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Return of good ol’ fashioned call-to-action

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Just a year ago in this space, I wrote about the "humanism, environmentalism and social networking" that had emerged as themes in business marketing. I concluded the column by asking if this "welcomed, human-centered emphasis" would be sustainable.

I shouldn't have worried. There is now a plethora of these campaigns. Unfortunately, there are too many of them. What began as a breakthrough way to help complex industrial brands stand out—"Jerry, no product shots, only people—exotic people in exotic locations!"—have blurred into each other.

Some advertisers make us wait until the very end of the commercial to toss in a logo and thus reveal the brand. The granddaddy of this idea, Dow Chemical Co. and its agency, Draftfcb, wisely puts "Hu"—a philosophical addition to the Periodic Table—throughout the "Human Element" spots, creating a subtle icon to identify Dow.

Sameness, certainly, was one reason our top Best picks this year were so tough, especially in the Single TV Spot category.

Given this context, the spot "Not So Good Old Days," for Optimum Lightpath's fiber-optic service, was a refreshing return to good ol' fashioned call-to-action advertising. Developed by agency hawkeye, it imagines a silly world of "old-timey" office equipment like carrier pigeons and employees sharing an antique phone for a conference call. But what's notable is that the selling point, including price guarantees, is front and center. It is runner-up in our Single TV Spot category.

Another example is Panasonic Toughbook's "Its Not Just a Laptop," from agency Sigma Group, winner of our Integrated category (more than $200,000). In its Web execution, Panasonic puts product specifications in close proximity to other collateral, such as user testimonials, to grab the attention of buyers ready to make a purchase.

One big brand that gets it right, creatively, is Microsoft Corp., winner of our Direct category (more than $200,000), for its "Genuine Fact Files" campaign, from agency DDB Seattle. The effort perfectly marries a form (graphic novels) popular among the target audience and content (the dramatic legal and security risks of installing pirated or counterfeit software found on the Web). Even if you've never read a graphic novel, you'll be drawn in by the edgy, ominous style of this campaign, which is also rendered as animated storyboards at www.microsoft.com/piracy/knowthefacts/.

This year, we introduced both new and expanded creative categories. See all of our picks—from more than 300 entries—starting on page 28.

Of course, our annual Best issue celebrates not just creative executions but the professionals who bring these ideas to market, and who are increasingly judged on how they impact the bottom line. As Brett Butler, just appointed director-global sales and marketing practices at Lexmark International, puts it: "Accountability equals job security. A lot of us in marketing got into this because we liked witty words and pretty pictures. That's just not good enough anymore."

Our Marketer of the Year for 2007 is Dan Henson, VP-CMO of General Electric Co. In the job for nearly two years, Henson has not only overseen GE's "ecomagination" push—launched in May 2005, and now a $12 billion business—he has been busy reworking and decentralizing the company's global marketing organization. "My goal is to have the most skilled marketing organization on a global basis," Henson said.

Last but not least, the Best issue includes our picks of the Top 10 Brands, an exclusive club of b-to-b companies selected by BtoB's editorial staff, based in part on CoreBrand's brand equity rankings and Interbrand/BusinessWeek's global brand valuations.

Enjoy BtoB's Best 2007.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business, and can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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