GE mocks its brainy workforce to recruit talent and build brand.

Lori Bahnmueller 11/17/15 - 8:40 pm

I say General Electric, you say…

Dishwashers. Well, at least that’s what I would say. Consumers are self-centered like that. Sure, I’m aware that GE is deeper than household appliances. If pressed, I might say energy solutions or something equally ambiguous like financial services. Lightbulbs. Definitely lightbulbs.  

Such is the challenge for a global conglomerate with businesses focused on everything building and curing to moving and powering.  How does one brand such a diversified behemoth?

For more than two decades, the company operated under the campaign: “We bring good things to life.”  (Dare you not to hum the jingle.) Thanks to a considerable media budget and strategic placement, Good Things helped elevate GE to household name status, with brand awareness in the ballpark of Coca-Cola and IBM.

The creative was emotional and often patriotic, highlighting the everyday and aspirational benefits of GE products and services. GE was cast as the hero, powering late night baseball games, microwave popcorn and home videos. To do this, they used lots and lots of thematic product shots—planes, trains, machinery, equipment, appliances, technology—impressive, loud proof points. 

In 2003, the company replaced the slogan with “Imagination at work.” Didn’t notice the switcheroo? Me neither. That is, until I met “Owen” earlier this month while streaming the Daily Show on Comedy Central.

Owen is the new face of GE. And what an about-face he is.

In the commercial series “What’s the matter with Owen,” Owen struggles to explain his new world-changing job as a programmer at GE to his confused, condescending friends and family. In the “Zazzies” spot, Owen shares his good news with friends over chips and salsa, only to be upstaged by an app developer who crowns pets and people with fruit. “I’m going to transform the way the world works,” Owen gently interjects. To which his buddy retorts: “I programmed that hat and I can do casaba melons.”

In “Hammer,” Owen’s parents present him with his grandfather’s hammer to celebrate his new industrial job at GE. When Owen explains that he won’t need a hammer to write code for GE, his parents just don’t get it and dad reacts defensively. “You can’t pick it up, can you? Go ahead. You can’t lift the hammer.”  Mom faintly comes to Owen’s aid, placating more than supporting her son. “It’s okay though, you’re going to change the world.”

Owen’s friends surprise him in “Big News” with a cake and balloons to celebrate his new job as a developer. When Owen says he’ll be working for GE, his friends look baffled, even disappointed.  Owen explains. “Guys, I’ll be writing a new language for machines so planes, trains and hospitals can work better.” Cue champagne, pan over cake that reads “App Tastic News.” Clueless, scruffy-faced friend asks timidly: “So, you’re going to work on a train?”



In this campaign, GE’s talent is the hero. It’s the genius behind in the machines, technology and innovation. Owen carries the brand with Millennial gravity and sincerity, framed by a single pair of Warby Parker glasses. It’s Owen that is powering GE. Not its planes, trains and turbines. The campaign succeeds because it celebrates the human capital—the humanity—behind a great brand.

GE produced the campaign to recruit talent—the 25-34 year old variety. The call to action is “Get yourself a world-changing job.”  But it goes so much deeper than filling seats on a bus. It creates a much needed bridge for consumers to better comprehend the totality of GE’s vast and diverse empire without feeling overwhelmed. Or worse, apathetic.

It’s a simple and effective strategy for a brand that packs a big impression on the world. It illustrates that you can tell a big brand story with a single, human story.

Blog Category: Workplace Culture

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