Business

GE’s top marketer shares the company’s advertising secrets

The logo of General Electric displayed in Paris, France, last year.
Benoit Tessier/REUTERS/file
The logo of General Electric displayed in Paris, France, last year.

Linda Boff’s most valuable hire at General Electric may not be another marketing exec or a social media guru, but a fictional character.

Boff became GE’s chief marketing officer in September, the same month that the company started running a campaign around Owen, the star of its catchy new ad campaign.

The character, as you may have seen by now in one of these self-deprecating spots, lands a high-tech gig at GE, but has a hard time explaining why a young guy like him is working at a 138-year-old conglomerate. Owen (played by Gianmarco Soresi) pleads with his friends: It’s cool, guys, honest. He tells his skeptical parents: I’m changing the world.

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The ads are designed to blow up the preconceived notions of GE as an old-school manufacturer, all with the goal of catching the interest of brainy millennials.

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And the campaign seems to be working. Boff told the crowd at an Ad Club event at the Seaport World Trade Center on Tuesday that “recruiting is up eightfold” since the ads rolled out. A spokesman later explained: That’s a reference to the increase in traffic on GE’s recruiting website in the three months after the ads started running, compared to the prior three months.

“The impact they have had, both anecdotally and in terms of the numbers, [has] been a real success,” Boff told the crowd.

Boff said GE deliberately tries to place its ads on shows — such as Sunday’s Academy Awards — that people are going to watch live.

These ads aren’t just aimed at potential recruits. Boff said the company is also trying to attract the attention of investors, as well as potential clients.

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Boff arrived on stage Tuesday while the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” blared on the speakers. The song, of course, was a reference to GE’s recent decision to relocate its headquarters from suburban Connecticut to Boston. Boff will actually remain based in New York City after that move, but she said she hopes to be visible here as well.

Boff told Tom Ashbrook — the National Public Radio host was interviewing her on stage — that the move to Boston should help her team’s efforts to project GE’s new image by immersing the headquarters in this region’s startup culture.

“We sometimes say we’re the oldest startup on the block,” Boff said.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.