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On May 2, technology services company Comdisco Inc. will launch a $35 million integrated branding campaign with a pair of cable TV spots. Spearheaded by David Sloboda, senior VP-marketing, the campaign is Comdisco's first since last May's sale of its mainframe leasing unit, which had long been the company's core business.

The re-branding project stems from the changes Comdisco, which logged $4.2 billion in sales in fiscal 1999, has undergone in the last year.

"It's a 30-year-old company that's become a brand new one in the last 365 days," said David Bassin, Comdisco's VP-corporate brand management and a key player on Sloboda's re-branding team.

The challenge facing Sloboda, Bassin and others on Comdisco's marketing team was in re-branding a company that no longer had the business that had defined it for many years.

Like Hewlett-Packard Co., which recently spun off Agilent Technologies, and IBM Corp., which has remade itself as a services company, Rosemont, Ill.-based Comdisco is another tech player reinventing itself to keep up with technology's torrid pace.

"It will continue to change in the future, as is the nature of any company in that arena," said Stan Richards, principal at the Richards Group, the Dallas-based ad agency that created the campaign. "If they don't change, they'll find themselves to be a dinosaur in the shortest possible amount of time."

The black-and-white TV spots are built around images of children, who represent technology--in all its potential glory and maddening unruliness.

One TV spot, titled "Girl," features a rambunctious child saying, "Today I am this. Tomorrow I will be different. You don't really think you can keep up with me. I am restless. And I will change the world. I am technology."

The spot closes with the company's new tagline, "Delivering the promise of technology." The idea, of course, is that Comdisco's disaster recovery, equipment leasing and Web hosting businesses can help other companies remain current with ever-changing technology.

Beginning next week, the ads are slated to appear on early morning cable TV news programs, including CNN Headline News, to reach their top-management target. Print ads, which also feature children, will begin running in May in general business publications, including Business Week and The Wall Street Journal. One execution features a photograph of a small boy brandishing a toy saber and the headline, "I demand constant attention. I am technology."

Additionally, ads will appear in CIO, InformationWeek and other technology magazines to promote specific Comdisco units. The ad for its networking business, for instance, features a photograph of a child accompanied by the headline, "I don't play well with others. I am your network."

A brand new company

The changes in the past year at Comdisco were sweeping. In addition to divesting its mainframe leasing unit, Comdisco acquired Prism Communications Services, which is building a digital subscriber line network for high-speed Internet access. In addition to Prism, Comdisco now consists of three basic parts:

• Technology services, primarily continuity, network and other information technology services.

• Leasing and financing of high-tech medical and laboratory equipment.

• A ventures business, which has built up stakes in start-up Web companies by leasing equipment in exchange for equity positions.

Analysts generally applaud Comdisco's moves. "It was a low-margin business," said Mike Grondahl, an analyst with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, referring to the mainframe leasing operation. "They're extremely well-positioned [now]. I think there is a lot of momentum."

Low recognition

The reworking of Comdisco's brand began with input from unit heads and the company's marketing council. It included research, which found that Comdisco had strong brand recognition. About 60% of executives surveyed knew the company's name. But only about 8% knew what the company did.

Sloboda saw the marketing team's task as explaining the various parts of Comdisco. The new brand had to position the company as a technology services business, as well as link Comdisco's diverse businesses together.

Comdisco selected the Richards Group, which handles Home Depot, Corona Beer and other accounts, to help with the re-branding. Richards presented a handful of concepts, including the one focused on children.

"It knocked us out right away," said Sloboda of the campaign. Its use of children recalls Cisco Systems' "Are you ready?" series and Monster.com's spots, which feature children talking about ironic career ambitions, such as, "I want to claw my way up to middle management."

"Most advertising used them as cute kids," Richards said. "We were using children in a very different fashion. They are constantly changing, constantly experimenting, constantly growing. In many ways, they're unpredictable and unmanageable."

The TV spots and print ads anchor the re-branding effort. Comdisco plans to spend an estimated $15 million over the next 12 months on the media buy. That leaves $20 million for other elements of the campaign.

"We really view the advertising campaign as a small but important part of the overall branding effort," Sloboda said.

The beginnings of the re-branding effort were shown to Comdisco's 3,500 employees in January. A pamphlet introduced the new tagline and told employees they were the most important piece of Comdisco's brand promise. The pamphlet exhorted, "Become a brand champion with everyone--with customers and prospects, your fellow employees, your friends and family. In short, live the brand."

Sloboda, who comes from a sales background at AT&T Corp., paid special attention to readying Comdisco's sales team for the re-branding. Research found that 81% of Comdisco's customers bought only one product or service. Sloboda believed that offered an opportunity to cross-sell Comdisco's offerings to current customers. The company has spent $500,000 worldwide on new kits to help its sales force sell all of Comdisco's offerings.

Additionally, a direct mail piece will be sent to 10,000 customers and prospects. It will coincide with the launch of the TV and print ads. The mailer is designed to drive recipients to the Comdisco Web site, which also is being revamped for a May 1 launch. If a prospect registers on the Web site, Comdisco will make a $25 donation to its Comdisco Foundation, a charitable organization. If a prospect agrees to a sales call, Comdisco will up the donation to $500, Sloboda said.

Other segments of the integrated campaign are slated for the fall.

Sloboda plans to research the impact of the TV spots to make sure the message is getting to the key audience and that his year's effort is producing results.

"It's not every day you re-create the brand of a Fortune 500 company," he saidlonger had the business that had defined it for many years.

Like Hewlett-Packard Co., which recently spun off Agilent Technologies, and IBM Corp., which has remade itself as a services company, Rosemont, Ill.-based Comdisco is another tech player reinventing itself to keep up with technology's torrid pace.

"It will continue to change in the future, as is the nature of any company in that arena," said Stan Richards, principal at the Richards Group, the Dallas-based ad agency that created the campaign. "If they don't change, they'll find themselves to be a dinosaur in the shortest possible amount of time."

Children as technology

The black-and-white TV spots are built around images of children, who represent technology--in all its potential glory and maddening unruliness.

One TV spot, titled "Girl," features a rambunctious child saying, "Today I am this. Tomorrow I will be different. You don't really think you can keep up with me. I am restless. And I will change the world. I am technology."

The spot closes with the company's new tagline, "Delivering the promise of technology." The idea, of course, is that Comdisco's disaster recovery, equipment leasing and Web hosting businesses can help other companies remain current with ever-changing technology.

Beginning next week, the ads are slated to appear on early morning cable TV news programs, including CNN Headline News, to reach their top-management target. Print ads, which also feature children, will begin running in May in general business publications, including Business Week and The Wall Street Journal. One execution features a photograph of a small boy brandishing a toy saber and the headline, "I demand constant attention. I am technology."

Additionally, ads will appear in CIO, InformationWeek and other technology magazines to promote specific Comdisco units. The ad for its networking business, for instance, features a photograph of a child accompanied by the headline, "I don't play well with others. I am your network."

There have been sweeping changes in the past year at Comdisco. In addition to divesting its mainframe leasing unit, Comdisco acquired Prism Communications Services, which is building a digital subscriber line network for high-speed Internet access. In addition to Prism, Comdisco now consists of several parts, including:

• Technology services, primarily continuity, network and other information technology services.

• Leasing and financing high-tech medical and laboratory equipment.

• A ventures business, which has built up stakes in start-up Web companies by leasing equipment in exchange for equity positions.

Analysts generally applaud Comdisco's moves. "It was a low-margin business," said Mike Grondahl, an analyst with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray, referring to the mainframe leasing operation. "They're extremely well-positioned [now]. I think there is a lot of momentum."

The reworking of Comdisco's brand began with input from unit heads and the company's marketing council. It included research, which found that Comdisco had strong brand recognition. About 60% of executives surveyed knew the company's name. But only about 8% knew what the company did.

Sloboda saw the marketing team's task as explaining the various parts of Comdisco. The new brand had to position the company as a technology services business, as well as link Comdisco's diverse businesses together.

Focus on rebranding

Comdisco selected the Richards Group, which handles Home Depot, Corona Beer and other accounts, to help with the re-branding. Richards presented a handful of concepts, including the one focused on children.

"It knocked us out right away," said Sloboda of the campaign. Its use of children recalls Cisco Systems' "Are you ready?" series and Mon-ster.com's spots, which feature children talking about ironic career ambitions, such as, "I want to claw my way up to middle management."

"Most advertising used them as cute kids," Richards said. "We were using children in a very different fashion. They are constantly changing, constantly experimenting, constantly growing. In many ways, they're unpredictable and unmanageable."

The TV spots and print ads anchor the re-branding effort. Comdisco plans to spend an estimated $15 million over the next 12 months on the media buy. That leaves $20 million for other elements of the campaign.

"We really view the advertising campaign as a small but important part of the overall branding effort," Sloboda said.

The beginnings of the re-branding effort were shown to Comdisco's 3,500 employees in January. A pamphlet introduced the new tagline and told employees they were the most important piece of Comdisco's brand promise. The pamphlet exhorted, "Become a brand champion with everyone--with customers and prospects, your fellow employees, your friends and family. In short, live the brand."

Sloboda, who comes from a sales background at AT&T Corp., paid special attention to readying Comdisco's sales team for the re-branding. Research found that 81% of Comdisco's customers bought only one product or service. Sloboda believed that offered an opportunity to cross-sell Comdisco's offerings to current customers. The company has spent $500,000 worldwide on new kits to help its sales force sell all of Comdisco's offerings.

Additionally, a direct mail piece will be sent to 10,000 customers and prospects. It will coincide with the launch of the TV and print ads. The mailer is designed to drive recipients to the Comdisco Web site, which also is being revamped for a May 1 launch.

Sloboda plans to research the impact of the TV spots to make sure the message is getting to the key audience and that his year's effort is producing results.

"It's not every day you re-create the brand of a Fortune 500 company," he said.

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