Strategy

How to Compellingly Use Employees in Ads

bottle of Jack Daniels

Featuring employees in ads isn’t a novel idea. But when did this concept get so routine?

Every other ad I see these days shows a “customer representative” interacting with New Product X or Better Service Y. I’m here to argue for a more engaging use of employees in ads. Fewer standard, smiling, nice-but-replaceable employees played by actors. (Unless you find a way to make that exciting.)

A recent campaign by ad agency Arnold Worldwide proved that not only can real employees be your greatest asset in business, they can also be the greatest asset in your ad. They used this insight to shoot a beautiful spot for Gentleman Jack, a double mellowed whiskey by Jack Daniels.



I originally clicked on this ad because I was looking for the Vanity Fair spoof. It seemed like a potentially risky move – satirizing a brand with that great a reputation? But then it totally made sense. JD was going for the “cultured” and “refined” identity that Vanity Fair projects, and turning it on its head.

Our employees are regular, working class people, JD is saying (their target audience). So they used their own real, regular, working class employees in the ad. Another nice touch is that instead of putting the employees too far out of their comfort zone, they simply gave them the chance to get glammed up for a day. Featuring your employees doing something they are comfortable doing is key to making the ad a success. 

It hits a lot of Millennial feel-good buttons. It feels transparent. It puts a human face on the brand. It implies real craftsmanship in the product. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It makes me want to relax and have a drink – maybe even with the people in the commercial.

Droga5 came out with an even better case for using employees in commercials earlier this year for Johnsonville Sausages.

Here’s my favourite.



If you have a few minutes, I highly encourage you to watch the rest of the commercials in this campaign. They’re all pretty spectacular.

The caption for this particular one by real employee Todd reads:

“At our family-owned company, our people are responsible for everything. Even coming up with our commercials. This Flame Grilled Chicken spot comes from Todd, who has worked in the Johnsonville transportation department for nearly 22 years.

Todd thought our new Flame Grilled Chicken deserved a new rock ballad just as fiery. And boy, he and his real-life bandmates delivered.

It’s music. It’s mayhem. It’s chicken.”

If someone told you, hey, an employee did a commercial for his company’s food products by playing a song with his rock band, you’d probably assume it would be cheesy and tacky and terrible. But this is so good. It’s very well executed. They go for the voice-dubbing technique that I cheerfully associate with Drunk History. You get the sense that the employees that were featured in these spots really had fun. In fact, I feel like I’m watching Todd experience a dream come true by playing this massive concert with his real-life bandmates. When was the last time someone had this much fun making an ad?

However, the main reason this campaign is such a success is because it folds seamlessly into the insight – that at Johnsonville, the employees are truly responsible for everything. You see a story in each commercial but you also see the values of the brand throughout the whole campaign. And the employees have been empowered to become genuine brand ambassadors at no extra cost. It’s a win-win for both the brand and the employee.

Do you think more companies should feature real employees in ads? How would you do this effectively?

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