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Cause Marketing with Your CEO

Until I saw the free standing insert (FSI) on the left from Marcal Manufacturing on Sunday, I could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen a CEO featured in a cause marketing type ad. Heck, I could count it on one finger.

That CEO was the wonderfully avuncular Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s as well as its long-time pitchman. Thomas died in 2002 at the age 69.

Thomas was famously adopted as a child. As an adult he started the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which Wendy's sponsored. Wendy’s continues to support the foundation… along with other charities… with cause marketing initiatives and corporate giving.

Now Marcal is using its CEO in a cause marketing type appeal. Since 1950 Marcal has made paper products from recycled paper. It goes without saying that Marcal was decades ahead of its time. Marcal was purchased in 2008 by a private equity outfit and Tim Spring, the man in the ad, was installed as CEO.

Spring has extensive experience in consumer package goods, including turning around existing brands like Vlasic. In his 25-year career Spring has been worked with or turned around numerous other brands including French’s, Tegrin, RedHot, Bagel Crisps, Easy-Off, Airwick Stick-Ups, Log Cabin, Open Pit, and Mrs. Butterworths.

In other words, Spring’s almost certainly a short-timer at Marcal.

I can’t say for sure how the Marcal purchase took place, but private equity outfits usually buy out existing owners by leveraging the business with debt. They then typically bring in a turnaround specialist like Spring to grow the business and pay down the debt. At a certain point the owners cash out by reselling the business.

Now one of the oldest rules of thumb in advertising is to never have your CEO be your pitchman. That’s because the traits that make you a good CEO don’t necessarily overlap with the traits that make you a good pitchman.

More to the point, a CEO’s average tenure is right around 6 years for Fortune 500 companies. That’s like 25 minutes in advertising years.

For instance, the CEO of Sprint is a frequent pitchman for his company. He’s been on the job since 2007. Without Googling him, can you tell me what his name is?

The only effective way to pull off the CEO as pitchman is if he’s going to be there forever, like Dave Thomas was, and you advertise a lot, like Wendy’s does. It helps if you’re willing to have a little fun with your personality in the ads, like Thomas did.

No matter who owns or runs Marcal, it will probably continue to position itself as a pioneering green paper company. That’s good strong positioning in this day and age.

But Marcal’s use of their CEO as pitchman is either an act of naiveté or an act of ego.

Given Spring’s impressive marketing experience, I doubt the former.


Marcal is a fascinating company. I use it as the main case study when I do my talk, "Communicate the Value in Your Values"--and I start off talking about how it was sitting on this incredible asset (recycled since 1950)--but not telling anyone! and I illustrate the point by showing various Marcal packaging from 1965 to 2010. It was the mid-2000s when the company started promoting this actively, and I would have been a customer from about 1972, if I'd only known.

But I think it's great when a CEO, even a perhaps-temporary one, is willing to be the public face. I think Chrysler benefited greatly by putting Iacocca in its commercials, back in the day. And he kept doing the commercials even after he and the public knew he was leaving. I remember his "cab forward" series that talked about hitting a home run on your last turn at bat. Not that I saw anything special about the cab-forward idea, but here it is a couple of decades later, and I still remember the ad.

PS--if anyone wants a copy of the Value in Your Values slide show, send your e-mail and I'll get one out.

--Shel Horowitz, primary author, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson)
Hi Shel:

I remember the Iacocca ads, too. "If you can find a better car, buy it!" Or, "The pride is back."

But I think the situation for Marcal is different.

Iococca came on in 1979 and his first job was to plead with Congress for a bailout, else Chrysler would declare bankruptcy.

I think the occasion demanded a 'buck stops here' kind of CEO in their advertising. And Iococca, who had an ego of his own, was exactly that guy.

So far as I know, Marcal isn't in the same crisis Chrysler was in.

I can't mention Iacocca and cause marketing without mentioning in passing that he was appointed as the head of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation in 1982.

And all cause marketers with a little gray hair remember that the American Express's effort on behalf of the Statue of Liberty restoration campaign was the 'mother' cause marketing campaign.

Thanks, as ever, for your thought.

Warm regards,
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