When international business media outlets such as The Wall Street
Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, Business Week, CNN, CNBC and
Bloomberg talk to advertisers about their audience profile, they are
usually quick to cite research that highlights their reach among chief
executive officers. The importance of this small group of corporate
high-achievers is almost an article of faith.
The implication is that if the product is good enough for those at the
top of the pile, it will also be lapped up by those striving to ascend
to the upper echelons of the corporate world. This group would include
the likes of board directors and senior managers, the people who carry
considerable clout, albeit not quite as much as the person at whose desk
the buck stops, ie Mr or Ms Ne Plus Ultra.
More than this, however, CEOs are clearly an attractive audience for
many advertisers. Although their role is a strategic one, their
influence is immense. For instance, while they are unlikely to be
involved directly in the procurement process for their company, their
views will always be taken into account. It would be a brave IT director
who buys IBM hardware when the CEO has expressed an interest in Sun's
product range, without at least explaining why he or she feels the
former is the best option for the company's needs.
Aside from their appeal in a business-to-business context, CEOs are,
thanks to their high disposable incomes, prime targets for advertisers
of consumer products aimed at an affluent audience. The Wall Street
Journal and Financial Times have in recent years introduced weekend
sections with a heavy lifestyle slant. These have been developed not
only to broaden the scope of the editorial at the end of the week, but
to give advertisers a more favourable environment in which to promote
upmarket consumer goods and services to the executive titans.
Into this group we can lump what in the US are now being called the
"c-titles": those at the top of the pile with "chief" in their job
title, such as the chief financial officer, chief operating officer and
the like. In other words, the corporate cream.
But what is the best way of reaching this elite effectively? And can
advertising make much of an impact on these busy folk?
Mark Petersen, the board account director at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO,
whose clients include The Economist and BT Ignite, argues that a great
deal of the advertising that targets the business elite is far too
"A lot of ads go for the lowest common denominator, which is generally
matched by quite sloppy planning," Petersen says. "They begin with
things like 'because you don't have so much time', which is base one
empathy. Or it's a lazy insight along the lines of 'we can make you more
Across Europe, posters have been a favourite medium for advertising The
Economist . But while the UK advertising has been built on clever word
play, strong imagery is used on the Continent as a way of conveying to
business leaders the breadth of the magazine's coverage as well as the
key fact that it is not a dusty economic journal.
In a similar way, the creative work for BT Ignite is centred on strong
visuals. So-called "action words" chosen to reflect the qualities of the
brand were sculpted in neon and then photographed to present a powerful
This thinking is far removed from the traditional approach of
advertising to CEOs in which dry layouts and monochrome were judged a
safe way of engineering a sense of gravitas - with little in the way of
Some feel, however, that advertising in this area could be far
Grey's chairman and chief creative officer, Tim Mellors, is scathing
about airport posters that use symbols such as watches and pens,
describing them as " weak and pathetic". He says: "We see CEOs as a
rarefied breed but my experience of them is that the conversation is on
a very human level. The role they have belies the ordinariness of the
individual. Of course, they are consumers too."
St Luke's co-founder, Andy Law, says: "I'm not aware of much advertising
that makes me think someone has seen right into the head of a CEO and
understood the problems they are facing. The quick response is that they
are ordinary people, but it's a pretty unordinary job."
Young & Rubicam has carried out research into targeting senior business
people across Europe. Jim Williams, its executive director, strategy and
research for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, feels that it is
important to note that this group of people are not homogeneous.
According to Y&R's research, the group has two principal mindsets:
"succeeders" and "reformers". The succeeders' main values centre on
control, stability and duration. So the brands they choose need to say
"I am successful", "I lead", "I'm here to stay", Williams claims.
The reformers' values, meanwhile, are concerned with self-fulfilment and
self-expression. Y&R concluded that these people like to "indulge in
life's most interesting and finest", wanting to be innovative and
progressive in their thinking, being and, ultimately, buying behaviour.
According to Y&R's estimates, 60 per cent of high earners fall into the
succeeders category, with the remaining 40 per cent being reformers.
Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper has targeted CEOs and other business figures with
its advertising for Credit Suisse Group. Its ads had to run all over the
world, appealing to people from a rich variety of cultures who speak
many different languages. So a simple, clear message that was relevant
to all was needed together with powerful branding. Making use of the
group's corporate colours, blue and red, the agency developed a graphic
idea that provided intrinsic branding in both TV and print.
As with all advertising, argues Mark Wnek, the executive creative
officer of Euro RSCG, the way to grab a CEO's attention is with
imaginative, original, appealing, arresting and relevant work. However,
ads should not aim for stand-out at any cost, says Wnek, who feels that
pan-European advertising will work for this audience.
"It's certainly true that good pan-European campaigns are harder to
achieve than national ones because there is often a multiplicity of
client decision-makers involved. The more people there are involved, the
more opinions there are likely to be about advertising," Wnek says. "But
that's changing too as business becomes inevitably more regional and
global and more companies are centralising control of major areas of
their business, such as the marketing strategy. There are already quite
a few examples of first-rate pan-regional campaigns, and I believe that
trend will increase. Don't forget, too, that great advertising works
just about anywhere and everywhere."
MCCANN-ERICKSON FOCUSES ON RISK FOR WINTERTHUR INTERNATIONAL
Until 1998, Winterthur International, the risk management company, never
had to actively market itself. So when its parent the Winterthur Group,
the insurance company, decided to spin off the business as a separate
unit, it discovered that the brand was practically unknown to most of
its Fortune 1000 target market.
Winterthur International also found when its brand was recognised, it
was perceived as a traditional insurer for property, casualty and
It also faced the problem that risk management was perceived as a
cost-cutting tool and products in the sector had become increasingly
Since 1998, however, innovative ART (alternative risk transfer)
solutions had been developed in order to cover all risks. These new risk
solutions had to be explained to not only risk managers but also CEOs
and chief financial officers.
The main objective of Winterthur International was to become one of the
top five corporate insurers, focusing on Europe. In order to achieve
this goal, the company's agency, McCann-Erickson, decided to redefine
The challenge was to shift the positioning of Winterthur International
from a conservative insurance supplier to an innovative business
consultant covering total risk management.
External as well as internal communication was the main brand-building
device. At the same time, the task was to appeal to executive board
members, while not alienating the traditional decision-makers - the risk
Because of limited time and resources, the creative concept had to
catapult the company to the level of a top international corporate
The main target group has to read a lot and had to take into account
that 98 per cent of all communicated information is not remembered. At
the same time, the ART solutions are complicated and are bespoke for
In order to overcome these difficulties, the company decided to use
famous personalities, experts in their fields, who had all taken a lot
of risks in their lives, to front the campaign. Nothing about the
solutions of Winterthur International was mentioned, but a single line
at the bottom of each ad leads to the internet, where the necessary
information can be found.
Richard Avedon photographed the campaign and a range of personalities
including Niki Lauda, Giovanni Agnelli, Mario Botta, Lord Yehudi
Menuhin, Maurice Bejart, Jose Carreras, Lord Attenborough and Jody
Williams were invited to participate.
The ads were shot as portraits against a stark black background and two
TV commercials, one with Niki Lauda and one with Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, were filmed in a similar manner to convey the same mood and
The quality of execution united with the class of photography brought
new opportunities for the brand: an annual "Winconference" summit, a
photography exhibition and even a recording with Yehudi Menuhin. The ads
appeared in selected pan-European business publications with a high
affinity to the target group. The TV commercials appeared on
international business TV channels and there was support within specific
business shows such as Moneyline and World Business Today.
In addition, a comprehensive website and new brochures were developed,
in conjunction with relationship-building activities, such as CDs, a
calendar and a new corporate design manual.
Daniel M Isenegger, the head of corporate communications at Winterthur
International, said:"This campaign was about maximum impact at
reasonable costs. Our budget gives the impression of being ten times
more extensive than it really is. In some cases, contracts are being
signed exclusively because of this campaign. Finally, the campaign has
motivated Winterthur International's employees, as well as strengthening
the Winterthur brand as a whole."