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By Doug Zanger | Americas Editor

June 17, 2016 | 6 min read

It’s clear that B2B advertising has emerged as a driving industry force — and the associated improvement in creative, away from the hackneyed clichés, is a welcome boon. Adobe, for example, is often looked at as one of the leaders in the space with entertaining, humorous work that makes its point. Gyro consistently and continually moves the B2B agenda forward with breakthrough work. To be fair, wayward B2B advertising featuring lightbulbs and superheroes dot the landscape, but it is thankfully moving towards a more sophisticated approach.

Goodby Silverstein and Partners (GSP) just released new work for Cisco, “Pep Talk,” that fits the impressive, thoughtful, high-quality mold. Launched during game six of the NBA Finals, the sweeping, almost anthemic spot is more of a rally cry about technology and optimism — and how Cisco is powering it. It features actor Ewan McGregor, acting as a guide to “all things awesome,” ending on him holding a glass that’s “half full,” a nod and universal sign of optimism everywhere.

Looking past the beauty of the work, Will Elliott, GSP creative director, unearthed some interesting insights to take the brand past the difference between making a product and the effect it has — what people, businesses and organizations were doing with it.

“We did something kind of unusual for creatives. Cisco had a whole bunch of whitepapers, and we read them,” said Elliott. “We found out that Cisco technology is doing incredible things, amazing things. Suddenly we thought, ‘Oh my God. This stuff is so interesting.’ For example, Cisco technology allowed people to open a mobile bank in Zambia and Zaire — places where the regular banking system, and even the governments, aren't very stable. No one really knew where to keep their money, and now ordinary people can use their phones to store their money and buy things. It becomes this huge technological transformation.”

Elliott pointed out other things powered by the technology — fixing traffic jams in Dubai, enabling security at the Presidential Nuclear Summit, protecting rhinos with drones - that underscored the impact of the technology. In some ways, learning about what the technology can do could open up a new conversation around B2B and B2C, the notion of “Business to Good,” continuing the motif of optimism.

“We wanted to tell those stories,” noted Elliott. “We really like ‘There’s never been a better time.’ We made it into a huge headline that we plastered on all these posters. There's sort of this tension there that we really like, because if I told you right now, ‘There's never been a better time,’ your first reaction might be, ‘What are you talking about, man? We've got Zika going on. The Chinese stock market's shaky. We've got gun violence.’ There's all these problems going on in the world, and frankly a lot of CEOs feel that way like, ‘I'm overwhelmed. The world's changing so fast. I can't keep up with it.’ The next step you might take is, ‘You know what? Technology has never been in a better place to take on the world's biggest problems.’ That's kind of cool if you think about it. We've never been faster. We've never been more nimble. We've never been able to connect more things. We've never been more flexible. We can use data to see things that we've never seen before. Technology has put us in this place where we've never been more capable of doing amazing things. That's why we like the line and the positioning of this whole thing.”

It’s one thing to nail down the concept, the line, the idea, but how it plays in the real world is another thing altogether.

“We did a bunch of testing, and people really believe this,” noted Elliott. “I didn't know this category existed, but they're called ‘Technology Optimists.’ People really believe that technology is going to fix all our problems and do amazing things for us, and that's the solution. You know what? So does Cisco. It was kind of a cool accident that we ended up in this place. We really like the way it works.”

There were several other options and concepts at play such as “We Are How” and “We Love Problems,” but Elliott and his team found them to be limiting, putting the problem/solution scenario in silos and boxes.

“‘There's never been a better time’ opens you up for all kinds of different things. If we were stuck with, ‘We like problems,’ we'd just be fixing problems, and granted, there's a lot of them, but it doesn't allow you to be surprised, I think,” said Elliott.

Striking the right tone demanded the right person to articulate the vision and it became clear that Ewan McGregor was the right fit.

"We needed an optimistic ambassador to take us on this journey, and we thought Ewan McGregor was the perfect guy for the job,” said Michele Janes, VP of global corporate marketing and branding at Cisco.

“We wanted to make something human. There are plenty of tech companies that talk about possibility, a million of them,” said Elliott. “We wanted to do it in a really human way. He has this kind of wide-eyed, boyish optimism that I think is really interesting. I think that he relates to technology the way that we do. If you see something amazing, let's say you see this amazing robot on YouTube, you think, ‘Look at this thing!’ You show it to your friend. There's a ‘Can you believe this? This is amazing!’ spirit that he has and he captured it — the way normal people look at technology, not the academic way.”

All of the insight aside, at the core, it is a B2B message intended for a B2B audience, albeit through a different approach. The spirit of the brief and, indeed, the ability to engage creatives in a wash of optimism opens the doors of possibility for even the most harried senior marketers and leaders.

“You can look at the world and say, ‘It's moving too fast. It's too complicated. I've never been responsible for more. I'm getting overwhelmed. People are going to do to my business what Uber did to the taxi business or Airbnb is doing to the hotel business’,” said Elliott. “You can also look at it like, ‘There's never been a better time to do something crazy and amazing.’ In the face of all this kind of anxiety — and CEO's are anxious people — we wanted to communicate that, ‘Hey look, there's all this possibility.’ That's optimism.”

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