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Cisco scores with its latest generation of empowering ads

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When it comes to integrated marketing, Cisco Systems Inc. classifies as a special-needs client. The San Jose-based network equipment manufacturer provides hardware designed for seamless communication. As a result, its marketing must be as slick and polished as any b-to-b messaging out there. In its own "Cisco Internet generation" campaign, the company strives to provide the images of reliability, precision and innovation through broadcast, print and Internet advertising.

The campaign is significant because it underscores some key trends in b-to-b integrated marketing campaigns. For example, all messaging includes the signature tagline "Empowering the Internet generation." Rather than canceling out an earlier TV campaign centered on the question "Are you ready?’’ Cisco has made a push to build on the message and its brand awareness through multiple media.

One print advertisement features three people walking through a rice paddy. An airplane reflects in the water. The text says simply, "Last year your customers spent $172 billion on business travel." And a Web address points to Cisco’s presentation of video conferencing technology. That’s especially adroit messaging during a time when travel budgets are being slashed.

Internet generation

Nancy Hill, president of GMO Hill/Holliday, San Francisco, said the "Internet generation" ads showcase Cisco as an empowering, enabling company that thrives on one-on-one, human interaction. Throughout the campaign, these same themes are emphasized, she said. Hill/Holliday is Cisco’s ad agency of record.

"Recent work for Cisco gets specific about things you can be doing that you have not have thought about," Hill said. In all advertising, technical terms are avoided, she said. And the current campaign represents a continued focus on the Internet as the future of business, she said.

"Right from the beginning, there has always been something in our campaigns that just feels like Cisco," Hill said. "It is almost always global, and puts a human face on technology."

Cisco has worked hard to track the performance of its current campaign. An internal Cisco tracking study shows that unaided brand awareness has risen 80% since 1999, and also rates 80% higher than competitors Lucent Technologies Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp. As significant, Cisco’s reputation as an Internet expert is 250% higher than Microsoft Corp. and 500% higher than IBM Corp. and Lucent Technologies Inc., the Cisco study said.

Combining approaches

Linking print and broadcast with an interactive presence has been key to the "Cisco Internet generation" campaign, Hill said. If an advertisement is targeted at a business strategist, the advertisement will point to a Web site tuned to their level of technical expertise and mindset. Meanwhile, an advertisement slanted toward an information technology executive will point to a Web paged tuned to the bits-and-bytes mindset. Print advertising has appeared in national newspapers, as well as Information Week, The Industry Standard, Forbes, Fortune, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.

Linking media to Web sites adds a call to action to an otherwise broad campaign, said Tim Hendrick, VP-account management for JWT Technology, San Jose. He’s doing the same type of broadcast, print and Web tie-in for Mercury Interactive, which sells Web and network testing equipment.

"You need to have a response mechanism or call to action, as it’s the means to gather more information about the b-to-b customer," Hendrick said. "We’ve seen a lot of brands come out with advertising that tries to make an impact with the customer. But at the same time, you have to sell product. A link to a Web page is the beginning of that sales cycle."

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