It’s one thing to say that the bull market of the 1990s (hey, remember that?) made CEOs into celebrities. And obviously chief executives as advertising pitchmen (and even pitchwomen) isn’t a new thing, with past examples including everyone from Lee Iacocca and Victor Kiam to Dave Thomas and Carly Fiorina. But all those execs were doing was pitching their own companies. The real test of a CEO’s celebrity is whether he or she is well-known enough to hawk someone else’s wares. Which brings to mind a recent Taco Bell ad that featured Jeff Bezos. You can see the spot here, via AdCritic.com.
The Ad: We open with Bezos (labeled as the founder of Amazon.com for those not in the know) running a meeting in a windowed conference room. “PDAs, handhelds, I’ve seen these,” he says to his ersatz team. “What do we have that’s new?” One minion offers up a product that “just came out,” and slides a Taco Bell chicken quesadilla toward the middle of the table. Someone else chimes in to describe the features—three melted cheeses, etc. “They’re calling this the hot new handheld,” another guy adds. Bezos asks, “Can I get a demo?” Sure, says another meeting attendee, picking up a hunk of quesadilla, taking a bite, and saying, “Mmmm.” The spot wraps up with Taco Bell’s “Think Outside the Bun” tag line.
Bezos forSale? As an ad, this all seems fine to me, cleverly drawing attention to the product and so on. But what I’m really interested in is Bezos. What’s he up to here? He long ago embraced the notion of being a public face for Amazon, more than willing to grin for the cameras and retell the legends of his startup over and over. In 1999 he became not just the face of that company but also the face of the Internet boom in general, as Time magazine’s Man of the Year. Does this do his company any good? Not really. Amazon is going to succeed or fail based on its business model, not its chief executive’s charisma.
Amazon is still losing money and still promising to remedy that as soon as possible. But the question raised by this campaign is whether, perhaps, Bezos’ celebrity actually transcends the online retailer’s. Maybe Bezos is trying to figure out just how far his “Q rating” could take him. After a few more endorsements, maybe his next move could be a small role in an independent film or on The Sopranos. He could host Saturday Night Live. Finally, a recurring role in a new or existing sitcom. My friend C.J. Aguilar suggests a new show about a young couple in Seattle who can’t decide whether to get married (or something) and who happen to live next door to Jeff Bezos. That’s the twist, see. Bezos, as himself, would come over from time to time to borrow the lawn mower or whatever and amuse us all with his memorable laugh. Failing that, C.J. argues for giving Bezos a co-title role in a revived version of Pink Lady and Jeff.
Obviously, I’m not serious about any of this. But imagining Jeff Bezos breaking free of his CEO-ness altogether and becoming a free-floating celebrity seemed a little more intriguing to me than imagining whether his endorsement might or might not move a lot of chicken quesadillas.