IT: THE IT INVASION - IT brands and IT imagery are now everywhere in the mainstream media as ad campaigns move beyond hi-tech details and towards brand recognition. Steve Shipside reports

It’s official, IT has burst out of its box and stormed the mainstream. First we had Lara Croft, that curvaceous commando of computer culture, plying her mercenary trade in the name of Lucozade.

It’s official, IT has burst out of its box and stormed the

mainstream. First we had Lara Croft, that curvaceous commando of

computer culture, plying her mercenary trade in the name of


Then Muller started to shift dairy products by beating an end-of-level

’boss’ in a computer game, and Orange went retro with a Space Invaders

special. That the shock troops of this assault have come from gaming is

no surprise; games and their characters have always been the Trojan

horses of technology in the home.

What is striking about the past year, however, is not just the way that

technology is working its way into mainstream marketing imagery, but the

way in which business IT suppliers themselves have emerged from the geek

ghettos of technical titles and invaded the broadsheets, billboards and

ad breaks.

Much as we were once invited to ’buy the world a coke’, IBM now seems to

be asking everyone to buy a guitar online. Nortel Networks, a previously

publicity shy marriage of a Canadian telecommunications company and a

networking company, publicly celebrated its merger and reinvented itself

with an orgy of foot tapping and video conferencing in its ’come

together’ campaign.

Time, Dell, and Lycos are appearing on the telly, and that 48-sheet

billboard you sail past in your Hewlett Packard-painted cab probably

bears the ’dot com’ messaging from Sun or the ’superhuman software’

campaign from Lotus.

No, you’re not imagining it, IT marketing spend has increased

dramatically over the past year, and where traditionally only Apple ever

seemed to invest in brand advertising per se (the rest being entirely

product driven), now it is fighting for above-the-line elbow room.

Mintel’s figures for 1997/98 show the brand advertising spend of the top

ten computer companies up nearly 50 per cent over the year. IBM’s spend

increased by 120 per cent, and this autumn will see new and lavish

campaigns from Hewlett Packard and Lotus among others. Add to that the

media war being conducted by the phone companies for our hearts and

lines, and you have one of the most dynamic market sectors.

There are a number of reasons for this. The pace of technological

progress is not abating, and it is bringing with it a constant stream of

new products and services, from mobile phones to online gaming and ADSL

(high-speed net access over existing phone lines). Then there’s the

feeling in business that the Y2K bug is in hand, and it’s time to turn

to the next thing which, the marketing directors would have us know, is

the vast and amorphous arena of electronic commerce.

Widely seen as the future of IT, if not of the free world itself,

e-commerce has become valuable turf. It is being disputed by every

sector of IT, be they in hardware, software, internet service,

consultancy, or telecoms.

In order to be heard through that clamour, IT companies have concluded

that it is time for a new message, and a new audience.

’Brands have come of age,’ says Hamish Kuzminski, Lotus’s head of

communications, ’or at least they are in the process. And while they

have managed to assert themselves in the IT press, they have yet to

establish themselves with senior management - hence the shift in focus

from technical press to the mainstream. Our adspend was up around 100

per cent on last year, and where previously that was entirely in the IT

press, we’ve taken the decision to have a full half carried in

management titles, The Economist, and broadsheets, plus a poster

campaign, with a whole new campaign breaking in October based around

Superhuman Software.’

Chris Unsworth, vice-president of marketing and communication for Nortel

Networks Europe, tells a similar story. ’The dynamic is that the markets

are maturing very quickly, and the net has become a strategic factor in

terms of business. Now your message has to appeal at managing director

and chief operating officer level, so the question arises of how you get

your message to those people. It used to be speeds and feeds - we’ve got

a bigger/smaller/faster/cheaper box - but when it’s about a solution,

about what the net can do for a business, then the message has to


’The brand is becoming a fundamental part of that message. As the

audience matures, people choose brands they feel comfortable with and

can associate with, so it moves from the box to the brand itself that

the company projects.’

Over at Hewlett Packard, Mehboob Jaffer, the UK advertising manager,

makes clear that the next step involves a major rethink of the way IT

sells itself to a new target market.

’We have changed the conversation - it’s a different discussion now,

we’re not talking about technology, but about ideas, about inspiring


It’s about lifestyle as much as business, and it means getting people to

think out of the box, so it’s no longer appropriate just to talk to

trade titles.’

When it comes to the future of e-commerce, the belief is that it’s no

longer of interest just to IT directors or technical staff. As Jaffer

explains: ’This is a matter for the marketing director, the financial

controllers and the whole concept of e-services. For that message you

need national media .’

HP’s own media effort has included 48- and 96-sheet posters, 50 liveried

London black cabs, and the creation of the ’megaposter’ opposite Harvey

Nichols, as well as page ads in broadsheet newspapers and The


’It’s basically up fourfold on last year, so that gives you some

indication of our commitment,’ Jaffer says.

So after being notorious for product- and technology-led campaigns, and

little clear branding, the IT sector is now buzzing with brand


To the more jaded observers, however, it may herald a new chapter, but

it’s not a case of complete change. ’Actually, if you’re as old as me,’

says Tim Beadle, director of the PCMC direct marketing division at the

Opus Group, ’then you would see that this impression of change is just

that - an impression. If you think back to the 80s, you would remember

Apple, and IBM with their ads for the first PCs, then Compaq and Apricot

with heavy promotion on national TV, posters and press.

’Even BT was doing national TV ads for IT products in the 80s, but the

ads failed miserably. They didn’t work because they were 15 years too

early, and then budgets were cut dramatically with the recession of


Then adspend focused more on generating sales leads rather than building

brands. What has happened now is that a lot of companies have got


You have to take your hat off to IBM for getting on a wave so early, but

they spotted it far more quickly than anyone else and they’ve taken

e-business and made it their own.

’Everyone else is now playing catch-up, even though some of them

understand e-business better than IBM - HP, for example, but they’re

coming from behind in terms of public perception. My advice to any other

vendor would be to avoid e-business like the plague or risk looking like

another ’me too’.’

Of course, despite Beadle’s warnings, other vendors are not going to

stand back and leave e-business to IBM.

At the recent Gartner Predicts ’99 conference, IT companies were told

that if they were not in e-business, they wouldn’t be anywhere in five

years’ time.

The ad offensive is only just beginning, and the mainstream will be the

battleground. The question is how well those technology-led companies

and their agencies will communicate the new message.

Beadle is cautious. ’When we research this, and when you talk to non-IT

staff, you find that they are already fatigued with the push on

e-commerce. They’re dazed and confused by conflicting messages from

different vendors. This is a problem in the IT industry.

’As a marketing and communications specialist myself, I have to admit

that we confuse more than we communicate.’

Part of the issue is that those targets higher up the managerial food

chain don’t all want to take away the same thing from the e-message.

’Talk to the finance director and he’s interested because of reduced

transaction costs,’ Beadle adds. ’In marketing, it’s the possibility of

reaching new markets; in sales the interest is in targeting salesmen;

and the chairman wants to impress the City so he can up the share value

and avoid a roasting at the AGM.

’Messages like ’we put the dot in dot com’ (Sun’s current campaign)

don’t address those values.’

Crossed wires and confusing messages are a risk for an industry selling

not just complex technologies but massive conceptual changes. No one

would be naive enough to believe that hosing down the airwaves and

billboards with cash will be enough to get the message across.

It’s down to the ’masters of marcoms’ to segment that market and

fine-tune those messages. The good news is that IT has definitely bought

into branding, and is clear on the need to spend wider and smarter in

order to establish profile.

If the interest in brand brings on deja vu for some, the sheer momentum

of the industry this time around means it’s hard to imagine IT being

forced back in its box now that it’s out.

Where IT advertisers are spending their media money (Jul ’98 - Jun ’99)

Rnk Advertiser                       Total spend        Press     Cinema

                                          pounds       pounds     pounds

1   BT                                86,232,647   23,079,162    370,207

2   One2One Communications            44,768,134    6,667,507          0

3   BT Cellnet                        40,384,861    4,664,148    936,734

4   Orange                            30,960,417   11,086,890    565,385

5   Vodafone Retail                   28,711,381    3,402,032          0

6   Time Computers                    25,338,818   19,826,334          0

7   PC World Computer Superstore      23,390,914   18,407,731          0

8   Tiny Computers                    21,260,674   17,643,700          0

9   IBM UK                            20,928,816   13,776,440          0

10  Yellow Pages                      16,374,055    2,811,931          0

11  Cable & Wireless                  15,028,929    4,210,589          0

12  Carphone Warehouse                12,759,438    1,211,694          0

13  Sony Computer Entertainment       11,498,308    1,661,846    439,337

14  Hewlett Packard                   10,901,735    9,497,357          0

15  Nokia                             10,823,653    3,299,156     65,524

16  Intel Corporation                 10,399,255    4,455,919          0

17  The Link (Dixons)                 10,068,853    6,389,399          0

18  Gateway 2000 Europe                9,907,810    4,471,272          0

19  Compaq Computer                    9,898,512    5,605,418          0

20  Total Home Entertainment Games     8,317,550      520,701  1,326,165

    TOTAL                            447,954,760  162,689,226  3,703,352

Rnk Advertiser                            Radio     Outdoor           TV

                                         pounds      pounds       pounds

1   BT                                9,795,322   5,723,514   47,264,442

2   One2One Communications            4,606,066   6,130,157   27,364,404

3   BT Cellnet                        2,261,455   4,742,899   27,779,625

4   Orange                            2,068,608   2,037,834   15,201,700

5   Vodafone Retail                   6,453,827     433,456   18,422,066

6   Time Computers                            0           0    5,512,484

7   PC World Computer Superstore      1,806,145       3,273    3,173,765

8   Tiny Computers                      730,737           0    2,886,237

9   IBM UK                              215,293     122,699    6,814,384

10  Yellow Pages                      1,956,043   2,383,006    9,223,075

11  Cable & Wireless                  1,221,133   1,540,606    8,056,601

12  Carphone Warehouse                7,956,178           0    3,591,566

13  Sony Computer Entertainment         599,515   1,545,241    7,252,369

14  Hewlett Packard                     766,068     153,102      485,208

15  Nokia                                19,233   1,751,258    5,688,482

16  Intel Corporation                   119,418         399    5,823,519

17  The Link (Dixons)                 3,679,454           0            0

18  Gateway 2000 Europe                  68,533       1,508    5,366,497

19  Compaq Computer                   2,308,153      10,097    1,974,844

20  Total Home Entertainment Games      311,249      34,347    6,125,088

    TOTAL                            46,942,430  26,613,396  208,006,356