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Lessons From Warren Buffett: Getting the CEO to (Willingly) Write Checks for Marketing

by Paul Barsch  |  
December 27, 2007
  |  10,750 views

You know a phrase has entered the national lexicon when people across the United States tease waiters and waitresses with an order of "the roasted duck with the mango salsa." This phrase was made popular in a commercial featuring two insulted cavemen as they lunch with a GEICO spokesperson.

Love them or hate them, the GEICO cavemen, along with the GEICO gecko advertisements, and the silly celebrity commercials featuring actor Verne Troyer and singer Little Richard, are here to stay. These commercials have staying power not only because they're creating awareness, driving sales, and generating internet buzz but also because Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire-Hathaway, loves them! (GEICO is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway).

Notoriously private, Warren Buffett doesn't have a lot to say publicly, except for his annual letter to shareholders that usually makes the rounds of the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and other top publications. However, for his marketing programs, and specifically GEICO commercials, Buffett has an open checkbook.

In a Wall Street Journal article titled "How a Gecko Shook Up Insurance Programs" (January 2, 2007), Buffett is quoted as saying, "I love the advertising. (The ad growth is) sustainable as long as I am willing to write the checks. And I love writing them."

You might want to reread that last sentence. It's profound for many reasons.


CEOs around the globe lament that marketers simply don't understand their most pressing and strategic issues. Nirmalya Kumar, in his book Marketing as Strategy, writes, "Today, many CEO's of major companies are disappointed by marketing's inability to produce measurable results. Increasingly they view their marketing department as an expense, rather than an investment." In addition, Kumar notes a study of 545 UK companies which revealed that just 18% of them rated marketing's effectiveness as better than good, whereas 36% rated it as fair to poor.

Let's argue that many CEOs see marketing as an expense, not an investment, and that the overall CEO perception of marketing isn't compelling.

Enter Warren Buffett, regarded by his peers as one of the brightest and most savvy minds in investment, business strategy, and CEO leadership. Buffett is known for the autonomy he gives to his managers, the ability to think "long term," and unparalleled skill in evaluating talent. He's also a CEO who spends a lot of money on marketing.


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Paul A. Barsch directs the professional services marketing programs for one of the top 10 software companies in the United States and blogs about the intersection and impact of technology and marketing (www.paulbarsch.com). He can be contacted at paulbarsch(at)yahoo(dotcom).

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