Before becoming president and following his career as an actor, Ronald Reagan became a spokesperson for GE. The brilliance of this strategy and the astounding results it had, not only in Reagan’s career as a politician but also in the construction of GE’s reputation, came from the CREDIBILITY of the spokesman.
Reagan was hired by GE as a host of one of the programs sponsored by the brand, GE Theater (a gig he likely accepted as his acting career was deteriorating). The company also decided to make him deliver speeches in front of over 240 thousand employees in a circuit that allowed him to visit close to 40 states.
Reagan, who began his career as a member of the Democratic Party, wrote his own GE speeches, which carried with them a conservative, pro business message, the same famous principles Reagan shared as a president, which advocated lowering taxes to spur economic growth and the economy deregulation. He was being shaped by his experiences at GE, and began gaining consciousness of the power of the American corporate system and its astounding possibilities.
During this time, Reagan went from being a “paid salesperson” to an honest herald of a message that both the spokesman and the company shared. One could argue that this “evangelist” applied what he preached. He was moved by what he was preaching and, as a result, Reagan became more than just a paid servant.
We all know that Reagan was a natural salesperson. But, as a spokesman, his role took a more profound direction: his voice was credible because his principles and the core message of the brand were the same. Reagan stopped talking about toasters and TV’s and the “benefits of living better electrically” and started to talk about the values that these appliances represented (the power of innovation which is possible under the American capitalist system).
To the public’s ears, these values were reflected in the products endorsed by the GE brand. This gave Reagan a political platform he could believe in and, in turn, his skills as a communicator gave GE a source of inspiration and the opportunity to establish an emotional connection with their audience.
The paid spokesman became a credible evangelist, and initiated a process of open forum in those scenarios where the brand wanted human-to-human contact, without a script and without a camera in between.
Today, this virtue has never been more important. Unidirectional media, such as TV, radio, and print, lose their strength, as bi-directional media represented by digital and social networks become the most valuable tools for building a reputation. GE’s force as a company had the power to turn a paid spokesman into a preacher because he honestly believed in the company’s agenda. As spokesman for GE, Reagan became an authority. This added up exponentially to his natural capacity and charisma as a communicator.
This is an astounding example of how the academy of classic branding is a perfect platform for our current environment. What was valid in the 50’s is just as valid in this revolutionary decade we live in: never choose a spokesman because he is famous with a certain audience, but because he is credible and is able to communicate your brand’s agenda. What better example than the worldwide appeal of Michael Jordan as a spokesperson for Nike!
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