Videoconferencing benefits touted in $20 mil campaign

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VTEL Corp., stepping out with the first major global brand advertising in the videoconferencing market, today starts an estimated $20 million ad campaign to push the company and the category.

In TV and print ads, VTEL will show how videoconferencing images have become as clear as a TV picture, dispelling memories prospective customers may have about choppy pictures on old systems.

"It's like talking to somebody on television," said Steve Norcia, global account director at agency DDB Needham Worldwide, New York. "The technology is so much better than it used to be. People don't know that."

VTEL starts with two 30-second spots running on cable networks including CNN, MSNBC, the Weather Channel and CNN International. Print ads will debut in several weeks in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and some German publications.

The campaign, targeting corporate executives, promotes the benefits of videoconferencing, mirroring the trend in tech advertising toward simple brand messages.


"This advertising is very much not `speeds and feeds' [tech jargon] and product features," said Michael Skoletsky, DDB Needham management supervisor. "It's very much what VTEL can do for you."

Spending is estimated at $4 million to $5 million through July, and $12 million to $16 million in the fiscal year starting Aug. 1, split about 70% for the U.S. and the remainder for international markets.

DDB Needham executives wouldn't confirm budgets, though Mr. Skoletsky said: "It really does appear we will be spending more in the next four months than the entire videoconferencing category has spent in the last two years."

VTEL spent between $1 million and $2 million last year.

TV and print position VTEL as the source for "digital visual communications," or videoconferencing "raised to a higher level."

A print ad talks about how VTEL can "cut 10 hours out of a 2-hour meeting" by eliminating a business trip, a key selling point of videoconferencing. Another page ad pitches VTEL as "a way to be there without going there."


In VTEL's two humorous TV spots, the viewer sees remarkably inane business meetings. One shows an agency telling its client to focus an ad campaign on "peanuts" rather than "nougat"--only to be overruled by the client. A second features an intense discussion about the merits of making beige or blue a company's signature color.

When the camera pulls back, the viewer sees that the meetings are taking place on TV monitors through videoconferencing. "It's not what they're saying at the meeting," says the voice-over. "It's how they are having the meeting. Digital visual communications from VTEL."

Mr. Skoletsky acknowledged some risk in running a campaign that promotes the category at the same time it's promoting the company. Conceivably, ads for No. 2 VTEL could drive prospects to scope out PictureTel Corp., the industry's biggest player, which, with 1997 revenues of $467.9 million, is more than twice VTEL's size.

"It's a calculated risk, one that they think they will succeed with," Mr. Skoletsky said.

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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