Accenture may finesse effort after criticism

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Accenture is standing by its widely panned $8 million splash on the Super Bowl, but it may end up re-editing commercials as the campaign goes forward.

Formerly known as Andersen Consulting, Accenture intends to spend $175 million to introduce its new name-a combination of "accent" and "future" that was invented in-house-in a TV, print and out-of-home campaign running through September.

Accenture changed its name Jan. 1 and blasted its new handle to the public late last month with four Super Bowl spots created by WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York.

The visually exciting but obscure spots, carrying the tagline, "Now it gets interesting," were widely panned as confusing. USA Today, which ranks Super Bowl ads based on consumer opinion, found they were among the least-liked ads of the broadcast, and Advertising Age Editor at Large Bob Garfield called the campaign a "very expensive exercise in vanity and cluelessness."

In one spot, a customer literally disappears while test driving an Italian sports car, an attempt to show the fickleness of e-commerce buyers. A second spot featured a doctor performing surgery using virtual reality-type technology. A third showed a birthday cake overrun with candles, alluding to "lifespans without limits."

Accenture's fourth Bowl spot showed green blobs swimming against a black background, followed by the newspaper headline, "Bacteria Tested As Digital Circuit." The Web site further explains the blobs are supposed to be in the pattern of a computer chip. Still, the connection between Accenture's consulting services and the ad's message is not easily discerned.

Accenture believes 50% of its target audience of senior executives of major corporations and new-economy companies watched the Super Bowl, according to Jim Murphy, global managing director for marketing and communications. This group made up only a small percentage of all Super Bowl viewers.

Accenture and the agency are believed to be considering re-editing the spots to make the message clearer. Late last week, there were indications Accenture hadn't decided whether to tweak the effort. Mr. Murphy denied Accenture would make changes to the campaign. Y&R referred all calls to the client.

"The campaign is working for us, and we'll continue it," Mr. Murphy said.

In an unusual move, Accenture defends the ads on its Web site with a post running under the headline: "Research ... Proves Likeability is No Guarantee of Advertising Effectiveness." The posting cites a study by former Coca-Cola Co. chief marketing officer Sergio Zyman's consultancy, Zyman Marketing Group, which praised the Accenture spots. Mr. Murphy said Accenture chose to highlight Zyman's work because it "shows the results of the advertising were not being depicted accurately in the popular media."

Other consultants' opinions are mixed. Michael Markowitz of Michael Markowitz & Associates, Santa Fe, N.M., said the ads were effective in getting the "Accenture" name in front of the public. And the spots do include the line, "Formerly Andersen Consulting" in the last frame. However, he said, the campaign did not communicate what Accenture does.

"They squandered a huge opportunity to make Accenture stand for something comprehensible," Mr. Markowitz said.

Since Accenture is in the business of advising other companies, some wonder whether it may have lost credibility with this campaign. "Luckily, they're not in the business of giving marketing advice," quipped Mr. Markowitz.

Last December, Accenture announced it planned to spend $175 million in advertising to launch its new name. Andersen Consulting last year legally split from the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, and an international arbitrator gave the consulting firm 90 days to stop using "Andersen."

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