes to static pages. But motion and automated content changes the playing field almost second to second on a web page.
I've had to learn this the hard way as I've developed a web-based marketing platform called Easy AdMaker. The platform takes print, puts it on screen, and then takes it back to print. And it has to look the same all along the way. I've learned first hand the limitations the web imposes and how to get around them, or should I say how to use them.
So with this all said, changing your font to sans serif was an appreciated change ... but why so much use of italic? Sans serif italic always looks forced. Consider using color, size or weight as well. I think you'll find you can direct people around the page better this way.
Keep up the interesting thoughts about the world. It keeps me on my toes.
--Patrick Fultz, with Grayhair Direct
You HAVE to be joking! Someone charged with running a company is worrying about the font a newsletter arrives in??? I wish I had that kind of free time!
Good article on fonts and readability. Thought you'd find this to be of interest: http://www.urbachletter.com/0504/. (Especially the video.)
--Victor Urbach, with The Optran Group
This stuff is fascinating.
I look at it as more simple. When type is used for design, then the style of the typeface can be influential in reading, comprehension, and motivation.
For me, after 25+ years of design, magazine publishing, etc., serif versus san serif comes down to this:
Humans recognize words, not letters, when they are reading volumes of content. This allows speed while maintaining comprehension.
Serif faces equalize the space needed by each letter. Yes, "m's" still take up more space than "i's", but the playing field is more level.
Sans Serif hides the "i's" among the "m's", making word recognition harder, therefore slowing down the reader.
If we are reading slowly (answering a multiple-choice question, digesting a headline, analysing a statement, reading the opening paragraph of a website, etc.) spacing doesn't matter because we are taking the time.
When we are devouring a book, an article in a newspaper, or reading (God forbid) a contract, serifs make the job easier and faster because they make whole word recognition faster.
Yes, read Arial enough and the words become more recognizable without needing to "see" each letter. That may explain some who argue Sans Serif is better, etc.
But universally, serif letters (not extremes like Old English, obviously) are easier to read the first time, and unfamilar words become familar a lot quicker because the letters are easier to see quickly.
The larger the type (headlines, banners, etc.), the less sans serif vs serif matters. The smaller the type, the more it matters.
--John Jervis, with Jervis & Associates
- Betty Lehnus
- Carly Fiorina
- Colin Wheildon
- David Oreck
- Edward I. Koch
- Edward Whitehead
- Frank Perdue
- Fred Smith
- Harlan Sanders
- Howard Hughes
- Julie Sloane
- Lee Iacocca
- Leonardo di Caprio
- Martha Stewart
- Ogilvy Mather
- Richard Branson
- Richard Thalheimer
- Rosabeth Kanter
- Victor Kiam