McAfee CMO Penny Baldwin Pivots Around an Infamous Founder

Identity change coming for company

Penny Baldwin, cmo of Internet security firm McAfee, enjoys the heroic role of helping worried consumers protect their online identities and privacy. But at the same time, her company grapples with its own identity problem.

John McAfee, the founder who sold his stake in 1994, has been grabbing headlines since late last year for running from a murder investigation in Belize, being arrested in Guatemala and various lawsuits. Coverage of his exploits invariably mentions the namesake software outfit where he made his millions. 

Now with revenues of $1.7 billion, McAfee and its parent Intel are loathe to acknowledge the founder. Baldwin insists all the company’s decisions about positioning, marketing and the brand ID are unrelated to negative perceptions of John McAfee. (When Adweek asked for details, a company rep stepped in to take the subject off the table.)  

Nonetheless, Baldwin, a veteran of Young & Rubicam and Yahoo, discusses how the brand is rethinking the role of the McAfee name, and its new emotional approach to the booming consumer audience.

Adweek: First off, why is McAfee seeking a more consumer-friendly position in the marketplace?

Baldwin: Consumer services bring in about a half of our revenue and most of our profit (compared to b-to-b products) so we want to expand that side of the business. This year, we’re pivoting from being seen as an anti-virus software provider to being a service that comprehensively protects your digital life on all your devices.

Yet for the last 12 months your founder John McAfee, has been in the news for eluding police and other erratic behavior. As part of your consumer research, does your company watch how that coverage affects  the McAfee brand?

Yes it does. It is part of our process of tracking the ongoing pulse of how consumers perceive us, including monitoring social media and consumer service and support. That said, our brand strategy has not been influenced by what [John] does. It is based on what we need to escalate growth and is inspired by the dramatic rise in digital technology among consumers.

Is the look and feel of the McAfee brand and company ID going to change in upcoming months?

We’ve found there is high awareness of the company’s shield symbol. As a visual element, the shield is likely to increase in prominence over the name. The first step was evolving the positioning, which we’ve done. Over time you’ll see massive change in activation points like packaging and names.

What is the impact of recent news about hacking of Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo accounts?

It raises the visibility and importance of our entire category.

Since you want to focus harder on  the mainstream audience, are you going to start advertising on TV soon? Some of your videos seem a lot like TV spots.

TV is under consideration. Eight months ago we launched our LiveSafe subscription service with a series of humorous videos by ad agency Venables Bell  & Partners about how careful people are in their physical lives compared to their [carelessness] in their digital lives. The videos were supported by social, search and online display ads, but no television yet.