Friday, January 02, 2009

Corporate vs. Product Advertising in Tech

When talking about allocating a marketing budget, one of the most important questions is the split between corporate and brand spending. In other words, is it better to lift the brand as a whole, or hawk specific products? Peeling the onion another layer, when doing corporate advertising, should a company focus on "hard" attributes--also called "corporate ability" or CA advertising--or on softer "corporate social responsibility" or CSR?

I hadn't really thought about this much in the context of tech until today, when I started running through various ad campaigns and realizing just how bereft most are of CSR advertising in tech. Literally the only company I can come up with that does CSR is Microsoft. Am I missing someone? I guess you could argue that Google does it, but that's not really advertising as much as big PR stunts.

I think the reason for this is simple: most tech companies don't really do anything "bad", or at least they're not accused of it. Have any tech companies recently changed the climate? Cut down a rainforest? Enslaved children to mine silicon? If they have, it doesn't make the news because they're so far down the value chain from these activities. And of course, this is why Microsoft has to run ad campaigns on its CSR.

Keep in mind, the above table contains estimates I put together in five minutes. They are 100% wrong.

This leads me to wonder, does CSR even work to a technology environment? Does it almost backfire? I mean, I watch these Exxon Mobil / BP greenwashing ads and I literally want to vomit. Maybe Microsoft would be better off ignoring CSR because the audience is so savvy. I think there's probably a big inverse correlation between CSR effective and audience sophistication.

What about product vs. corporate spending? Apple doesn't do any corporate spending. They market their products only, and yet have an incredibly strong brand. This is because their products are (1) linked together through design, creating an "idea" of an Apple brand just by handling, viewing and using their products, and (2) are advertised in very similar ways. So, they're getting the double-whammy of getting product SKUs out the door with product advertising and strengthening their brand.

Could any company do this? Could Microsoft do this? Are they better off just abandoning CSR and CA altogether and advertising products through a unified portfolio approach? I think it's worth a shot.

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