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Companies bank on ad campaigns to build Internet image

Unprecedented, broad-reaching branding campaigns by established yet lesser-known industry giants are a defensive move made in response to the growing importance of e-commerce.

How much advertising does it take to build an Internet image for German business software giant SAP, Big 5 consulting firm Ernst & Young, and systems integrator EDS?

Well, millions of dollars worth, at least, judging by the cost of recent advertising launches.

Analysts say these unprecedented, broad-reaching branding campaigns by established yet lesser-known industry giants are a defensive move made in response to the growing importance of e-commerce in an industry that is rapidly changing.

In the past, making a deal to sell technology or services hinged on reaching a chief information officer or other ranking technology executive. Now, these older firms must cater to the new e-commerce decision-makers who have the option of hiring the smaller, Internet-savvy competitors.

"Increasingly [technology] buyers are business people," said Eric Upin, financial analyst at BancBoston Robertson Stephens. "It's not just one buyer, it's a committee of buyers."

"When you think of where the spending is taking place it's all dot com and e-commerce," he added. "If these guys don't try to convey [Internet capabilities] to the decision makers then they're not going to even be invited to the table."

These companies are the established behind-the-scenes players that install computer systems, lend strategic technology advice, or make business software for the Fortune 500. Despite technical expertise, these billion-dollar firms lack an e-commerce image and are now reaching deep into their wallets to blanket their names on billboards, in mainstream magazines and newspapers, on Web sites, and on television, such as during Monday night NFL football games.

And why not? Intel cooked a new brand image with its Intel Inside campaign. And Microsoft brought an Internet twist to its software with its "Where do you want to go today?" ads, analysts reason.

Ernest & Young, most often associated with accounting or high-end consulting, is hoping to revamp its image with a new print and broadcast campaign, which comes after a big branding push by rival Andersen Consulting last year. Launched last week, the campaign is aimed at "dot coms" and established global companies and is part of a $100 million branding initiative. The ads are predominantly black and white and will focus on the company's supply chain, Web procurement, and online branding capabilities.

"The rationale behind the campaign is to let the market know the commitment we have to e-commerce going forward," said Larry Parnell, public relations director for Ernst & Young. "We want to say that e-business, e-commerce is going to be critical to this firm and that we have the capability."

Also hitting the Internet ad theme is SAP, with a multimillion-dollar "City of e" advertising campaign, the largest in the company's 27-year history. The campaign, which launched last month, highlights mySAP.com, SAP's move beyond its traditional bread and butter enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems--to software that reaches into new areas, including buying and selling among business partners and suppliers on the Web, and helping sales forces do their jobs online.

Upin said the branding campaign is intended, in part, to help revive SAP's stock, which has been hammered as the company's sales slowed over the past year.

"It's been very unglamorous to be in ERP software," he said.

Though not an enterprise resource planning company, systems integrator EDS, which launched its largest advertising campaign ever last month, is also trying to reposition itself as the company to hire for building or expanding a business on the Web. EDS's television advertisements debuted September 12 during NFL games on CBS, FOX, and ESPN. All end with a voice that states: "From idea to implementation," while the animated EDS logo becomes "EDSolved."

In one ad, "French Fries," an EDS employee arranges diner food to illustrate how EDS can use the Internet to simplify a complicated supply chain problem. "Golf Game" features a conversation between four CEOs who agree that though they once thought the Internet was a passing fad, today's CEOs must go "e" to compete.

While EDS is blanketing the airwaves with its big ad blitz, smaller rival CSC is sticking to a targeted print advertising campaign that will launch next month and feature e-commerce success stories. There will be no television commercials, said Lisa Meyer, a spokeswoman for CSC's marketing division, who said the company doesn't see the value of mass marketing on television.

Indeed, the jury is out on which strategy will help these companies reinvent their images.

"Some of them are advertising in areas where the average Joe doesn't really care what an SAP or an EDS is," said Drew Ianni, analyst at Jupiter Communications. "But hopefully, they're advertising to people who do care."