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CEO bounces back from a bad ad

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

In 2002, Julie Smolyansky’s father died suddenly from a heart attack. Losing her dad was traumatic enough, but Smolyansky also risked losing the $10 million company that he had built.

Smolyansky was 27 at the time and had joined her father’s company, Lifeway Foods, five years earlier. Upon his death, she decided to take over the business he had launched from scratch in 1986.

One of her major challenges was boosting sales of its main product, kefir. At the time, most mainstream shoppers didn’t know about the health benefits of this relatively obscure yogurt beverage.

To grab consumers’ attention, Smolyansky approved an advertising campaign featuring a young, gaunt, attractive woman promoting kefir. But the ads backfired.

Many of Lifeway’s fans were women who weren’t necessarily skinny—and they lashed out at the company for presenting an image of a thin model who didn’t reflect reality.

Chastened by her poor marketing move, Smolyansky vowed never to use photos of models in her ads.

She kicked off her new campaign by featuring a photo of herself when she was pregnant.

She rightly figured that the ads would stand out. Pregnant CEOs of big companies are rare enough, but it’s almost unheard of for them to star in their company’s advertisements.

The move paid off. Now 39, Smolyansky has led the company to double its revenues over the past five years.

— Adapted from “A Healthy Sales Pitch,” Robert Safian, www.fastcompany.com.

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