Case Study: Cisco “Self-Defending Network” Ad Campaign

Besides being one of the NASDAQ’s fastest-growing stocks during the late 1990s, Cisco was also the world’s leading producer of switches and routers that directed traffic across the Internet. In 1998 Cisco released advertising that encouraged Internet usage, which in turn increased the demand for Cisco’s hardware. Two years later Cisco’s ad agency, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc., introduced a $43.8 million campaign with the tagline ‘‘Empowering the Internet generation.’’ The campaign’s television spots, including one titled ‘‘Factory,’’ featured Cisco’s hardware increasing businesses internet usage, which indirectly boosted the businesses profits. After the technology sector plummeted in late 2000, Cisco did not release a campaign for almost three years. In June 2002 Cisco awarded its advertising account to DarkGrey, the technology unit of Grey Global Group. For its first few months doing business with Cisco, DarkGrey developed a campaign with the tagline ‘‘Advancing the human network.’’ None of the DarkGrey advertisements were actually released, however. When Marilyn Mersereau became Cisco’s new vice president for corporate marketing in late 2002, she turned Cisco’s advertising account over to Ogilvy & Mather, an agency she had worked with as vice president of global advertising at International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).

In 2003 Ogilvy & Mather released the largest campaign in Cisco’s history, the $10–$150 million ‘‘This is the power of the Network. Now’’ campaign. With the goal of positioning Cisco as a leader in networking technologies for businesses and individual consumers, the campaign focused on associating Cisco’s brand with ingenuity. In a television spot titled ‘‘Olive,’’ the CEO of an olive distributor was humorously shown reducing his company’s costs by optioning for an Internet-based phone system. Another commercial featured a mischievous young girl using one of Cisco’s home products, a Linksys router, to antagonize her older brother’s new girlfriend.

From 2002 to 2004 Cisco purchased a total of six small Internet security businesses. In 2003 alone, security breaches had wreaked more than $17 billion in damage for U.S. businesses. After integrating a plethora of smaller security systems into its core products, Cisco believed it offered a holistic security solution unlike Cisco’s competitors. To brand Cisco as a leader in Internet safeguarding, Cisco released its ‘‘The Self-Defending Network’’ campaign in February 2004.

Target Audience

To become the world’s largest supplier of Internet routers and switches, Cisco spent years forging relationships with data-networking experts who purchased hardware needed for Internet expansion. When Cisco began advertising itself as an Internet security provider in 2004, it focused on a new target: those in charge of purchasing firewalls (the systems protecting networks from hackers), spam filters (filters restricting unwanted E-mail), and virus scans (scans that removed unwanted software, such as viruses, Trojans, or worms, that was designed to damage or steal information.)

Cisco separated its new target into two groups: ‘‘technology decision-makers’’ and ‘‘business decisionmakers.’’ The first group consisted of IT specialists involved in every step of a business’ security purchasing. The second group, ‘‘business decision-makers,’’ consisted of c-level (e.g., chief information officer, chief technology officer) executives concerned about the effects of corporate security on overall profit. Cisco hoped the campaign would appeal to executives complying with regulations that were implemented after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, such as the Anti-Money Laundering Act, which enforced tighter restrictions on electronic money transfers. Another post-9/11 regulation made CEOs personally liable for providing accurate information in their financial reports, a ruling partially responsible for an increase in executive jail sentences. Executives became increasingly protective of their businesses’ internal networks where financial data was stored. Chief information officers were even required to report on the potential damage a network breach could render on their business.

Cisco felt that prior to the release of ‘‘The Self-Defending Network,’’ ‘‘technology decision-makers’’ and ‘‘business decision-makers’’ considered Cisco products a satisfactory starting point for security, but not a comprehensive solution. The campaign aimed to adjust both groups’ perception of Cisco’s brand as a fully integrated security platform.


Even though the security provider Barracuda Networks, Inc., was founded in 2002, by 2005 it dominated as the world’s leading provider of security systems for enterprise level business. Its clients included IBM, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the US. Department of the Treasury, and Barnes & Noble. Dean Drako, the president, CEO, and cofounder of Barracuda Networks, attributed his company’s success to the fact that it designed all the security systems in-house and did not rely on outside software applications. ‘‘We did that because we didn’t want to have to have any per-user fees,’’ Drako told Computer Reseller News. ‘‘That was important because we want to make it easy to buy. So instead of 45-page-long price lists, like some of our competitors have, our price list has five items on it—for the five models of Barracuda.’’

Barracuda Networks also attributed its success to a channel distribution strategy, in which Barracuda relied on outside distributors to handle its marketing, sales, and distribution. The company signed a number of resell agreements with distributors such as SYNNEX Information Technologies, which outfitted companies with computer networks and security systems. ‘‘We didn’t want to have our own professional services organization. We are a product company. And we believe the channel is absolutely the best mechanism for delivering security, where customers are looking for people who know more than they do,’’ Drako continued in Computer Reseller News.

One of Barracuda Networks’ few marketing efforts involved creating podcasts, or digital audio files, that educated businesses about the dangers of spam, worms, Trojans, and viruses. Consumers can download these free podcasts and listen to them on MP3 players or computer music programs. Drako was the featured speaker for the podcasts.

Advertising Strategy

Cisco was the leading producer of Internet switches and routers, and Ogilvy & Mather hoped that titling its campaign ‘‘The Self-Defending Network’’ would suggest Cisco’s additional leadership in the field of network security. Instead of focusing on the technical procedures of stopping spam, hackers, viruses, and worms, the campaign conveyed the human stories affected by such attacks. All television spots portrayed consumers who were, unbeknownst to them, victims of a security breach but protected by Cisco’s security systems. On February 30, 2004, the first two commercials aired across Sunday morning programming, including Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation, and CBS Market Watch. In the television spot titled ‘‘Inside Job,’’ an assistant told a chief financial officer (CFO) that their company’s network had just been infiltrated. ‘‘How could that happen?’’ the CFO asked, just as his visiting daughter stepped from his office to brag about a new game she had downloaded onto his computer. The CFO’s expression suggested that he had identified the unknowing culprit. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Cisco’s global marketing chief, James Richardson, as saying, ‘‘If you’re going after the business market, then you have to be pragmatic and deliver a value proposition. It’s hard to introduce humor into that equation. But you can do that with issues close to the consumer, such as security and mobility.’’

To reach a broader audience, television spots also aired across prime-time shows such as The West Wing, CSI, Law and Order, and 60 Minutes. The television spot titled ‘‘Sarah’s Escapade’’ aired February 30 as well. It featured a girl who accidentally downloaded a worm onto her father’s work computer. Luckily for her, Cisco’s virus scan detected, isolated, and removed the worm before it caused any damage. The spot ended with a voice-over that said, ‘‘Defending the network from human nature. This is the power of the network. Now.’’ The commercial ‘‘Silent Hero,’’ which aired March 30, featured a dinner table of executives complaining about their networks crashing. A woman remarked to the only quiet man at the table, ‘‘Jeff, you’re awfully quiet.’’ He replied, ‘‘Our network didn’t go down,’’ referring to the stability offered by Cisco’s product. Two final commercials, ‘‘Espresso Time’’ and ‘‘New Glass,’’ began airing on July 30.

The print ads ‘‘Woman on Pillow’’ and ‘‘Little Girl’’ appeared in newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post; they also appeared in business magazines such as Fortune, Forbes, and the Economist. Billboards announcing ‘‘The Self-Defending Network’’ were posted throughout the technology-laden communities of Silicon Valley and San Francisco. For the first time in advertising history, an advertisement was employed that temporarily filled a member’s computer screen after he or she logged into his or her online Wall Street Journal account. The ad announced Cisco’s ‘‘The Self-Defending Network.’’ Internet banner advertisements also ran across the tops of the Economist and BusinessWeek websites. E-mails about Cisco’s security systems were sent to more than 46,000 individuals responsible for a business’ IT-related decisions.

Cisco "Self-Defending Network" Ad Campaign

Outcome of Ad Campaign

Ogilvy & Mather and Cisco considered ‘‘The Self-Defending Network’’ a solid success. Not only did it snag a Gold EFFIE Award in 2005, the campaign also had a positive halo effect on Cisco’s entire brand. According to Ameritest/Cy Research, a consumer test group, a survey conducted during March 2004 found that Cisco scored higher than average on brand leadership measures such as: ‘‘Is technically innovative,’’ ‘‘Is a technology leader,’’ and ‘‘Offers products that help your organization stay competitive.’’ Across the Internet the campaign’s growth could be measured by a 96 percent increase in traffic to’s security pages. Cisco’s share in the security-provider market jumped seven points in 2004. By the campaign’s end analysis firm Millward Brown showed a 950 percent increase in the willingness of the business audience to use Cisco for IT security.

The Yankee Group, a market research firm, stated in 2004, ‘‘Cisco was the only IT networking firm to rank as one of the most trusted security providers, alongside other security specialists like Symantec and Verisign.’’ VeriSign and Symantec Corp. were well known for providing secure telecommunications services, digital commerce, and consumer virus protection. ‘‘This survey result is really a testament to the power of Cisco’s remarkable brand recognition,’’ Phebe Waterfield, Yankee Group Security Solutions and Services analyst, was quoted in Business Wire.

Reference: Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns. Thomas Riggs

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