Alcatel hopes ad campaign makes a sharp impression

Monday, June 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Something's different about Alcatel. It's advertising.

The Paris-based telecommunications manufacturer is a well-known brand in Europe, where it sells telephones and network equipment. Executives say its orange triangle logo is nearly as familiar on that continent as the Bell phone companies' symbol on this one.

Building brand recognition wasn't a priority in the United States, where Alcatel sells mainly high-dollar network equipment. Ads don't make much difference to the phone companies that buy its products. For years, the company, whose U.S. headquarters is in Plano, was essentially a quiet competitor in a quiet industry.

Even when the industry got louder - with ubiquitous branding campaigns from rivals Lucent Telecommunications, Nortel Networks and Cisco Systems - Alcatel remained aloof.

"There is something inherent in the European DNA ... they do not brag about what they have," said Peter Campbell, director of investor relations in North America.

Alcatel has, like its competitors, acquired a sweep of companies to increase its technological capabilities, including Plano-based DSC Communications and Canadian Newbridge Networks Corp.

And now come the ads. They feature the triangle and brief, understated copy that assumes consumers know what the high-speed Internet is - and can't wait to have it.

"Surfers take notice," say white letters on a black background, with the triangle posing as a shark fin. "Internet with a twist," reads another, depicting the triangle as the top part of a martini glass.

The $20 million U.S. campaign also includes Alcatel's first-ever television ads, which follow the same theme. One, for instance, shows a stack of triangles - "the human backbone" - and then a single triangle - "the Internet backbone."

"You see so many ads with people using telephones, people using the Internet. They tend to blur," said Mark Burnworth, senior director for corporate communications at Alcatel, who oversaw the U.S. campaign. "We wanted something dramatic."

Consumers who see the ads still won't buy Alcatel's networking products, but executives hope the campaign will attract interest from shareholders.

"In order to be appreciated on the stock market, people need to know your company," said Alcatel chief technology officer Martin de Prycker.

Early reviews from the financial community are positive.

"I was impressed with the commercial. ... I think it'll work," said Stacey Riddell, technology analyst and portfolio manager at William Blair & Co. in Chicago.

Oracle was successful with a similar campaign, she said. "I don't think corporate America was sitting there paying attention as much as we did, the investment community."