CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/VICTOR KIAM - A tribute to Kiam and clients who push the product. Having the company boss star in its ads is a gamble, Francesca Newland writes

"When the client moans and sighs,

make his logo twice the size.

If he still should prove refractory,

show a picture of the factory.

Only in the gravest cases,

should you show the clients' faces"

So reads the advice from David Ogilvy in his Confessions Of An

Advertising Man. Well, it's lucky that Victor Kermit Kiam II, who died

last week, was unaware of, or uninterested in, Ogilvy's advice.

Kiam, who liked the Remington shaver so much that he bought the company,

starred in Remington advertising throughout the 80s. It made him a

household name in 31 countries.

Winston Fletcher, the chairman of the Advertising Standards Board of

Finance, believes there's a simple reason why the ads, which were

developed in-house, struck a chord with the clean-shaven masses. "He did

it with huge confidence and gusto and there was a touching amateurism

about him," he says.

There's no doubt that the permanently tanned Kiam had a big personality

and that came through in the advertising. He had been the vice-president

of marketing for Playtex and would describe bra sizes as: "Ping Pong,

Ding Dong, King Kong and Holy Cow!"

Associating Remington shavers with the smoothness and energy of Kiam

proved to be a successful formula. When he bought the company in 1979 it

was losing dollars 30 million per year, but within a year he had managed

to secured profits of dollars 47 million.

In 1981 Remington had 25 per cent of the UK electric shavers market.

Fletcher is unconvinced of the Kiam-focused campaign, however. "He only

got so far," he says. "Remington never got a really big market share or

managed to displaced Gillette or wet shaving. It was modestly


Ogilvy's words point out that casting the client smacks of


There is no one reason to explain why agencies or advertisers do use

company heads in ads. In some cases it's an ego thing, in others it's a

simple solution.

The Union is proud of its work for the Baxters soup range, which most

recently starred Audrey Baxter, the daughter of Ena Baxter, who began

appearing in the brand's advertising in the 50s. Ian McAteer, the

Union's managing director, says that highlighting the family ownership

of the company lends the brand family values that go down well with


He also thinks that the Baxters imbue the brand with Scottishness and


Jim Kelly, the joint chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell

Roalfe/Y&R, thinks the owner of a company personally endorsing his

product can help to lend the brand integrity. "You buy into the

individual's integrity when you buy the brand," he argues. Kelly cites

both Kiam's appearance in the Remington commercials and Frank Perdue's

role in America's Perdue Farms chicken advertising as two examples of

the boss's promises of quality strengthening his brand.

Perdue is a household name in the US. After one retailer was found to be

selling Perdue chickens beyond their sell-by date, Perdue appeared in an

ad promising consumers that his company would never supply that retailer


In one sense, the roles played by Kiam and Perdue could not have been

performed by any other. A company's chief executive could never imbue a

brand with the same personal guarantees and credibility as the man who

owns the thing. A colourful figurehead with passion enough to sink a

personal fortune into a company speaks to a consumer's basic trust.

However, Laurence Green, a managing partner of Fallon, does not think

casting company bosses makes strategic sense: "It's very limiting.

There's no way back. They tend to dominate the strategy. The strategy

becomes Richard Branson rather than any kind of financial revolution

that he may be promoting. You've got nothing to start with when you try

to move the campaign on."

The one exception that Green allows is Bartle Bogle Hegarty's work for

The New Covent Garden Soup Company. He says that although the owners

starred in it, the strategy was bigger than the owners' appearances.

Green makes another valid criticism: "Because they're not actors, they

can't take direction so the ad is more than likely to end up creatively

lame." When you remember Bernard Matthew's wooden performance in his

turkey advertising, you can see what Green is talking about.

McAteer cites one more very important failing of commercials starring

clients. As consumers become more cynical, it is proving harder to

convince them that the bosses and owners cast in the ads are genuine,

not actors. He says the fictitious man from Del Monte has a lot to

answer for.

Kiam's appearance had a creative idea and strategy behind it. He liked

the shave so much he bought the company. He didn't appear blandly on our

screens, saying "buy my shavers". His brashness and confidence succeeded

in imbuing Remington with associations of quality.

However, his death appears to mark the end of an era. The public's savvy

and cynicism leaves little space these days for such a direct appeal to

its trust.