Case Study: Hitachi

Much of Hitachi’s corporate advertising over the past 10 years has focused on the consumer electronics business. As a result, consumers have associated the Hitachi brand with — what else? — TVs, VCRs, camcorders, and DVDs. But consumer electronics account for only 10 percent of the company’s business, which last year was in the $68 billion range. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that someone within the Japanese company’s corporate structure finally hit upon the idea of launching a global branding campaign to increase awareness among the other 90 percent of its customers — the business-to-business audience. Last September, a $20 million global branding campaign was launched to finally convey the message that Hitachi is more than a consumer electronics company. The campaign will relaunch sometime this month or next with new creative and a new media plan.

The Integration of Online and Offline Hitachi dabbled in online advertising back in 1995 with banners and search engine terms and mini-campaigns to drive traffic. Most of the campaigns, however, were only moderately successful at driving traffic to specific product-focused websites. The company spent a great deal of time, money, and effort on building a strong online component to last year’s global branding campaign, says Gerry Corbett, vice president of the corporate communications group for Hitachi America, the North American arm of Hitachi, Ltd.

Company executives had already agreed that online would be "an essential component" of the entire marketing mix, although it took some convincing. "Corporate reluctance is not as strong as it was a couple of years ago, particularly during the dot-com bubble," says Corbett. "That period in our history made management question the seriousness of online advertising. But the medium has matured, become more intelligent. And in a couple more years, it will just become standard operating procedure."

Hitachi spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 percent of its marketing budget last year online. It was the company’s first attempt to build a cross-media campaign. "We had never done an ad effort like this before, where everything was integrated across all media," says Corbett.

The goal of the integrated campaign was to reach C-level executives (CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, owners, and partners) through broadcast, print, and online. Corbett likes to point to research conducted by Research.Net on behalf of Forbes.com stating that C-level executives spend an average of 16 hours per week (excluding email) on the Web, compared with 8.6 hours with TV, 6.6 with magazines, and 5.7 with radio. Moreover, six out of every 10 C-level executives spend more time on business and financial sites than on any other type of site. And more to the point, C-level executives "react favorably to Internet advertising when it’s placed within an environment they know and trust," says Corbett. The company advertised on roughly a dozen websites with high traffic from C-level executives, including WallStreetJournal.com, Forbes.com, Time.com, Fortune.com, and CNN.com. All online advertising employed push technology, and the company used different sizes depending on the property. The ads themselves linked to specifically designed websites on everything from life sciences and information technology infrastructure to intelligent transportation systems.

Hitachi also streamed its 30-second broadcasts online in a specifically designed "global brand campaign website," which gave the company the opportunity to provide further depth in its range of technologies and core businesses. Streaming the 30-second commercial, says Corbett, provided all its Web visitors the opportunity to take time to "absorb the message in greater detail."

Campaign research from Hitachi reveals few surprises: vertical skyscrapers ads were more effective than banners ads. This syncs with a report by Jupiter Media Metrix that states that large ad formats are steadily gaining in popularity. In fact, they’re growing at twice the rate of other sizes. "It’s the vertical space that’s getting a lot of the creative activity, and it’s better accepted by the advertisers," says Marty Levin, executive vice president of Jupiter Media Metrix.

But did online advertising contribute to Hitachi’s overall sales goals last year? "That’s difficult to measure," says Corbett. "The purpose of the campaign wasn’t just to support sales specifically, but to drive awareness and understanding, factors critical in driving and closing the sale."

And how did Hitachi measure brand impact? "We did a baseline analysis in June of 2000, and compared that research to this year’s research," Corbett says. "We concluded that we did get measurable increase in unaided awareness of the brand, but we can’t really say whether that was a result of online or not. The full mix of media, of which online was part, was really focused to work as an interlaced vehicle to higher awareness and understanding."

The Right Mix of Advertising and Branding Pharmacology In this next fiscal year’s global branding campaign, Hitachi expects to stay the course. Its targets and focus will remain firm; only the mix of venues may be altered to increase efficiencies in the face of budget pressures. Corbett says that Hitachi is focused on the long haul and appreciates that building sustained awareness and understanding will take time and patience and the right mix of venues. Corbett likens the process to a "medical cocktail" where the right combination of advertising and branding pharmacology in the right dose could potentially yield blockbuster results.

Corbett admits Hitachi management is just now starting to appreciate the value of the online component. "Everyone understands the importance of having close integration across all mediums, he says. "As more and more companies conduct their marketing campaigns this way, online will grow its share of the pie, and management will become more comfortable with having it as part of the whole marketing mix."

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