CEOs Should Think Twice Before Becoming a Brand Mascot



Ever since Lee Iacocca touted Chrysler’s comeback on national television in the 1980s, CEOs have appearing as the spokesperson for their company or product. A few are good at it; most are merely bland; some are truly heinous.

In high tech, the gold standard for CEO public ambassadorship is Steve Jobs, who was naturally gifted and able to create his famous “reality distortion field” to make the press believe that they were always seeing much more than met their eye.

Since Jobs’s untimely death, Tim Cook has tried to play that role, but let’s face it; he’s not particularly charismatic. Apple is now so successful that it no longer requires a reality distortion field, but even so, it’s hard to see what Cook adds to Apple announcements.

Whilst alive, Jobs was always being compared (favorably) to Bill Gates. While Gates had a certain nerdy charm, he’s always seemed ill-at-ease in the spotlight, even after being in the public eye for decades.

Microsoft’s subsequent CEO, Steve Ballmer, was never as public as Gates, which was wise since when public speaking Balmer sometimes seemed to be imitating a gorilla. By contrast current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stays mostly in the background.

In today’s post-Jobs CEO milieu, there are some stand outs. Elon Musk is positively dashing. Richard Branson possesses a certain piratical charm. Even Jeff Bezos is compelling in a Drax the Destroyer sort-of-way.

By far the worst CEO brand mascot in high tech is undoubtedly Mark Zuckerberg. While he may be a very effective CEO (some might say too effective), when it comes to looks and charisma, let’s face it, he’s no Jesse Eisenberg.

Take, for example, Zuckerberg’s starring role in the video introducing the umbrella brand Meta. Zuckerberg’s delivery was wooden as Pinocchio and his black outfit tailored so tight that, rather than echoing Steve Jobs, seemed more like Pee Wee Herman in mourning.

The real error here, though, in having Zuckerberg introduce Meta is that 1) his face and voice are inextricably tied to the Facebook brand and 2) Zuckerberg, as public figure, is (shall we say) not well-liked.

The Take-Away

if you’re a CEO of a company that’s in the public eye, think long and hard before trotting yourself forward as a brand ambassador. Rule of Thumb: if you couldn’t be successful as a paid public speaker, it’s probably best to remain in the background.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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