HP: There’s nothing Mickey Mouse about our marketing

After co-branding with Amazon.com, Fedex and Toys R Us, the next step is the mouse.

Hewlett-Packard has run 35 different ad campaigns through customer cooperation and the latest may be the biggest. HP isn’t too forthcoming on the value of the deal, but the company has made a 10-year pact with

Disney which will include content development as well as continued service for Disney-owned Web sites and the supply of tens of thousands of hardware items. The deal got off the ground a few weeks ago when Disney opened its latest attraction Mission: Space at Epcot Center in Orlando. The ride, a simulated space shuttle launch and Mars landing, is sponsored by HP and was developed with the company’s participation.

Less than a year ago, HP was focused on a very different space flight — the tragic accident that claimed the lives of seven space shuttle Columbia astronauts. At the time, HP had been airing some TV spots that featured an astronaut in a space suit wiping his feet on a door mat and walking into his house. The ad was accompanied with the line “”With the help of HP’s technology and servers, the world’s space agencies can focus on getting their employees home safely.”” Unfortunately the ad ran during a broadcast that was actually reporting the news of the shuttle accident.

Pipeline recently spoke to Gary Elliott, HP’s vice-president of global brand and marketing communications, about how the company handled that ad, what it’s like to work with one of the biggest consumer brands in the world and where you can expect to find Compaq today.

 

Pipeline: What are the difficulties in trying to brand a company that’s now a merger of two very large technology companies? You’ve got successful Compaq brands, you’ve got successful HP brands. How do you go forward with that?

Gary Elliott: We typically have a North American point of view in terms of most of what we see and are exposed to, but the Compaq brand is very strong, particularly in Europe, for example. Also, in India, we have a very strong Compaq business there. The way it’s been managed is really one where you look at the brand portfolio and you manage it very much as you would a sub-brand. It’s all within the HP company, but it certainly has different characteristics than the HP brand has. It’s got a very loyal following and will continue to for some time.

Pipeline: In the countries where Compaq is stronger, do you maintain the Compaq name and push that to the forefront?

GE: There’s a number of different scenarios that you have. You’ve got HP-only companies where you have HP dominant. You have HP and Compaq countries. What we’ve managed to do is create the understanding that there’s an HP master brand — HP is the name of the company, HP is how we are going to go to market. But within that you have you Pavillion side as well as on the Compaq side.

Pipeline: You’ve kept the HP Pavillion brand and the Compaq Presario brand?

GE: In those countries where it made sense to continue dual branding and dual shelf space, absolutely.

Pipeline: Is Compaq Presario still available in North America?

GE: It’s still there. You can still walk into Circuit City and still find the Compaq brand. It’s very healthy. The retail dealers love it, because it gives them another opportunity to sell something. We look at it as a wonderful opportunity to also encompass a printer solution, because typically people are buying a new printer or an upgraded printer as they go buy their PC.

We look at it, too, as an opportunity to extend the franchise out as we look through as our camera offerings as well as the printers that we are introducing. We look at that as an opportunity to communicate what is happening in the digital world as you’re taking images and being able to repurpose them on your PCs as well as print them out as well as do e-mails with them.

Pipeline: If you’re still maintaining two different brands, does that effectively mean you can double your shelf space? How do you control your distribution?

GE: It depends on the retailers that you’re working with, but by and large, you have to make a careful analysis of the marketplace to determine in what countries we wanted dual brands and which we countries we felt we had stronger face with one. It was really country by country, case by case, business partner by business partner.

Pipeline: What are the challenges for marketing in individual countries? HP is strong in Canada in the server market, for example. How do you target products for different countries.

GE: It’s not so much a country by country (approach). When you’re looking for Linux solutions or Microsoft solutions, it really depends on what the customer is looking for. In terms of communicating on the marketing side, we are open in terms of trying to find the solutions that the customers want. If there’s a Linux opportunity, if there’s an opportunity to involve Microsoft, we will work with them on whatever. But the communications are — and you’ll see this in what we are doing in the marketplace now — there are offerings that we have on Linux. We are No. 1 in Linux marketplace in terms of the solutions that we offer. We’re also No. 1 in Microsoft. It depends on what they want to hook up with.

It’s all the way back to the brand campaign that we have. It’s about the relationships, it’s about the partnerships that we have. The +HP (campaign) — we think that’s perhaps one of the best ways to sum up . . . what we’re providing to customers.

Pipeline: How is the SCO lawsuit affecting your Linux business and Linux as a brand?

GE: I think Linux is going through the red-hot phase right now where people are looking at this as a tremendous cost advantage. Whether that will be maintained, I don’t know. I would have to imagine, as competitive a market as technology is, you’ll soon see solutions coming up that will rival that and perhaps eclipse it. But at this point in time, customers are talking about it and we’re certainly on the forefront. (Editor’s note: HP says it has promised to indemnify customers against any kind of litigation that results from the SCO situation.)

Pipeline: HP experienced some bad timing by running an ad featuring the Columbia space shuttle shortly after the disaster. How did the ad get out?

GE: At the time, we had a large outdoor board in Times Square where we put a ribbon on that in commemoration of the team that was lost. We wanted to honour them. What happened was, from time to time you do media buys (and they) give you what they call bonus units. We had pulled all of the work off the air and someone — I believe it was CNN — ran it that morning, when they were reporting it, by mistake. These things happen.

Pipeline: In that sort of circumstance, how do you handle that? Do you run an apology or issue a press release?

GE: No, because it only ran once. We had more calls urging us to continue running the (joint venture) program from people affiliated with the space program than not.

Pipeline: What’s it like working with Disney, one of the most recognizable brand names in the world?

GE: We work through their infrastructure — running their e-mail, their communications programs . . . as well as the Internet side. We talk that story up and use them. They’ve been absolutely wonderful reference partners to talk about how we’re providing the solutions. On the softer side, on the consumer side, it’s a very easy story to tell because Disney is one of the most recognized brands in the world and carries with it a certain degree of magic and innovation that we find a very natural fit to what we’re trying to tell.

This is really the first major consumer-facing (announcement) that we’ve had with Disney, talking about what the ride is about. But I know there will be even more opportunities to express ourselves with them. It could be through technology solutions that we provide on the consumer side, or it could be how we engage with them — as we are right now — on the interactive side. We are providing a number of different ways to connect with all of their visitors who are hitting Disney.com to ABC News to ESPN. When you’re doing 90 million unique page views, it’s a lot of volume.

Pipeline: How does working with a recognizable consumer-oriented partner like Disney compare with a company that’s more of an enterprise focus?

GE: In terms of size, it’s actually not that difficult. There’s a fairly centralized marketing group that we work with. They are as disciplined as one can get in terms of their brand assets. They understand the character of the brand. Our brand team is working with them as well as we go through the programs, some of the commercials that we developed, how we talk about Disney, how we talk about HP, how they talk about HP, all has to be worked with the two groups.

This is going to be one where everyone’s understanding of what HP and Disney are doing together has a certain degree of meaning and innovation and edge to it that we look forward to capitalizing on.

Pipeline: How important is something like sponsoring one of the Disney rides, which is probably going to be here for at least another decade?

GE: For us to go do this and justify it, it’s not slapping a name on it. We’ve actually for five years had technological teams working with their teams — how do we design this thing, what are the controls, what’s the post show like, what are the kinds of unique experiences that technology can provide to enhance that experience?

We wanted to make sure that technology was integral to that experience, so for us this was a natural extension of our brand and what hope to go do. I think most people coming out of this ride are going, “”Wow”” and that’s exactly what we want.

Comment: pipeline@itbusiness.ca

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