Cisco Goes Interactive for Umi

Tech Marketer Works With Cable and Dish Makers to Allow Consumers to See Teleconferencing Product in Action

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NEW YORK ( -- Cisco Systems has a new machine it thinks belongs on every kitchen table or home office. To get consumers excited about it, though, the technology company will have to do a lot more than run new TV ads featuring quirky actress Ellen Page.

So while Cisco is unveiling a round of ads that, like those in the past, show Ms. Page encountering new Cisco products that help people see each other via screen, this time she'll be doing it for gear that helps the average Joe rather than the folks at the corporate office. To familiarize them with the new service, called Umi, Cisco will launch a series of interactive commercials aimed at users of DirecTV, Cablevision and Verizon's Fios that gives them a sense of how it works and directs them to a nearby store for a live demonstration.

"We really want to get people who have seen the TV commercial to become interested in the product and give them an easy way to see it in action," said Ken Wirt, VP-consumer marketing at Cisco. "You really need to experience it to really, truly understand it."

The Umi teleconferencing product, which includes an HD camera, console and a remote, connects to an existing HD TV and a broadband internet connection. Users can place and receive video calls and even leave video messages. Users can also record their own Umi videos to share on Facebook, YouTube, or email. To contact people who don't have Umi, users can place and receive video calls from any computer with a webcam and Google video chat. Since the device carries a relatively hefty suggested retail price of $599 with a $24.99 monthly service fee, it is key to clearly communicate its benefits to consumers.

Cisco Umi: Maiden Voyage

Reaching the same mass audience as traditional 30-second TV commercials isn't always possible for interactive TV ads, thanks to their dependence on a set-top box for functionality and a varying set of standards among different video-service providers. Even so, their place in a company's overall marketing mix appears to be coming into view. As more advertisers unveil a glut of high-tech products -- think web-connected TVs, the latest smartphone or new tablet device -- selling these gizmos may hinge not only on building awareness of them but also on ensuring the average consumer can understand what they do and how to operate them once they get one home.

Just as many TV ads direct consumers to the web to learn more and get a deeper amount of information, interactive TV ads can as well. The ads can allow for "deeper messaging, points of differentiation," said Alex Henderson, an experience design director at BrightLine iTV, a New York interactive-TV advertising specialist that is working with Cisco.

In some ways, the interactive experience functions much like a promotional website might. "Ads for tech like this are built to create an emotional response, with key messages and trigger points to drive people to websites where they can get an interactive experience that is tied into the ad, and of course learn more in depth -- and hopefully want to buy the product," said Bill Cowen, a Villanova University advertising professor. Overall, he added, such campaigns "try to motivate the buyer quickly, almost impulsively, to draw them in."

Cisco's interactive efforts include "overlays" on the regular TV ads that tell viewers to visit a different channel on their TV-services provider to learn more, or a listing for the same Umi channel in an on-screen channel guide. Should they decide to move to the channel, they will find an opportunity to scroll through an "interactive living room" that has Umi in it; find a store or mall near their home where the product is being demonstrated; play an interactive game that shows them how the Umi picture looks; and enter to win one of the products in a contest.

Cisco's Mr. Wirt likens the interactive part of the campaign, which begins in December (the mainstream TV ads have launched) to how a company might have used radio in the past. Radio ads would drive consumers to a local store to try out the product. The trouble, he suggested, is that a radio-station listener might hear about a store that wasn't close enough to warrant a visit. The use of a set-top box, which helps fuel the interactivity, means the advertiser can make use of a subscriber's ZIP Code, and make certain the push to visit a local store is for a venue that is truly close by.

Getting consumers familiar with Umi is critical to the product's success, Mr. Wirt said. "We have a long-term vision for this," he said, envisioning a day when the device allows consumers at home to talk to medical and financial professionals. "There's much more trust when you can look them in the eye," he said of doctors and brokers. The same could be said of consumers developing trust with products when they can experience them rather than hearing hype about them.

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