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The rise of the CEO pitchman

Apple CEO Tim Cook waves during the keynote address at the Apple 2012 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Moscone West on June 11, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Apple is expected to unveil the new iPhone 5 at a huge press conference tomorrow in San Francisco. The tech world has been buzzing for months. Of course, no one pitched a new product like Steve Jobs -- he made those launches famous. This time, Apple's Chief Presenting Officer will be Tim Cook.

Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman takes a look at what it takes to turn a CEO into pitchman.


Mitchell Hartman: Remember this guy?

Frank Perdue: My advertising may be good. But it's nowhere near as good as my chickens.

That was Frank Perdue, hawking his tender birds in the 1970s. So the CEO-as-pitchman idea wasn't invented yesterday. Lee Iacocca did it for cars, Dave Thomas did it for Wendy's hamburgers.

But Apple completely changed the game, says technology analyst Carl Howe at the Yankee Group.

Carl Howe: Steve Jobs really set a gold standard, that they made their CEO the celebrity.

Now, says Howe, the CEO-as-brand-ambassador is something the market demands.

Howe: Because most ordinary people don't understand all the bits and pieces. So they're looking for somebody they can trust, who will tell them why they should buy it.

But the CEO may not be persuasive or charismatic, says management consultant Peter Cohan.

Cohan: Not everyone can do it as well as Steve Jobs, and everyone just looks sort of pathetic by comparison.

Cohan says Jeff Bezos pulls it off pretty well for Amazon these days. But Nokia's Stephen Elop and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer? Not so much.

Cohan: The damage can go beyond just not being that effective as a salesperson. It can be demoralizing to employees, it could be demoralizing to investors.

Or worse, says David Reibstein, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School.

David Reibstein: What happens if some non-favorable press happens for that individual? So for example, Martha Stewart, wearing the clothes and showing it as fashion.

Until her fashion statement ran to prison jumpsuits. Bad for Stewart, bad for the brand.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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