I've written hundreds of articles on General Electric (NYSE:GE), but not one of them had a punch-line like this: The 130-year old manufacturer is bringing sexy back.
No, GE didn't rush out and hire supermodel Gisele Bundchen; apparel maker Under Armour already beat it to the punch. Instead, the company that popularized the light bulb hired a Hollywood star to help it ... um ... popularize a light bulb.
Or should we say glamorize? In a tongue-in-cheek promo, actor Jeff Goldblum (you know, the scientist from the 1990s blockbuster movie Jurassic Park) is looking like the most eligible 1970s bachelor, but he's using futuristic app-controlled GE Link Light Bulbs to set the mood.
What's more, he thinks this newfangled remote-controlled bulb could take any old chump from zero to hero – even you, me, and America.
Here's a look at the 2-minute spot:
Questions? Well, I'm sure you have many. Like, "Is that Goldblum's real hairdo?" And "Why is he inviting me into his hot tub?!"
Or, perhaps more importantly, "What's going on with GE's ad campaigns?" Well, as a longtime GE follower and investor, I'm glad you asked.
Lighting gets sexy, machines get chatty
GE's Link Light Bulb commercial is about more than just controlling your living room lamps from outside your home. It's actually the latest ad in a series of innovative GE videos that delve into our budding relationship with machines – including light bulbs.
Prior to this one, however, the point of GE's ads wasn't to lure you into watching a fake infomercial. Instead, ads like GE's Emmy-nominated "Childlike Imagination" tempted the viewer to imagine a world powered by an invisible force – what GE calls the "industrial Internet." It was dreamlike and inspirational. Likewise, GE's poignant ad called "The Boy Who Beeps" showed us how another child relates to a world of high-tech machines: by talking to them.
Three highly provocative GE ad spots, all of them tied to the much-hyped Internet of things. Yet each one has a different angle, from awe-inspiring to eerie sci-fi to humorous. So, what's the point?
Well, I don't think GE's intent is to simply peddle products with this campaign (except for the fact that Goldblum is literally peddling GE products). It's hard to imagine a half-dressed, well-tanned "Terry Quattro" character will trigger a stampede to Home Depot.
But humor is a desirable wavelength on which to communicate with customers about technology. Here's how advertising industry insider Evan Benedetto of BBH ad agency put it in context:
GE, like a lot of tech companies these days, has made a conscious effort through their marketing to be more relatable on a human level. Apple and Google started this trend a couple of years ago with some of their TV ads – Apple's "Holiday" and Google Chrome's "Dear Sophie". Both ads were universally loved on the web, both built awareness around their products, and both did the job of making a very large tech corporation seem more approachable.
With each spot, GE is starting a conversation about a technology that most people have yet to comprehend, but that could have far-reaching implications. And it's doing it on a level that we can relate to.
In some ways, the ability to connect machines with the Internet offers incredible opportunity. It could, for example, make business more efficient: GE, for instance, estimates that the industries it serves will save a combined $276 billion over 15 years by reducing fuel consumption and slashing downtime. On the flipside, the industrial Internet poses its own risks and drawbacks as well.
Security and privacy concerns will increase since data on nearly everything will be stored in the cloud. And consider the implications on product obsolescence? Will that 22-year light bulb featured in the commercial really last for 22 years? Or will "smart" light bulbs suddenly be part of the "smartphone" upgrade cycle? New software, for instance, may require new hardware, and so on and so forth.
Two writers at The Atlantic described these issues and a number of others – including hacking – in a recent in-depth article titled "When Everything Works Like Your Cell Phone." For those interested in where everyday consumer products might be headed, I highly recommend it.
What does this mean for GE?
Up to now, GE's barely scratched the surface in communicating with customers about how the industrial Internet will work and affect our lives. The image above, which shows a plane flying through a hazy atmosphere of "1"s and "0"s was about the best illustration the company offered. And, unless you can read binary code, it wasn't a very good one.
But GE's latest series of ads make this concept more tangible, meaningful, and even humorous. It shows us what's possible in a hyper-connected world. Jeff Goldblum's not just hawking us light bulbs, he's suavely introducing us to the future, which apparently is coated in sequins, gold, and hair gel. The only question we need to answer is, "Are we ready?"
Isaac Pino, CPA owns shares of General Electric Company. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.