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HCL: wooing the masses
Meenakshi Radhakrishnan-Swami | January 26, 2006
No decision has been taken on naming them as yet. But Shunya and Uno are likely to win the popular vote. That would be a particularly apt choice for the lead characters of HCL's new television commercials: a 0 and a 1.
The two are the high-tech animation stars of four, new 30-second ads, two of which went on air on all major cable channels a couple of weeks ago.
While the christening is still awaited, 0 and 1 have already started speaking: the two mouth dialogues in each of the HCL ads, explaining how the Rs 12,000-crore (Rs 120 billion) infotech giant touches the lives of people everywhere.
"We represent the complexity behind the simple things people take for granted," explains Saurav Adhikari, corporate vice president, strategy and brand marketing, HCL.
The bank commercial, for instance, focuses on the technology behind ATMs. It shows 0, briefcase in hand, walking into a bank. Pillars and a high dome underline the bank's stately, solid presence. Ahead of him is a whole row of tellers, each counter manned by a 1, reading a newspaper.
Zero approaches a counter and informs the 1 behind it that he would like some money. One puts aside his newspaper, leans into the microphone and says deadpan, "so would I". As 0 looks on, confused, 1 tells him that the bank's network is down.
In tandem, all the 1s close their counters, the blinds spelling "NETWORK DOWN". Zero swivels and hurries to the bank of ATMs behind. A 1 appears on the screen of ATMs and says, "Down, too".
Zero immediately whips out his mobile and calls HCL. One appears next to him and looks perplexed. "The big computer guys?" As 0 launches into his monologue, the security cameras turn towards him and a giant screen drops down.
"HCL supports the computing backbone of 40,000 branches and connects over 6,000 ATMS across the country," he announces.
The bank comes back to life: the computer screens on the tellers' counters now display the HCL logo and the ATMs go online. More 0s appear as customers and the 1s reluctantly put away their papers to attend to them. Zero appears in front of the camera and says, "You can bank on HCL." The ad closes on a logo of HCL and the voiceover, "Our numbers do the talking."
That tagline is common to the other ads as well. The other "talking numbers" commercial on air right now tom-toms HCL's expertise in developing landing systems that help planes land in near-zero visibility. Two more ads will be aired shortly: one on the company's role in creating the software that goes into implantable pain-relief devices and another on HCL's BPO business, which offers services in 14 languages.
"We've been HCL's agency for some years now and even we were surprised at what all the company does," exclaims Sanjeev Bhargava, chief operating officer, FCB Ulka, Delhi. "It was time to tell the world."
The tell-the-world focus actually began last year, when HCL initiated Project Heartbeat to create a unified HCL brand.
All the diverse group entities were consolidated and brought under two umbrella companies: HCL Infosystems, which manufactures computer hardware and focuses on the domestic market, and HCL Technologies, which is the global IT services provider.
Four months into Project Heartbeat, HCL launched its "Fearless" campaign, focusing on the heritage of the company -- it completes 30 years this August -- and the entrepreneurial spirit behind it (HCL touts itself as "India's original garage IT start-up").
The company spent little under Rs 10 crore on the print-led campaign, which, too, was created by FCB Ulka. "HCL is a dominant IT player but it has never made an effort to create that profile. Which is why other players have become more visible," points out Bhargava.
The company has also been implementing internal changes to drive home the new brand architecture. The HCL logo has been cleaned up and streamlined; it's now a deep blue name minus the earlier sidebar. All business cards now say HCL, rather than the individual company and email IDs are all @hcl.in. When you have to repeat that for 30,000 employees, it's not an easy job.
A new campaign was considered the next logical step. "We had told people where we were coming from. Now we needed to tell them what we could do for them," says Adhikari.
The target of the communication was clear: external as well as internal stakeholders. HCL recruits over 10,000 people on average every year. It was important that they know what all the company did. Deciding how to represent that visually was a challenge, though.
Among the rejected ideas was what Adhikari calls a "Steven Spielberg" appproach of a child looking up in as the nose of an airplane fills the sky above him. "That's not HCL. We are only about the technology," he reasons.
A communication based on the binary system -- the building blocks of the digital world, where HCL has made its fortune -- won the company's approval.
The film was animated and made in London, using state-of-the-art animation techniques that included creating a wire frame and then a skeleton before adding "flesh" to the characters. "The characters reflect HCL. They are experimentative and offer a new perspective," says Bhargava.
The ads broke on the Lohri-Pongal weekend and are being beamed during the India-Pakistan cricket series. Shorter edits of 20 and five seconds are being planned, which will go on air after the 3-seconders complete their six-week run.
That will be followed by hoardings, Internet campaigns and print ads. The 0 and 1 characters are also likely to be developed as corporate giveaways.
Such a high-decibel campaign requires deep pockets -- and HCL isn't being stingy. While no specific budget has been set aside for advertising, the company is likely to spend close to Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million) on this round of brand building. The anniversary celebrations around August will be extra, of course.
"The organisation is putting its weight behind the campaign," says Ulka's Bhargava. Now, if it could only zero in on those names.