Taming the IT Monster: A Technology Marketing Discussion with HPE’s McKaela Doherty and Chris Drago

May 29, 2019

Taming the Monster

From the start, Hewlett Packard Enterprise knew it had a monster campaign on its hands.

“During the very first meeting when our agency presented the monster, we were sold,” HPE’s McKaela Doherty recalls. “We saw this giant lumbering character coming to life on-screen and knew it was something special.” Now comfortable in the hallways of its new home, the “IT Monster” is a memorable campaign for HPE who, as many will recall, emerged following the separation of Hewlett-Packard Company in 2015.

Depicted throughout the campaign as an unavoidable nuisance, the IT Monster happily roams around offices, unaware of the chaos he is causing. Then, shortly thereafter, an IT Pro arrives on the scene to tame the monster, transforming it into a cloud of green smoke. Naturally, this encounter is enabled by HPE.

While aimed primarily toward IT professionals, the IT Monster campaign has also connected with audiences across the business landscape. For instance, one HPE executive’s young son saw the ad on television, telling his mother, “Wow, you work for a cool company!” It strikes an emotional chord, something rarely achieved in B2B technology marketing, and continues to drive impact for HPE as a strong player in the Enterprise space.

Read on to hear how HPE’s Doherty and Chris Drago, in partnership with their teams and agency Publicis North America, crafted a story that will forever capture the imagination of HPE’s customers and shape the brand for years to come.

McKaela Doherty is the Director of Brand & Advertising at Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Chris Drago is Head of Global Media and Social Marketing at Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Q: Tell us about the background of the campaign. Where was this monster born?

McKaela:  The demands on a company’s IT teams to deliver and drive innovation for business have changed dramatically. It can be a very challenging position to be in, because budgets don’t always increase with those expectations, and IT leaders are managing both legacy systems and newer technologies. There’s a friction there – needing it all to work together and move faster than ever. We wanted to demonstrate that we understand what a monumental task that can be, and that HPE can help enable our customers overcome those challenges.

Chris: A lot of B2B technology marketing looks the same. We want to communicate in a human way, and not just with a talking head promising what technology of the future can enable. Because the reality is, it’s hard work.

McKaela:  From the very first meeting when our creative team introduced the monster, we were sold. Not only was it right on strategy, but it addressed two massive creative challenges: How do you stand out in a very crowded environment, and how do you connect with IT professionals in a really credible and interesting way? They have a high bar and absolutely know their stuff.

Q: B2B buying can be very emotional, because your job depends on it in a very real sense. Talk about the idea of an emotional campaign versus playing it more straightforward.

Chris:  If you look across the work we’ve done (like "Yeasayers" ) we care deeply about breaking through at a human level. And frankly, we don’t see a lot of our competitors doing that.

McKaela:  Our purpose is to “advance the way people live and work.” As a company, we really do live that purpose. When it comes to communicating it, I think you can do so in funny ways, in pragmatic or in more heartfelt ways. But it has to be rooted in a human insight or pain point.

Chris: We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. There can be some humor to what we do, clever - not silly.

Q: That brings up an interesting question. Chris, you said earlier that most of other marketing out there all looks the same. What kind of special brand considerations did you make for this monster while paving your own way?

McKaela:   It was really important that we stayed true to the idea. We didn’t want the monster to become a mascot, because it represents the challenge IT leaders face; it does not represent HPE. So we were really thoughtful about how we portrayed the monster in the creative, but also in how we enabled others to make use of the work.  Internal communications and guidelines were critical.

Chris: The monster is not like this ogre. He’s the anti-hero, but we don’t hate him.

McKaela:  Right. He doesn’t always mean to cause harm. I did have some interesting conversations about the monster: “How long should the hair be?” “Should he be a millimeter bigger?” “Should he have ears or no ears, a tail or no tail?” And legally you have to do a lot of work to make sure your character is truly unique. But it was a really, really fun project.

Q: When you sold this internally, was there any push back, and if so, how did you handle it?

McKaela: It actually wasn’t hard to sell the concept internally, even though it’s creatively different for us. We’re personifying a problem that we all use in our vernacular, like “Ugh, it’s a monster of a thing.” Everyone understood it.

And we refined the execution with the help of internal teams. Marketing & Sales are really well connected here. And as a result, there were many avenues for us to vet the work and ensure it aligned with real customer pain points. We interviewed countless SMEs. We shared this with the head of sales. We showed it to our own CIO, because she’s a customer, and the feedback was invaluable.

Q: The monster has seemingly appeared almost everywhere. What kind of feedback have you received and how do you see this campaign evolving?

McKaela:  Customer and partner feedback has been very positive. We’ve heard “This is what we’ve been looking for and I’m really excited about it” and we’ve seen significant pick up amongst partners. We also made a big effort with internal audiences- from social content to email communications and executive thought leadership – and seeing positive feedback there really gave us confidence. A year later, we have a suite of monster material available from swag, to toys, to full sized monster suits.

While our campaign is highly digital, the monster also showed up physically at HPE Discover, our largest customer event, and brought the digital experience to life with first of its kind “virtual puppet technology". People may have thought they were watching a video, but the monster on the screen started responding to them in real time with the help of master puppeteers behind the scenes. On the other side of the experience, you could put your hand over a sensor and control the monster, and then you could tame him.

Chris:  When you compare the monster campaign to our prior benchmarks, it had a much higher engagement rate. From a digital response standpoint, people were interested enough to not only click through but to also spend some time with content once they got to our site.

McKaela:  It also opened up other doors for us media-wise. It fit, creatively, in places that our other advertising may not have. We ran it on Hulu, reaching customers while they watched their favorite shows. We also ran it in select markets during the Super Bowl — which enabled us to get out in front of customers we really cared about at a fraction of the price.

Chris:  We looked at where our top revenue is concentrated and chose markets that align to these key locations.

McKaela:  Honestly, these are the crazy ideas that Chris applies to everything we do. If you’ve seen the monster everywhere, that makes me really happy because that means it may be even bigger than we realized. We’ll just have to see what he does next.

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