Cisco Systems Relies on Hollywood to Demonstrate Hard-to-Describe Wares

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The deal: Cisco Systems turns to product placements and integrations in TV and films to showcase its new products.

The result: The appearances in high-profile projects have given the technology giant bragging rights and something “sexy” to talk about as it courts business customers.

In a pivotal scene in DreamWorks’ The Island, a clone, played by Ewan McGregor, places a call to the sinister laboratory that created him using Cisco Systems’ new video phone.
Cisco supplies the 7970 color phone to the producers of '24,' part of the networking equipment giant's efforts to get its software and hardware noticed.

The scene is important to the plot of the summer sci-fi action movie. But moments like that have also become an important tool for the San Jose, Calif.-based networking equipment giant to make its products stand out.

Cisco Systems, like other high-tech companies, is increasingly relying on product placements and integrations of its brand and wares in high-profile TV shows and movies as a way to demonstrate the capabilities of its often hard-to-describe-in-one-sentence products.

On the big screen

In addition to The Island, Cisco Systems’ products have recently appeared in this summer’s Batman Begins and Stealth, as well as last year’s Collateral and National Treasure.

On TV, the company has landed spots in Fox’s 24, The O.C. and House, ABC’s Eyes and Alias, NBC’s The West Wing and Las Vegas, CBS’ CSI: Miami and Numbers -- shows whose main sets often feature high-tech gadgetry.

“Those are shows where technology products appear organically in situations,” said Tom Meyer, president of Los Angeles-based Davie-Brown Entertainment, which brokers Cisco Systems’ integration deals.

However, Cisco Systems isn’t trying to appeal to the general consumer with its product placements. The company typically sells its services to companies looking to purchase routers and other computer-networking gear, but has recently been looking for ways to promote its offerings in the emerging technologies category -– a line of Internet telephones, security and wireless services and products.

'Something sexy to talk about'

The placements “heighten the awareness among people who are tech savvy,” Mr. Meyer said. “It gives the company something sexy to talk about.”

It also gives Cisco something to show potential or existing customers. Footage can be used as a sales or promotional tool, and continues to benefit the company in ancillary markets as it’s viewed on DVD and TV broadcasts, for example.

However, it helps if the property is a hit.

While shows like 24 have consistently performed in the ratings, The Island has become one of the summer’s biggest flops. Since July 22, the $120 million-budgeted film has so far collected only $55 million at the worldwide box office.

“You win some, you lose some,” Mr. Meyer said. “It would have been great to have a huge blockbuster hit, but it doesn’t diminish the integration.”

Talks to integrate Cisco into The Island began three months before the film started shooting, when reps from Davie-Brown sat down with director Michael Bay and marketing vet David Leener to show off Cisco’s new IP Communicator software, a voice over Internet protocol solution that enables users to make video phone calls over the Internet.

Screenwriters rework dialogue

A sequence in the original script had Mr. McGregor’s character calling the cloning facility using a generic videoconferencing system. But the filmmakers agreed to integrate Cisco into the scene upon seeing the demonstration of the IP Communicator. In the final version of the film, Mr. McGregor calls a facility rep via a large flat-screen TV that serves as a video phone and works using Cisco’s software. Upon Cisco’s request, screenwriters reworked the script to have Mr. McGregor’s character say the Cisco Systems name in order to identify the device.

Beyond that scene, company hardware, such as Cisco’s IP Phone 7970, which boasts a color touch screen, also appeared in the film.

In return, Cisco provided technical assistance, equipment and the design of the IP Communicator software that would appear on the flat-screen monitor.

Mr. Meyer declined to discuss financials, but Cisco Systems typically pays an integration fee to take part in either a movie or TV show, and supplies product and services to the productions.

Cisco isn’t alone in The Island. Puma, Xbox, MSN Search, General Motors Corp., Aquafina and Calvin Klein are among other marketers whose products receive considerable exposure in the movie.

An array of products for '24'

For the show 24, Cisco supplied producers with the company’s upcoming 7985 videoconferencing phone, the IP Communicator, the 7970 color phone and other hardware and software. The company’s products have appeared on the show’s set over the past four seasons. In the most recent season, an episode prominently featured Cisco’s Security Monitoring, Analysis and Response System thwarting a group of terrorists looking to hack into the show’s counterterrorism unit's computers.

Mr. Meyer, whose company also handles product placement deals for Pepsi, HP, American Express, Yahoo, Gatorade, Sony PlayStation and State Farm Insurance, among others, said it is still difficult to gauge the value of a brand’s appearance in an entertainment property outside of a spike in traffic to a company Web site or requests from customers who saw a product appear on screen.

“All of us in the industry are trying to figure out the return on investment of integrations,” Mr. Meyer said. “We’re all trying to set up a way to measure the integration.”
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