"We compete against a company that in many ways is a monopoly. They are the default. Nobody gets fired for making them their choice," says Christine Heckart, Juniper Networks' VP Worldwide Marketing.
"Once we get into evaluation, we often win [the account]," she adds. "However, unless you can convince people to evaluate and consider alternatives, there is no opportunity."
How could a lesser-known underdog get onto prospects' shortlists in a land where Cisco is King?
One thing is for sure - Heckart couldn't buy her way there. "Our competitor spends $150 million per year on marketing. Our budget is a couple of million. We can't afford to outspend them. We can't afford to buy full-page color ads in the Wall Street Journal."
Her goal was simple, "We have to get noticed, make people realize there is an alternative. Until that happens we can't make our case."CAMPAIGN
If you can narrow down your niche, you can maximize your marketing impact. Unfortunately, Juniper targeted pretty much every type of organization. "All sizes, small, medium, all the way up to the largest in the world. Governments, corporations, service providers..."
Heckart decided since she couldn't narrow by company size or organization type, she would target by prospect psychographics.
Every major high-tech purchase has an internal evangelist. Why not target the evangelist personality types who were most likely to be open to looking outside the box and bucking the status quo?
"These are people we call change agents. They look for ways to innovate, to improve, to solve hard problems. They are willing to take the time to evaluate alternative choices and to really look for what's going to help them achieve their goal. They're not just going to go with the safe bet, the easy choice, the we've-always-done-it-this-way."
Next, Heckart and her team held a brainstorming session to invent an ad campaign that would appeal specifically to that psychographic. "We needed something that would attract attention, even in a very small space. We needed something unique."
How about a cartoon?
"Most people don't like being advertised to, but people love humor. It's one of the most powerful communication vehicles in history." Juniper's management was doubtful. At first glance, cartoons don't seem very ... professional.
But after Heckart presented focus group results and a report of historical research on the power of humor in serious business situations, she got the OK to move ahead with a test campaign.
-> Step #1. Cartoon creative (Link to samples below.)
"We settled very quickly on a combination of The Far Side quirky kind of out-there look mixed with Dilbert-style office humor."
The team chose their artist by talent and personality. "We wanted a cartoonist who is very sensitive to and can modify work for international concerns; who knows how to work with companies on getting their message out; who can understand corporate humor; and who can be very collaborative and responsive. I've worked with cartoonists before who are not."
Next, the team conducted personal interviews with prospects to give the artist raw material for possible cartoon topics.
"Even if you spent your whole life working with these people, and you instinctively know their problems, you need to get the latest pain points. Don't ask what's funny; ask what's reality. Then use humor to poke fun at that reality."
The final cartoons were single frame -- a viewer would be able to get the joke in just a glance with less than five seconds of reading.
And it wasn't obvious these were ads at all. Each bore the slogan "Juniper Your Net" at the top and a small URL at the very bottom. Heckart laughs, "We might be the only company in America who's advertising and you don't see our logo on the ad. It doesn't say 'brought to you by Juniper Networks.' It's very creative, very inventive, the message sneaks up on you.'
-> Step #2. Media buying
When your ad is subtle, it requires repeat impressions for the message to begin to sink in thoroughly. So, Heckart negotiated with the Wall Street Journal to run her cartoon in the exact same spot in the paper on the same day every week for a year. (This is known as fixed space advertising.)
"Tiffany's has the spot I wanted, page A3 top right. They have it locked up forever. We took A2 top left corner on Tuesdays."
Heckart also tried to buy fixed spots from industry trade journals, but except for the standard premium positions (back cover, inside front, etc.) most wouldn't allow it.
In fact, in many cases Heckart discovered the only ads she could get from trades around the world were full-page color ads. "We don't need that full page; if it was up to me, we'd do 3/4 page because people's eyes are so drawn to the cartoon."
As the campaign continued, she added animated online spots. "You see alien flying saucers moving about; that draws your eye. Then the Juniper Your Net message zooms out."
-> Step #3. Rolling the campaign out
Next, Heckart began supporting the campaign by referencing it on every piece of marketing collateral possible. Graphics and characters from the cartoons appeared on: o Company giveaway items such as t-shirts and mugs o The trade show booth o The website o CD-ROM demo disks for prospects o Brochures o Calendars and card decks
Until at last, all brand messaging from Juniper Networks was fully integrated with the "we understand your pain" sensibility and offbeat charm of the cartoons.
"Two years ago we were doing business with nine of the 25 largest networking companies in the world," explains Heckart. Then the campaign launched. "Now we do business with 25 of the 25."
She adds, "When I joined the company in May 2002, we were a $500 million company. We launched the cartoon campaign in March 2003. We will end this year at about $1.3 billion."
Naturally, the cartoon campaign wasn't the only driver behind Juniper's growth, but from the very start it had measurable success.
A Roper ASW advertising effectiveness study conducted at the end of March 2003 (just one month into campaign launch) revealed that Juniper's little black and white cartoon ad was the #3 most noted ad in the entire issue. Plus, it was ranked as the 5th highest brand association -- indicating readers who noted the ad also read and remembered the Juniper name.
In contrast, a two-page spread, full-color ad in the exact same WSJ issue from Cisco ranked at #17 for "noted" and #22 for brand association. "I'm estimating they spent about $170,000 on that ad, and we spent a tenth of that on our tiny cartoon," crows Heckart.
The company also has anecdotal data from prospects and customers that the marketplace loves the ads. Heckart's heard stories of prospects who cut out each ad to post on office kitchen bulletin boards.
Focus groups are also enthusiastic. "You put the cartoons in front of them and they get passionate. They light up. We had one guy pounding on the table, 'That's me! I am this duck. This is my life!'"
As the campaign has continued, the creative team has moved the messaging to reflect current prospect pain points as well as Juniper's key notes. However, Heckart notes that the great part about having a consistent advertising style is that even as you evolve your message, the overall branding and impact remains steady.
"You look like one company no matter what you're saying and doing. You can change the humor to be extremely tailored and timely, but the cartoons stay the same." Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples of various cartoon ads Juniper Networks has run: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/juniper/ad.html
Ackerman McQueen - the creative agency Juniper works with: http://www.am.com/am_content.html
Kevin Pope - the artist who draws Juniper's cartoons: http://www.kevinpope.com/
NOP World (Formerly Roper ASW, formerly Roper Starch) http://www.nopworld.com
Juniper Networks http://www.juniper.net