Big campaigns raise hopes of turnaround

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B-to-b advertising may finally be on the upswing.

In the last two months, more than a dozen major campaigns have been launched by advertisers such as IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Palm Computing Corp. and General Electric Co.

Budgets for most of these campaigns were not disclosed, but they are all high-profile efforts that integrate several elements, such as TV, print, online, direct mail and events.

"We have gone from a complete and total retrenchment to a cautious recovery," said Penny Baldwin, president-CEO of Young & Rubicam San Francisco, which handles work for clients including VeriSign
Inc., ChevronTexaco Corp. and
Hitachi Ltd.

VeriSign, for example, in April launched the largest integrated ad campaign in the company’s history. The campaign, with the tagline "The value of trust," was a significant move for a company that last year launched no major advertising initiatives with the exception of direct mail and online.

The brand response campaign is designed to raise awareness of VeriSign as a leading provider of critical infrastructure services and to drive demand for its products.

Forging ahead

VeriSign, like other advertisers planning campaigns this year, was about to launch the campaign when the war with Iraq began. It called meetings with its agency and advertising executives to evaluate the appropriateness of its message and the timing of the effort.

"The decision was made to move forward," Baldwin said. "VeriSign realized they couldn’t grow their business by retrenching."

Melanie Branon, director of branding and marketing communications for VeriSign, said the time was right to roll out advertising that addressed critical infrastructure needs, particularly in the area of security.

"Recent events have raised and intensified people’s concerns about security," she said. One of the new ads, which debuted in April, addresses VeriSign’s service offerings for computer network security.

Also in April, IBM launched a TV, print, online and outdoor campaign with the tagline "Can you see it?" IBM has been a consistent advertiser in good times and bad. The new campaign, developed by IBM’s agency of record, Ogilvy & Mather, New York, is an extension of its "e-business on demand" campaign, which debuted in October 2002.

"We try to be steady in terms of our long-term outlook and spending," said Lisa Baird, VP-worldwide advertising for IBM. "This is a long-term investment."

Baird would not disclose the campaign budget or IBM’s total ad budget for 2003, but industry insiders say it’s level with IBM’s global ad budget of $600 million in 2002.

Microsoft still spending

Microsoft, which has launched three major campaigns this year—for the Tablet PC, Windows Server 2003 and Business Solutions—is another stalwart advertiser that has kept its ad spending consistent.

"Microsoft hasn’t taken its foot off the pedal at all," said Michael McLaren, exec VP-director of client services at McCann-Erickson San Francisco, Microsoft’s agency of record. McLaren would not disclose the budget for Microsoft’s new campaigns, or its total ad budget for 2003.

CDW Computer Centers, which last month broke a TV, print and online campaign aimed at technology buyers, also has kept its spending consistent throughout the downturn.

"Our spending has remained at the same level it was at the [market] peak," said Don Gordon, VP-advertising at CDW, who declined to disclose the budget. "We think it’s really important to have consistency and a clear message. Whenever a turnaround occurs, we think we’ll be in a really strong position to capitalize on that."

CDW’s new campaign, which is an extension of its award-winning "Empathy" campaign launched in 2001, was developed by DWP//Bates Technology, Atlanta, and is designed to show how CDW makes technology buying easy.

Other ad campaigns that have rolled out in the past few months reflect new products, expanded services and corporate branding initiatives. They include an integrated corporate image campaign by GE with the tagline "Imagination at work," developed by BBDO Worldwide, New York; a corporate branding campaign by Dow Corning Corp. with the tagline "Which Dow Corning do you need today?" developed by Grey Worldwide, New York; an online campaign by Palm Computing Corp. for the launch of two new handhelds, developed by Carat Interactive; and an integrated campaign by Xerox promoting its Office Document Assessment service, developed by Young & Rubicam New York.

In another sign of recovery, United Airlines last week launched its biggest advertising campaign since 2001. The campaign, created by Fallon Worldwide, appears to confirm a shift in the airline’s strategy to court the lucrative business travel market.

Courtney Buechert, president of McCann-Erickson San Francisco, emphasized the importance of advertising, even in a down economy.

"No client does any advertising work that is not tied to a material business cycle," he said. "Two to three years is too long to go to not be committed to advertising."

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