Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We need to do more research

I recently read that the CEO of Hewlett Packard was going to consolidate several business units including the printer division and the PC unit. "The plan is to have their line of business more readily integrated so they approach customers together with unified product offerings", so says Tom Bradley, EVP of Personal Systems Group.

You can read more about it here

Or you can stay awake for a more personal anecdote about HP here. 

Years ago, my partner and I were asked to fly up to San Francisco on a weekly basis to help the Saatchi and Saatchi office with the HP printer account. The client was threatening to leave and to take their $3 million budget with them. Naturally this was cause for panic. And we were sent in to rescue this showcase piece of business.

In the annals of advertising (an appropriate phrase if there ever was one) computer printer advertising is about as exciting as watching ink dry. There are no core human truths. Or brand essences at play here. It's all about feeds and speeds. It's about sheet tray capacity. And the merits of 560 dpi vs. 720 dpi. 

In other words, the stuff of dreams.

Of course, none of this stopped the genii at HP from throwing, literally throwing, millions of dollars at the marketing efforts. As mentioned in the snoozy article (referenced above), HP had set up all kinds of independent silos to handle the hundreds and hundreds of different product lines. The silo handling the printer division was spearheaded, and I use that word lightly, by 5 or 6 women. I mention that not as any indictment of gender but only because it is pertinent to the story.

Truth is, over the course of my career, I have found women to be more astute than their male marketing counterparts.

So why is the XX chromosome count important here? Well, it turns the HP marketing ladies were all about egalitarianism. None of them, and I can't remember a single name - which is probably for the better, could make a decision about choosing one ad over another. It was left to the whimsy of the focus groups. 

And boy did these women love their focus groups.

For a single page ad that appeared in the inky back pages of Copy Center Digest or The IT Gazette, we would traipse across the country, with stops in Miami, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. I guess if you lived in Boise, Idaho, as these women did, you'd find every excuse in the world to get the hell out as well.

You could admire the professionalism of these ladies. But it didn't take long to discover the real reason for the intensive "nationwide research." Turned out we logged thousands of miles and countless complimentary continental breakfasts because the HP Printer Marketing Committee had a fondness for shoe shopping. 

I'm sure you could never get the Sr. VP Brand Management Director/Laserjets or the Group Management District Supervisor/Inkjets, or even the EVP Strategic Innovation Planning/OfficeJet, to admit to such, but I know from standing at the luggage carousel at O'Hare Airport exactly what was going on. 

It was all an elaborate corporate-funded shopping ruse. And it became painfully apparently after one exhausting focus group produced the following Freudian slip:

Agency Account Exec.: So which one should we move forward with?

Jr. Brand Manager/Tri-Color Ink Cartridges: I like the open-toed Guisseppe Zanottis. 

1 comment:

Bob said...

Wow. Usually clients use focus groups to cover their asses. This is the first I've heard of using them to cover feet.