Employer Re-Branding: What to Learn from GE’s Multimillion Dollar Ad Campaign

Employer Re-Branding: What to Learn from GE’s Multimillion Dollar Ad Campaign

Emily Check

Wondering what’s the matter with Owen? We are, too, after seeing several commercials featuring an earnest, young software developer named Owen, who has been recruited to work for General Electric, the industrial giant.

owen2GE is one of the world’s largest and most well-known brands, and consists of an impressive array of business lines, from manufacturing to healthcare and financial services. Traditionally they’ve been recognized as an industrial company, which has conventionally made candidates think of low-skilled, dangerous manufacturing jobs. That may have been the case a long, long time ago, but today’s reality is that the company recruits for highly technical, skills-based positions like engineers, designers, and project managers.

The problem that sparked this multi-million dollar ad campaign lies in the workforce’s perception (the majority of which are millennials) of GE as a company: a stodgy, unglamorous corporation that doesn’t offer the modern-day opportunities they desire and expect.

But that’s all about to change, or so they hope. In late 2015, GE launched the “What’s The Matter With Owen” employer branding campaign as a series of commercials using the tag line, “The digital company. That’s also an industrial company.” These short videos show Owen, a recent college graduate failing to share his excitement among family and friends about his new job at GE.

GE’s Employer Re-Branding Campaign

In this scene, Owen’s college friends throw him a party to celebrate his accomplishment, only to be disappointed by his being hired by a boring old industrial company rather than one of the more desirable, Silicon Valley, benefit-rich tech giants.

In another scene, Owen’s parents misunderstand his new position at GE and naturally assume he’ll be working in a heavy manufacturing role, similar to his grandpappy’s career back in the day.

There are several more of these quirky, sarcastic videos running on TV currently, as well as on GE’s Facebook and YouTube pages. In each scene, Owen attempts to explain the appeal of working for a company where he will be writing code that has the potential to “change the world.” If you’ve read any research about millennials, that’s the type of career many are interested in.

Several months after the initial campaign launched, according to Business Insider GE saw applications spike 8x and traffic to their career site rise 66%, which prompted them to produce a second wave of videos. The follow up collection of commercials is called “The World is Catching Up With Owen,” and shows Owen’s network singing a different tune, shoving their resumes at him in various off-handed ways, looking for a way to get hired at GE.

Is this revamp of the employer brand really necessary? Maybe not for every company or industry, but GE certainly faces a significant challenge in hiring based on their position and the history of the industrial space.

A study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute in 2015 shows that the U.S. has a need for 3.5 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade, and 2 million of those jobs will remain unfilled due to a skills gap. As the economy continues to heat up, particularly in the high-tech sector, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to fill jobs that require engineering and tech skills. And in GE’s case, it doesn’t help that the manufacturing industry isn’t necessarily the most desirable. Another survey by Deloitte in 2014 showed that respondents ranked manufacturing fifth out of seven as their choice of where to start a career.

Is an Employer Brand Revamp In the Cards for You?

Obviously not every company has millions of dollars to spend on an employer branding campaign each year. But there is a lot to learn from this colossal effort by GE’s marketing and talent acquisition team. There’s your first hint, they worked together on this message. In order for your employer branding campaign to be successful, marketing and HR must be in sync—especially at large organizations like GE. You need to uncover where the gaps are, what the perception of your brand is now, and what you want it to become.

The way job seekers make decisions has changed dramatically, just like the way the manufacturing industry has evolved. Your candidates are using the internet more than ever to research opportunities before they even apply. More than half of the workforce falls into the millennial generation, who spends the most time online, and is accustomed to consuming content digitally. Your employer brand must be a dynamic part of your recruiting strategy, with content that attracts and impresses candidates—especially if you’re recruiting for hard-to-fill, highly-skilled positions where there’s often a lack of qualified talent for the number of openings.

Many of the world’s largest brands are stuck with outdated recruiting strategies, and are investing in channels with diminishing returns like job fairs and cold emails. The most skilled, desirable workers are often passive candidates, meaning they aren’t actively looking for a new opportunity. They won’t be showing up at your job fair booth, or replying to your generic InMail messages, they’ll be googling something like“GE engineering jobs” after seeing a funny commercial between the latest episode of Modern Family.

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