March Madness ads a slam dunk

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Marketers, including the b-to-b fraternity, placed a big bet that TV viewers in the grip of March Madness would pay attention to their messages during the NCAA men's basketball tournament. More than a half-billion dollars was spent on TV spots that aired during the course of the annual sporting spectacle.

While no match for the beer, automotive and other consumer products advertisers, b-to-b advertisers got in the game with spots for such wares as networking systems, delivery services, microchips and software. The b-to-b spots that we saw had the same high production values as the consumer work that, of course, dominates the March Madness advertising. For the sake of the b-to-b advertisers, we hope it was time and money well spent.

The most impressive b-to-b spot we encountered was one that had the look and feel of a superb consumer spot. Cisco Systems cleverly underscored the benefits of its networking products with a 30-second spot that featured two groups of schoolchildren on opposite sides of the world playing the same game in real time.

In the American classroom, a young boy stares wide-eyed into a camera. The image of him and his classmates is beamed onto a big screen in a Chinese classroom. His opposite number in China does the same. Who would blink first? The music swelled and the tension grew. It was the pudgy-faced, red-haired American boy who caved, much to the delight of the kids in the Chinese classroom, who erupted with a joyous celebration. We suspect the networking system is used for more formal educational purposes, but this spot featured the fun of a small-world exercise.

A child served up the voice-over that helps to relate the story to the service "Welcome to the human network, where being here is being there." This was an irresistibly engaging spot that burst through the clutter of March Madness.

Technology distributor CDW put its best foot forward with a spot that played off a Robinson Crusoe theme. A bearded, long-haired man casually clad in a floral shirt appears marooned on a small island. A chimp bustles about to help establish a sense of civilization and the makings of a small business in a thatched hut. Animals, like kids, are sure-fire ways of capturing an audience's attention.

But in a wireless world, no one is ever truly alone. As if it were just another day at the office, the man speaks through his earpiece to a CDW rep to order notebook computers, office phones, blade servers and data storage. CDW has already left its mark on the island with boxes of technology products, which positions the company as a distributor that can accommodate customers quickly and just about anywhere.

Intel Corp., maker of a product that a consumer probably will never see, plays it hip and cool with a slickly produced dance number to tout the benefits of its Core 2 Duo Processor. A man in a tight suit and later a woman in a green dress trip the light fantastic to arrest viewer attention while superimposed text does the real selling. One says: "Multiply your energy efficiency"; the other: "Multiply your possibilities." The point is that without Intel inside, a laptop is just a laptop. Consumers will get the message, as will the makers of laptops. With an upbeat score and striking choreography, the spot was a winner.

Finally, there's Lexmark International, whose printers seem to blend in with the corporate crowd in a lobby and on the street as the narrator states: "Every day, Lexmark printers go to work for some of the world's most important companies." Smartly, the text notes that "75% of the top banks, retailers and pharmacies use Lexmark."

It's always a good idea to remind viewers that your product is the preferred brand of all the big players. Lexmark not only assures businesses that it's corporate America's printer of choice, but consumers' as well. In a true b-to-b/consumer hybrid spot, Lexmark says it's got a product for any business, any home. Consumers might have seen the b-to-b commercial as their chance to grab a cold one from the refrigerator. But those who stuck around might have been impressed with the respect Lexmark claims to command in the corporate world.

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