Boldly going up against b-to-c ads

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What are such b-to-b stalwarts as Microsoft, Siemens and Toshiba doing swimming in the consumer advertising-oriented mainstream of America's two leading newsweeklies? They're looking for business decision-makers, of course. The b-to-b advertisers want to get in the faces of businesspeople as they catch up on all the news and trends of the previous week in Time and Newsweek. Paging through the April 25 editions of the magazines, we encountered a total of nine b-to-b ads. Five were in Newsweek and four in Time, publications with enormous circulations, expensive ad pages and a preponderance of consumer ads.

An ad for Microsoft Office appeared in both newsweeklies, suggesting that the world's leading software maker is hell-bent on getting everyone to upgrade to its latest version of Microsoft Office. The ad will certainly get the attention of the publications' readers, who will stop on the page featuring a businessman with a dinosaur's head. He's right out of central casting from the theater of the absurd.

The "dinoman" has apparently just clicked the "reply all" button on his e-mail when he intended only to respond to the sender. He's now shared some dark and ancient secret with everyone in the company. We've all been there. But as the headline says: "The oops I just hit `reply all' era is over."

Playing off the dinosaur image, the subhead reads: "Microsoft Office has evolved. Have you?" A patch of copy set black against a white backdrop sounds conversational, as good consumer copy often does. Short sentences, active verbs and frequent use of personal pronouns will do that for both consumer and b-to-b copy.

Here's how Microsoft makes its pitch: "After all, the way we work has changed. Today, information is simply everywhere. Once it leaves your hands, anything can happen. That's why the latest version of Microsoft Office includes Information Rights Management technology. Now you can put limits on the printing, copying or forwarding of sensitive e-mail and documents."

It's an ad that certainly holds its own in an environment dominated by high-gloss consumer ads. On the other hand is a b-to-b ad for printer maker Kyocera that is clearly out of its depth in the rarefied environment of Time. Like too many b-to-b ads we've seen over the years, Kyocera puts its CEO, Michael F. Bailey, in the spotlight. It's what we call CEO advertising. It's great for the big man's ego, but readers usually couldn't care less about him.

Mr. Bailey is all smiles as he stands beside a giant red wedge designed to symbolize a smile. It's also designed to consort with the headline: "When you're smiling..."

The subhead's not bad. It touts such user benefits as network reliability and low total cost of ownership. Copy appears in type too small for easy reading. We do like how the printers are displayed in the bottom left of the ad.

Toshiba takes a vastly different tack from Kyocera in an ad that appeared in Time. It stops readers with a "Hollywood Squares"-style image of a series of mug shots accompanied by the headline: "Bad. Bad to the bone." At the center of the square is a plain, gray printer with the standard mug shot tag hanging from it.

The printer is placed amid such notorious figures to make the point that "Inefficient printers are bad. Especially for business. They steal your time, money and resources-sometimes right from under your nose." Toshiba says it can help companies identify inefficiencies and put an end to the thievery.

The borrowed interest concept is creative and certainly breaks the printer advertising mold, but therein lies the risk. Will readers of the magazine recognize the ad on first glance as a solution to high printing costs? They will only if they play along.

In the pages of Newsweek, industrial giant Siemens puts a friendly face on itself by featuring the smiling faces of a man and woman to tell the story of how it engineered a breakthrough with hearing instruments. The ad is a fine example of how an otherwise faceless conglomerate can demonstrate that its technology helps people live better lives. 

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