People Management Lessons I Learned From GE’s Super Bowl Ads

As most readers of my blog know, I’m Irish. Though I tend to divide my time between our Dublin and Boston offices, I can’t claim to be true fan of any American sporting leagues.

Most know the American Super Bowl (the professional football championship game) is the most watched show on television with 110 million viewers. With an audience of that size, it’s not surprising how expensive advertising spots have become. According to Forbes:

This year, commercials cost $3.5 million for 30-seconds on average to air. Add to the cost another $2-or-3 million for production and the celebrities’ fees, and it’s more like $5 or $6 million for a 30-seconds ad in the Super Bowl. …

Many advertisers walk away because they discover that the ROI, the return on their investment, is negligible. … There is simply no way that any of the advertisers on yesterday’s game can recoup their investment because these commercials do not move the needle on sales, according to numerous studies.”

Then why do fiscally responsible companies choose to advertise during the Super Bowl, especially for products no average consumer (or Super Bowl viewer) would ever buy?

Case in point – General Electric. With two advertisement “spots” in the Super Bowl, one can assume GE invested anywhere from $7-10 million. One spot (seen below) was somewhat consumer focused, featuring the people who manufacture GE appliances at a plant in Kentucky.

Why would GE feature this spot?

I find the second spot (the next one below) much more interesting, however. This spot featured the people who make GE turbines in Schenectady, NY.

No average football fan is going to run out the next day and buy a turbine. So why would GE feature this spot?

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Another investment in employees

I believe GE made this investment as part of its continual investment in its employees, who GE leaders are clearly proud of. More to the point, GE is highlighting what makes work meaningful for their people. I particularly liked these two quotes.

  • “When I was a kid I wanted to work with my hands. I really enjoy building turbines. It’s nice to that what you’re building is going to do something for the world.”
  • When people think of GE, they typically don’t think about beer. The power needed to make their beer comes from turbines made right here. ‘So you make the beer?’ ‘No, we make the power that makes the beer.’ ‘So without you there’d be no beer?’ ‘That’s right.’”

Do you help your employees make that deeper connection to the importance, meaning and value of what they do every day? Sure, the beer connection in this commercial makes good sense in a Super Bowl advertisement. But the same deeper connection could be made for the almost numerable things GE turbines power to make possible.

What’s the deeper meaning and value of what you do every day?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


5 Comments on “People Management Lessons I Learned From GE’s Super Bowl Ads

  1. Hi Derek,

    The two spots you mention were really good. There was a third (actually the first one shown during the game) that to me had an even more powerful message that not only was directed at GE employees, but I believe also demonstrated the strong bond with those directly impacted by GE technologies. These were GE Healthcare employees working on scanning technologies and the cancer patients who benefitted from early detection through these technologies.

    The video ( find it here – ) starts with employee interviews talking about how the work they do helps patients “have the rest of their lives” and how the employees “wouldn’t do anything else.” It then transitions to a group of patients who visit the GE Healthcare Wisconsin HQ to meet the GE employees. The patients interviewed knew that doctors and nurse were important, but they wanted to “complete the picture” by meeting the people who built the machines that gave them back to their families and let the employees know in person that “what they are doing is wonderful.”

    An extremely powerful and human message about the power of Purpose and Meaning in work.


    1. Wow! I’m sorry I missed that commercial. That was quite powerful, indeed. You’re right. Helping employees see the full circle and impact of their daily contributions is one of the most powerful engaging factors in the workplace today.

  2. Remember GE’s reputation back in the Neutron Jack days?  It was not good in the U.S. They closed several plants and several Americans lost their jobs.  Many of their jobs were sent out of the country.  So, when I saw GE’s commercials during the Super Bowl I found it bizarre they were highlighting mfg. plants in the U.S.

    I believe GE’s primary intent for the commercials was to re-build its image and reputation in the U.S. Go talk to people who live in the towns of former GE manufacturing plants.  In my conversations with many of those people, they do not reference GE as a great place to work. Many of their friends/family lost their GE jobs.  

    GE needs to put their money where their mouth is on those commercials.  The commercials make it sound like they are serious making a positive impact to workers in America.  If they are, then I support it.  But, again, the Super Bowl advertisements were intended to re-build its reputation and image in the U.S.  Not to sell more products.  

  3. Is GE saying the beer came after electric?  Where they not drinking beer when they sailed over on the Mayflower?

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