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TECHNOLOGY AGENCY MEDIA & MARKETING SURVEY;MICROSOFT'S CAMPAIGN TAKES NO. 1; IBM A CLOSE NO. 2 AMONG AD AGENCIES;COMPAQ, INTEL ROUND OUT THE TOP FAVORITES

By Published on .

As captain of BUSINESS MARKETING's Copy Chasers panel, I have no choice but to listen to what the experts have to say about business-to-business advertising.

That doesn't mean I have to agree with them, though.

For example, a survey of technology agency executives by IntelliQuest Inc. indicates Microsoft Corp. has the best advertising campaign. For my money, I like the campaigns of Apple Computer Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

But as far as the technology agency experts surveyed by IntelliQuest are concerned, Apple and H-P ranked sixth and seventh, respectively. Shows what I know.

IBM Corp. finished second in the IntelliQuest poll followed by Compaq Computer Corp. and Intel Corp. (The survey's respondents, of course, could not vote for their own clients' campaign.) Judging an entire campaign is an art, not a science.

The big technology companies churn out hundreds of executions a year that appear in a variety of media and are aimed at a vast array of different markets. Some technology companies use more than one agency. Even in this age of integrated marketing communications, it's often hard to get a handle on a company's image and messages.

Because of the enormous breadth of advertising done by a leading technology company, impressions of ad campaigns will have to do.

I invited two of the best judges of creative in business-to-business advertising to share their impressions of the four campaigns identified as the best in the IntelliQuest survey. Providing that second opinion are former agency executive Fred Poppe and creative Carol Niemi. And, no, they are not members of the anonymous Copy Chasers panel.

Mr. Poppe recognized the challenge of passing judgment on Microsoft and Intel. "They have so many corporate image and product advertisements running it's hard to define which is which. Many of their ads are corporate executions that push a product. Others are product ads that obviously sell the corporation."

Of the two technology giants, Mr. Poppe tips his hat to Microsoft, whose advertising, he said, "appeals not only to the `chip head' group but to the `everyman' audience as well-people like you and me. Microsoft's corporate and product ads with their arresting headlines-many of which are boxed with fine lines-and their offbeat typefaces are indeed outstanding."

Although Microsoft's advertising wasn't my first choice, I'm hardly surprised that it fared so well among agency executives. The creative being turned out by its Portland, Ore.-based agency, Wieden & Kennedy, has certainly been eye-catching. Best known for its branding work for Nike Inc., the agency is attempting to bring some of that magic to the technology sector with Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today?" campaign.

The work certainly breaks through the clutter of "tech and spec" advertising. It has an edgy quality to it. Some of it, however, has struck me as abstract. Indirect headlines and dense copy blocks on some of the executions left me scratching my head.

If someone asked me as recently as last year what I thought about IBM's advertising, I would have said just about anything.

The IBM brand was all over the board. Getting more than 40 advertising agencies to agree on an integrated theme is naturally impossible. But with all the creative now under one roof- Ogilvy & Mather's-I'm beginning to sense that IBM, the once imperious Big Blue, genuinely wants to present itself as not only approachable, but a company that's fun to do business with. That message is being consistently delivered in both print and broadcast.

Ms. Niemi was particularly taken with IBM's humorous TV spots that feature people in improbable foreign settings discussing their information technology problems. The spots are accompanied by English subtitles.

"They make me feel good about IBM. If Tibetan monks and old guys on the Seine like IBM, their computers must be almost as much fun as a Macintosh. But then, there's the print," said Ms. Niemi. "Fakey quotes, body copy with puns, tiny shots of phony business people, dominant visuals and incredibly borrowed interest and product shots with call-outs so small you practically need a magnifying glass to read them."

"I looked at eight ads. Each has lots of visuals-and bits and bytes. But unless I missed something, I couldn't find any benefits. Couldn't find a big idea either. If they want to humanize their PCs, why not bring back the Little Tramp? Or let the creative team that does the TV do the print, too," Ms. Niemi said.

Finishing third was Compaq, whose corporate image and product line, I believe, have been consistently well-presented by Ammirati & Puris/Lintas. Compaq's advertising has been creative without getting too weird.

One of my favorites is the notebook computer so light that it had to be weighed down with a rock. Talk about visualizing, illuminating and dramatizing the selling proposition.

Here's Ms. Niemi's take on Compaq: "Apple Computer proved years ago that ads don't have to use people to make computers look friendly. Compaq's rat in an exercise wheel proves that point again.

"In another ad in this series, a tiny corner of a huge, crazed face with electrified hair proves you don't have to put people in suits to talk to a business audience. In neither case is the visual borrowed interest-the easy way out. Both show how it feels to need a better computer.

"The copy is unpretentious. The art direction is stylish but not slavishly so. There are page visuals to illustrate the reader's emotional state, a small but decent product shot and lots of nice, clean white space.

"All of which makes me believe Compaq really can simplify life in the fast lane. The logo pops without being clunky, and it's not in any of the usual places. Did I say I like this campaign?" Ms. Niemi said.

Finally, there's Intel, whose agency, Dahlin Smith White, Salt Lake City, was the first to bring high drama to high tech. Who can ever forget the TV spots produced by Industrial Light & Magic that had the effect of whisking viewers through the innards of a computer to get a firsthand look at an Intel chip in action.

The campaign has been remarkably consistent and highly memorable. Although Intel's great corporate-product ad that helped introduce Intel's "Intel inside" campaign appears in his new book, "100 New Greatest Corporate Ads," Mr. Poppe is only lukewarm about the Intel work he's seen lately.

"On the whole, Intel print ads are just too `tradey' looking," said Mr. Poppe. "This of course appeals to the chip head-formerly propeller head-technocrats Intel hopes to reach."

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