The CMO Interview

How a Speeding Baby Is Helping HP Make Printing Relevant Again

Q&A With Marketing VP Tariq Hassan

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- It's a perennial marketing challenge: Take boring technology and bring it to life in ads such that consumers can both understand it and appreciate its value. That's what Hewlett-Packard is aiming to do in its latest campaign hyping wireless printers -- by using a walker-riding baby speeding down the middle of a busy highway. And it seems to be working.

HP's "Happy Baby" ad, created with agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and part of a larger campaign that includes TV, online, mobile, in-store, PR and social elements, has reviewers and consumers not only smiling, but also talking -- some about the dangers of putting a baby near a cliff, some about the theme song getting stuck in their heads (folk singer Melanie Safka's 1971 No. 1 hit "Brand New Key") -- but many others about, well, printing.

HP ePrint: Happy Baby

Promoting its wireless ePrint technology with this campaign, HP is taking a lead role in the next generation of wireless printers, adding sophisticated features such as "print apps" -- apps installed or download-able to its high-end printers that enable users to choose and print pre-formatted content, such as movie tickets or Google maps, without a computer.

But with new technology comes the challenge of explaining it. Heaping on the tech talk and educational angles could make consumers, especially young people who are a key target , tune out.

"We knew from talking to consumers that there is still value in printing. You can't, or shouldn't, email your grandmother a happy birthday [greeting]," said Tariq Hassan, HP's VP-worldwide marketing and communications of the printer division. "Goodby did an amazingly simple visual notion of what actually transpires between the time you hit print and when it gets to the printer -- actually letting that data floating in the air become real, as a baby."

But the campaign is about more than attention-getting creative for HP. It's about redefining printing and imaging. "Whenever you can do something different, first you turn their heads, and then you've got to demonstrate value," said Mr. Hassan, who spent his entire career at agencies before joining the company from Element79 in 2008.

We spoke to him recently about the campaign, the technology and how HP is making print relevant again.

Tariq Hassan
Tariq Hassan
Ad Age: This campaign's struck a chord. What was the thinking behind it?

Mr. Hassan: The ad itself really is out of an insight that rather than telling people how they can print with their phone, [you can] make that more meaningful by showing them. But like any ad, what happens from board to film makes all the difference in the world. The way it was shot is simple, the song is charming, and it all works together.

Ad Age: Are you aiming at an older audience who values printing more?

Mr. Hassan: No. What it did on the older end of the target is get people thinking, "I can put this in my mom's house, and the fact that she can walk in and pick up those pictures on the printer is really amazing." What's happened on the younger end, though, is it has established print relevance for them. The idea of being able to share and print something instantly is powerful. And I'm talking college kids. It's put printing into the immediate gratification world they live in. One of the biggest things we've heard from smartphone and iPad users is, "Why can't I print?" When you add printing, it's much more powerful. It's not that young people don't print, it's that young people thought they couldn't print the way they wanted to and how they wanted to.

Ad Age: Doesn't an education focus end up lifting the entire category? How do you make sure that HP gets credit for it?

Mr. Hassan: The first part is the technology itself, ePrint, and increasingly the HP apps. It's going to take a little bit for others to catch up -- they will, of course. But what we've done with these web-connected printers is a differentiator, we believe, for a good year or so. Ultimately what will end up playing out will be differentiation of content, just like with Apple vs. Android. Just because you have access to apps doesn't matter as much as the experience you put on.

We're moving very clearly from a hardware business to a service business. These printers will have access to content, therefore I want to be able to access the content I want. That's why we're taking the time to establish relationships with content partners.

Ad Age: And what are those partnerships and relationships?

Mr. Hassan: Everything from low-hanging fruit like Coupons.com, because coupon printing is one of the highest levels of app interest. Disney and Sesame Street are examples of licensed content we're doing. We're doing a deal with The New York Times and Fandango -- just a whole range of what I'd classify as household management, including family entertainment and travel. The real excitement in the applications model in our world is the potential for convergence for other marketers. I'll give you a quick long tail example. You walk up to a printer in an airport to pull your boarding pass ... and when you pull the boarding pass down, it knows that you're also pulling a boarding pass down for your two young kids, and then offers up an activity kit that you might want to print out with the boarding pass. And it knows what airports you're flying into, and can tell you where the Starbucks and McDonald's are there. So now instead of just a boarding pass, you've got a travel kit. That's where this all becomes really fascinating. When you do that, I don't think you walk away talking about just a great printer, you walk away talking about how HP enables you to have access to content that adds value for you.

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