- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) General Electric Co. is jettisoning its "We bring good things to life" slogan after almost 25 years for a new campaign that emphasizes the innovative spirit that Thomas Edison started at GE more than a century ago.

The new $100 million advertising campaign, "Imagination at work," is meant to tout the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate's reputation for innovation at all its businesses, from the NBC television network to its appliances, medical equipment and financial services.

The ads, set to debut this week, have a humorous touch. In one, the Wright Brothers' rickety plane, strapped with a GE aircraft engine, roars and morphs into a jet.

Edison is the lead character in another spot: The stern-faced inventor's head cracks open, a la Monty Python, with visions of aircraft engines, high-tech windmills, refrigerators and other GE products spilling out.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey R. Immelt said shortly after he was appointed in September 2001 that he wanted to rethink the company's image.

"Immelt has really been pushing a technology focus, a reinvigoration of technology at GE around the world. We wanted our communications to match that," said Beth Comstock, the head of communications at GE.

The change is risky, since "We bring good things to life" is familiar to consumers and is considered one of the best campaigns ever done. The slogan made its debut in 1979.

"I've always characterized it publicly and in class as being one of the truly great corporate campaigns ever done," said Harvard marketing professor Stephen A. Greyser, who has been following GE's ad campaigns for years.

The campaign's strength, he said, was its double meaning that offered something to everyone from high-level corporate executives to everyday consumers.

The new slogan, "Imagination at work," also has a double meaning. Depending on who views the ads, he said, the slogan can mean "imagination when we are at work" or "imagination at work for you."

"Is it overarching, like the old slogan, and is it effective at communicating what GE is all about? Time will tell," Mr. Greyser said.

"Imagination at work" is the result of 18 months of research, brainstorming and testing various campaign ideas, said Andrew J. Robertson, president of BBDO Worldwide, the agency that designed the new campaign.

"We're a 120-year-old company, and you don't get to your third century without changing with the times," Miss Comstock said. "We certainly were not looking to change for change's sake, but you also can't stay still."

Along with the new slogan comes a new strategy for advertising. Instead of just concentrating on the Sunday-morning TV crowd, GE will flirt with prime-time audiences, as well.

The "Imagination at work" TV ads are scheduled to air starting Sunday, during the Golden Globe Awards.

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