Tony Hallett's After These Messages: BT's DNE and DNA

B2B campaign for 'new wave' services "biggest ever"

B2B campaign for 'new wave' services "biggest ever"

BT is right now kicking off its biggest ever campaign aimed at businesses. Tony Hallett looks at how one the UK's largest companies - and advertisers - is repositioning.

The ads, whether TV, billboard or online, look impressive. We're treated to a high-tech cityscape straight out of The Fifth Element. We see how real-world supply chains (symbolised by a fish flying from the sea to city restaurant - an interesting choice) are all about digital connectivity - or what BT wants us to call the digital networked economy, DNE for short.

I doubt whether DNE will catch on as an industry-wide or general phrase. It will probably get across BT's message just fine, as will the ads with their high production values. They are courtesy of agency St Luke's, with a trendy music video director used, or agency.com for online.

But DNE does say a lot about the telco's current DNA.

I use the word telco carefully. BT clearly still sees itself as a network provider - thus the N in DNE. But in recent quarters its makeup has been changed by massive growth in IT outsourcing contracts.

Broadband is the other type of offering it bundles into its 'new wave' category. Together, they go a long way to making up for revenues falling in more traditional, voice-centric areas. So we arrive at BT the service provider, in several ways.

Do the new ads get this across? Well they won't be appearing in publications such as The Sun or The Mail, the team there assure me. Not that those aren't valuable channels for a lot of what it does. It's just that this is all supposed to be a bit more business-like.

The initial campaign will see £26m being spent over the next six months. A full £12m of that is going overseas, mainly in Europe, as BT seeks to establish its credentials further as a winner of services and networking contracts outside its home market.

Does the company see itself as a real competitor to services big boys such as Accenture and IBM, or sometime partner HP? Tim Evans, BT's group marketing and brand director, told me: "In terms of commitment from the camp, there's no question we do."

Is there a risk regular consumers will see the new ads and wonder what is going on? Has BT's DNA been scrambled? Possibly. But BT, which carried out comprehensive qualitative testing over the past few months, says they play well to SMEs as well as larger organisations and many consumers will feel the sci-fi mood of the campaign relates to broadband and the future of how we use technology.

Could the whole thing come across as too futuristic, too slick? There's a chance of that. Many average customers will always say the telco should concentrate on doing the simple things well. BT touches more people's lives in the UK than most technology companies. Maybe only Microsoft stands in comparison. Naturally things can go shockingly wrong and against that background tens of millions spent on a campaign can seem wrong.

But if BT is to change perceptions and gain ever more revenue from new wave services, it has to do this type of thing. Being influenced by French director Luc Besson, from the country that gave us new wave film, wasn't such a bad choice.