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.Coms try old channel

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First there was IBM Corp.'s "e-business solutions" TV spots, which debuted in 1997 and were pioneers in extolling the value of the Internet for businesses.

Then came other technology companies looking to flash their Web credentials on television, such as Microsoft Corp., which is taking the trend to its logical conclusion by running a TV spot that begins with "e-anything."

Call it the rise of the not-so-silent "e."

Largely because of the Internet's impact on commerce, business-to-business advertising on television is booming. A telling example: Computer and software commercials, a significant portion of which are b-to-b, increased 146% between the first half of 1998 and the first half of 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting, New York.

More than computers

But the Internet effect extends beyond computer and software manufacturers jockeying for positions in the Web economy.

Computer and financial consulting companies--many of which, such as Electronic Data Systems Corp., have advertised only sporadically in the past--have also launched ambitious TV campaigns to trumpet their Web prowess. Competitive Media figures indicate financial services ads, a large segment of which are b-to-b in focus, increased 119% in the first half of 1999, compared with the same period last year.

Similarly, Competitive Media data indicate .com advertising ballooned 266% between the first half of 1998 and the same period in 1999. Most of the pure .com advertising on television is consumer-oriented, but CNET, which has a strong b-to-b element, has allocated a large segment of its aggressive $100 million branding campaign to television.

The time-honored way to reach people who influence the selection of technology or consulting services has been through targeted computer and business publications. With TV spots, the waste is "tremendous," says Jane Deery, senior VP-group media director at technology media shop Carat Freeman, Newton, Mass.

For instance, of the nearly 20 mil-lion people watching "ABC's Monday Night Football" in a typical week, only 118,000 are CIOs or VPs of information technology, according to IntelliQuest's "Computer Industry Media/Business Influencer Study Version 6.0."

At the same time, "Monday Night Football's" coverage is excellent, reaching on average nearly 50% of the total CIO population of 242,000 in the U.S., according to the study. The branding message of running a spot in prime time is clear, Ms. Deery says: "Part of it is you're a player. It's kind of like the cost of entry."

Following IBM's e-example

Despite the waste inherent in TV advertising for b-to-b marketers, the strategy can be effective.

IBM, Armonk, N.Y., designed its e-business campaign, which was created by Ogilvy & Mather, New York, to show that the mainframe-era champion would be a player in the Internet age. The integrated campaign debuted on television and in The Wall Street Journal in October 1997.

With the campaign, IBM intended to "move from perceived thought follower to thought leader--set the agenda," according to Ogilvy & Mather. The TV spots showed the Internet is about more than spinning logos and other cyber tricks; it is also about simplifying supply chains and maximizing profits.

The IBM spots have gone a long way to making e-business a household word. Awareness of the term has increased by more than 111% since the campaign began, according to Ogilvy & Mather's research.

"We didn't want this to be a phrase that IBM owned," says IBM's Marilyn Mersereau, VP-brand advertising. "We wanted to make it an industry term where we were seen as the leaders."

Despite its recent stock woes, IBM has come to be perceived as an Internet leader, especially in light of others adopting variations of e-business in their own slogans. Hewlett-Packard Co. adopted "e-services," and Oracle Corp. has billed itself "the engine of e-business."

More players

The Internet has increased TV advertising in categories beyond hardware and software. In financial services and consulting, for instance, Andersen Consulting, New York, was among the first to use TV advertising as the Internet became increasingly important to businesses.

In computer services and consulting, EDS, which competes with IBM in computer services--an arena that it once defined--launched in September the first global integrated marketing communications campaign in its 36-year history. The ads for the Plano, Texas-based company debuted during the National Football League's telecasts on CBS, Fox and ESPN. The reason for the campaign, which was created by Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis: the Internet.

The Web has reshaped the landscape of the computer services and consulting industries.

While accounting firms such as Andersen Consulting and Ernst & Young have swooped in to provide businesses with Internet computing services, EDS has struggled, in part because it failed to include e-business as a part of its brand. In the first quarter, the company reported a $20.6 million loss on $4.3 billion in revenue and subsequently announced it would cut 5,200 jobs.

The campaign, which focuses on EDS' e-business capabilities, is an attempt to boost the company's Web profile, says Bruce Odza, EDS' director of advertising.

"We're competing for business with a lot of different companies, and a fairly important part of this competition is marketing communications," he says. "That's why we're advertising. This is a requirement now."

In the brief weeks since the campaign debuted, EDS has seen ample evidence of its effectiveness. Mr. Odza says the visits to EDS.com are up 50%, requests for sales calls up 700% and telephone calls up 600%.

CNET's mixed results

Like EDS, San Francisco-based CNET sees television as a medium for building brand. And for CNET, the result of building brand is to drive traffic to the Web site, which is a technology portal that competes with ZDNet, Ziff-Davis' San Francisco-based online business unit.

CNET's campaign debuted July 1, and so far the effort has met with mixed results. In July, CNET edged ahead of the ZDNet sites in unique visitors, 8.2 million to 8 million, but CNET actually declined in visitors for that month, from 8.3 million in June, according to Media Metrix, a New York-based Web ratings service.

In August, as the campaign continued, CNET increased its unique visitors to 8.5 million, but ZDNet's unique visitors surged to 8.6 million, according to Media Metrix. In September, CNET's number declined again, to 8.3 million unique visitors. For the same period, ZDNet once again had 8.6 million unique visitors.

In the wake of the lack of desired results, CNET has shelved the "edgy" TV spots from Citron Haligman Bedecarre Euro RSCG, San Francisco, which featured a proctologist and the standard humor that generally accompanies any mention of the profession. Instead, CNET turned to Leagas Delaney, San Francisco, and will be using creative that is "quiet and simple and stark," as Annie Williams, CNET's VP-marketing, told Advertising Age, a sister publication of Business Marketing.

But notice that CNET is making no move to trim its $100 million campaign.

And despite the uncertain results of this campaign, b-to-b marketers can expect Internet-influenced b-to-b advertising to continue simply because the Internet is expected to become increasingly lucrative. Echoing a similar report by Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., a report from New York-based Goldman Sachs & Co. estimated b-to-b e-commerce will swell from $39 billion in 1998 to $1.5 trillion by 2004.

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