If you haven't seen the "Running of the Squirrels" ad that premiered during Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28, you will soon enough. EDS, the global technology-services company, plans to rerun the spot for the indefinite future. The question now: Can EDS match the success it enjoyed with its "Cat Herders" story line from Super Bowl XXXIV? And even if it does, will people remember EDS the next time they have an e-business networking problem?
What EDS provides to customers is a tough concept to get across in a 30-second ad (see BW Online, 1/29/01, "Scoring Supe XXXV's Commercials"). So the company went creative. Few tasks could be more difficult -- or preposterous -- than herding 10,000 cats across the Great Plains. In the memorable commercial, a posse of wind-weathered cowboys talk candidly about their lives as cat herders in a documentary-style spot that features splices of interviews ("I got this one [scratch] this morning, right here, and if you look at [this guy's] face, it's ripped to shreds.") The ad featured thousands of meowing cats barreling willy-nilly across the red, dusty landscape of the West. The message? The folks at EDS are just like these specialized cowpokes: They gather the disparate parts of a company and head them in the right direction. "EDS: managing the complexities of e-business," coos the soothing spokeswoman at the end.
Ah, a perfect metaphor to explain -- simply and quickly -- what EDS has to offer. The 30-second ad, created by Minneapolis' Fallon agency, cost a cool $3 million to run in last year's Super Bowl (the Los Angeles Rams-Tennessee Titans slugfest). People liked it. The spot ended up as a parody on late-night talk shows and the winner of several creative awards.
But what, if anything, did the commercial add to EDS's bottom line? Hard to say. Don Uzzi, senior vice-president for global advertising at EDS, certainly sees lots of benefit: "The Super Bowl [ad] played out in spades for our business. The first week after the Super Bowl, we had 10 million hits to EDS.com, which is five times our normal run rate. And brand awareness increased by 40% year-on-year in 2000, something we attribute greatly to the commercial's success." Once EDS realized the importance of the Web in extending its message, the company quickly added a "Cat Herders" game to its home page.
Uzzi hopes to repeat that success with its squirrels ad, which mimics the annual bull run in Pamplona, Spain, during the San Fermin Festival. Shot in the same documentary vein as "Cat Herders," the commercial features interviews with stampede participants, details of the race's rigors, and lots of squirrels. "Our clients have to be aware of the quick, nimble competitors constantly nipping at their heels," Uzzi says. "We help improve their ability to adjust quickly and get to market faster."
But will business customers get the message about EDS's myriad services? Even Uzzi concedes that not everybody picks up on the meaning behind EDS and the running squirrels. "TV sparks interest and builds awareness, but it doesn't provide the level of comprehension needed to turn the curious into clients," Uzzi says. "For us, [the commercial] is a foundation on which to build additional pieces." He declines to specify the cost of the entire campaign but says he hopes it will generate $5 to $7 for every dollar invested.
The role of the Web in advertisers' overall marketing strategies was noticeably bigger this year. Pepsi used the Net to let fans vote for which bygone commercial it would re-air in its postgame spot (see BW, 01/26/01, "Yahoo! and Pepsi: 'Fusion Marketing' in Prime Time"), for example, and EDS created an interactive online version of its new ad that launched on its site at kickoff. "The Web is an essential part of our whole branding campaign that began over a year ago," says Keith Kuehn, vice-president for online marketing and communications at EDS. "We wanted a better tie to the overall brand message and decided to link the TV effort back to the Web in order to provide something more in-depth."
Kuehn calls his company's integrated strategy a "new standard in business-to-business marketing," but as more companies leverage multiple mediums to extend and heighten their ad campaigns' success, such tactics are likely to become the norm.
While the results for Super Bowl XXXV are rolling in right now, most dot-coms that advertised in the past saw significant and immediate jumps in traffic following the game. Traffic at Pets.com, whose Super Bowl ad was among the most popular of last year's dot-com contenders, leaped 220% on game day compared to the Sunday a week earlier, according to PC Data. "The real question is whether that traffic can be sustained all year," says PC Data's Jim Carey, "or for retailers, whether window shoppers became buyers."
Alas, that wasn't the case for Pets.com, which spent $31 million on sales and marketing in the fourth quarter of 1999 only to shutter its operations 10 months after the Super Bowl and after its initial public offering of $83 million. The company may not have made it, but the memorable sock puppet that had been featured in all of its commercials made a cameo appearance in E*Trade's 2001 Super Bowl spot.
As for EDS, its "Cat Herders" commercial was one of the top-five Super Bowl XXXIV ads, Carey says. But despite Uzzi's satisfaction with the results, most of the viewers polled by PC Data didn't see the link between the ad's story line and the brand. "They would refer to the 'Cat Herding' commercial but couldn't identify which company sponsored the ad," Carey says. In fact, only 17% of respondents said they remembered an EDS ad. Nearly half said their favorite commercial appealed to them mostly because of its general theme, while only 6% were won over because of the product or company itself.
There's a lesson in all this: Measuring the effectiveness of advertising is more art than science. When each second of Super Bowl airtime blows through some $100,000, it's best to have some idea of the return on investment. Whether it's herding cats, running with the squirrels, or talking to a sock puppet, an ad's popularity and memorability can help -- but it may not always be the best barometer of future bottom-line benefits.
By Stefani Eads in New York
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht