Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) is a b-to-b company that provides storage infrastructure platforms, storage management software, and storage consulting services.
"The battle that Hitachi is currently facing is there are four different ways to purchase and implement storage virtualization," says Steve Zivanic, senior director of corporate communications at HDS.
Its challenge was to differentiate itself from competitors in a way that was both entertaining and humorous.
The campaign focused on the rivalry between placing storage virtualization in the controller (HDS' approach), as opposed to the network switch (its competitors' method).
"The key goal was to make it entertaining," Zivanic notes.
To go beyond traditional outreach methods, the company decided to produce a viral video that would be humorous and enjoyable. It intended to reach the largest market segment as possible.
Mr. T was cast because of his stature as an American icon with an international fan base.
"He transcends generations," Zivanic explains. "Who's going to argue with likes of someone like Mr. T?"
The video's message was accessible and funny to even those not in the tech industry, Zivanic says.
The video shows the action star facing off against a league of zombies and an obnoxious consultant while touting HDS' systems. Mr. T uses the HDS-penned line, "I put the 'T' in IT." He also exclaims that virtualization resides in the controller - a catchphrase that resonated even with those who didn't understand the underlying technology.
To avoid giving the video a corporate feel, Hitachi opted for a director who had feature-film experience. Zivanic says this enhanced the production with theatrical-style zoom-ins and angles.
"The way the video was shot was to capture the imagination of the audience," he notes.
The team uploaded the video on YouTube and Yahoo on January 21. HDS released an internal memo announcing the video, but didn't put a link on its Web site. Eschewing any corporate push, HDS relied on word of mouth.
A second video was released on May 9. "T the Trucker" features Mr. T driving a semi that runs competitors off the road.
"Right now we have people talking about virtualization, storage, Mr. T, [and] Hitachi who aren't even in the storage industry," Zivanic says. "That's not achieved by other traditional... tactics."
The first video has had more than 170,000 views on YouTube, while the second video has drawn about 4,100 YouTube views.
"It definitely helped us attract a different set of customers than we had in the past - like new-generation companies," Zivanic notes. He says customers and prospective clients quote lines from the videos. "The recognition of virtualization in the controller is so much greater now," Zivanic adds.
The videos have generated interest from storage analysts, tech reporters, and also marketing and advertising professionals, says Mary Ann Gallo, director of global PR at HDS.
HDS rolled out a third video August 21 to coincide with the opening of its New York office. The video targets the small and medium-sized business market.
"We look forward to working with Mr. T in the future," notes Gallo via e-mail.
PR team: Hitachi Data Systems (Santa Clara, CA)
Campaign: Viral videos featuring Mr. T
Duration: January 21, 2007 - ongoing
Budget: $150,000 for three videos
HDS clearly understands that viral marketing should be edgy and funny, and took a risk producing a video that strayed from its conventional corporate image - a risk that led to the severing of its relationship with its former AOR and some mockery online.
Not pushing the videos corporately and letting them take off through word of mouth made them that much more appealing to the public. Also key was the videos' focus on the processes rather than bombarding the audience with the HDS name.
The venture paid off and has given HDS credibility as an innovator. But to remain fresh, it must continue to push the envelope so the gag doesn't get stale.