EVERYONE loves an Origin Story. Just look at the box office hauls for Black Panther and Captain Marvel. And why in the world would Ancestry.com or 23andMe be so popular? Because we want to know where we came from—just like we want to know where superheroes come from—and even the Founders of companies. Blinds, Boll & Branch, LendingTree, Mack Weldon, and NetSuite are just a few of the brands Oxford Road has partnered with in recent years to create smash hits in audio and on TV by telling those brand’s Founder stories. In the case of Blinds, LendingTree, and NetSuite—all three brands had never used their Founder before. In the case of Blinds and LendingTree, Oxford Road was given performance goals and the Audiolytics™ powered “Founder as Spokesperson” spots we created surpassed every goal and expectation set upon them.
In a certain sense, Founders are the real-life superheroes of the 21st Century. We no longer vanquish our enemies and lay claim to riches, land, and glory. Instead, the modern-day mythology celebrates those who start companies in garages and around card tables and…well…still end up laying claim to riches. But that is about all they share in common with the Achilles, Ghengis Khan’s, and Alexander the Greats of a much more savage age. It is in telling this modern-day myth, of how companies selling everything from bedsheets to cloud-based business systems, were founded and why they were founded that audiences LOVE to hear.
From Gert Boyle, to James Dyson, to Jessica Alba, to Richard Branson, to several iterations of The Colonel, plus many, many more; the track record for Founder stories is strong. When a brand creates a Founder as Spokesperson ad they’re not just in good company, they are standing on the shoulders of giants. Even if your Founder isn’t around anymore, it’s easier than you might think. Use an actor to portray the Founder, like in this Dean Witter ad from 1997. Or use the current company leadership, who can speak with the same authority as a Founder, like Lee Iacocca in this famous Chrysler TV commercial, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”
But why does it work?
It has been two thousand three hundred years since Aristotle announced the fundamental building blocks of persuasion in his Rhetoric: “Ethos,” “Pathos,” and “Logos.” In English? Credibility, Emotion, and Reason. Together, these three concepts provide a fool-proof foundation to achieve something remarkable—persuading another human being. Consider this anecdote: What parent wouldn’t run into a burning building to save their child crying for help? The source is credible(Ethos), the emotion is deep(Pathos), and the reasons(Logos) are abundant. “Persuaded” almost isn’t the right word, really…the parent is compelled to run into the flames and save their child.
Our brains love psychological shortcuts—or “associations”—quick relays between input and meaning. When crafted skillfully, these building blocks of persuasion can compel people to take action as strongly as if they were saving their child from a burning building.
Even though plenty has been said about “Pathos/Emotion” and “Logos/Reason”, not nearly enough attention has been given to “Ethos/Credibility”. It’s one of the three pillars upon which persuasion rests and deserves much more attention, for it is just as powerful as the other two. The problem with many creative agencies is they produce work that is too subjective and expensive—and more often than not, rooted completely in emotion. Then there are those ads that appeal completely to Reason. The fault with both of these is that they stray too far from the purpose for which the business was founded, and the PERSON who founded it. Yet, that’s where the power is hidden. When we speak to our audience with a source they trust (a Founder), using emotive and informative language—they will take action. Every time.
Though it is a strategy that has proven successful across industries and decades, and incredibly valuable for Oxford Road’s clients, simply using a Founder as Spokesperson is not all there is to the story. Because it doesn’t matter who is saying it until you have something to say. That is what the Audiolytics™ methodology unlocks. Audiolytics™ is a data-driven approach to creative that eliminates bias by adhering to a proven structure of 71 data points that allows Oxford Road to audit our client’s messaging, optimize it, and outperform the competition with every campaign. The Audiolytics™ formula equips a Founder with the most potent statements they can claim about their story and their company. However, you don’t want to make a Large Promise without the capability to follow it through. If a top officer is seen making grandiose promises on behalf of the company, he or she had better deliver, or it could harm consumer’s feelings about the brand forever. Our guiding principle for developing Offers and Guarantees with Founders is this, “If compliance isn’t fighting you, the offer/guarantee is NOT strong enough.” For those using a Founder as a Spokesperson, you will have confidence that every word the Founder is using will have maximum impact.
In brief, here are three guidelines we’d give to any brand considering using their Founder as a Spokesperson.
-First of all, it can be effective if it’s the right person. This is a combination of how the Founder resonates with the target audience and how they come across on camera or mic. At Oxford Road, we’ve discovered that most Founders have a special combination of a distinct personality, style, charisma, energy, and authority that translates well in audio and on camera. It’s their distinctiveness that comes across so well.
-Second, the Founder may not want to volunteer because they want to protect against ego, want to maintain privacy, or just don’t want to do it. That’s ok, sometimes the Founder won’t be available or won’t make themselves available. Though it is ideal to have the Founder in the ad, someone else in the organization can be the Spokesperson as long as they can deliver on the promises made in the advertisement.
-Third, plan on it being a long-term commitment. With one advertiser in particular, we’ve been running Founder as Spokesperson audio ads for years. That’s allowed us to tell different aspects of their story AND build up the listener’s “relationship” with the Founder. The compounded Brand Affinity that is built by having the Founder of a company talk to them day in and day out, month after month, year after year, is impossible to calculate.
For these reasons, and many others, we love using Founders in the ads we create with our clients. As a bonus, a Founder starring in their own ads eliminates the potentially astronomical costs associated with hiring talent or celebrity endorsers. The bottom line is, if a company has an engaged founder, they ARE the face of the brand, like it or not. While they may not be as famous as Richard Branson or have the down-home appeal of Colonel Sanders (in whatever form he takes), they have an authentic story and voice that is all their own and a passion for their business that is unmatched by anyone on this planet. By harnessing that passion, a Founder will win the trust of future customers and compel them to take action—and that means their ads will perform better. Because EVERYONE loves an Origin Story.