Barracuda Networks and More Acts of Advertising Faith

For at least a year, Barracuda Networks has been running large ads in Vancouver’s airport. I think I’ve seen their ads in other airports, but can’t confirm that (anybody?). I snapped a bad photo of one of several large display ads in the baggage collection area:

Barracuda Ad at YVR

You can see better versions of their ads on their website.

I’m always puzzled when I see these ads. Barracuda makes humming boxes that companies install in their networks to protect against email spam, viruses, phishing and so forth. This one costs about CAN $650:

The Barracuda Spam Firewall is compatible with all email servers and can fit into nearly any corporate or small business environment. It is used by small organizations with as few as 10 employees and large organizations with as many as 200,000 employees. A single Barracuda Spam Firewall handles up to 100,000 active email users. Multiple units can be clustered together for even greater capacity and high availability.

According to YVR, about 4.1 million international passengers passed through their gates in 2007. What tiny fraction of those passengers are potential buyers of Barracuda’s products?

The math gets murky, but according to BC Stats, there are about 81,000 technology workers in BC. Of course, not all of those are potential Barracuda customers. Plenty of those have no interest in the IT concerns of their companies. Others work for companies that have fewer than 10 employees. Let’s be generous and imagine that one third of these tech workers might possibly be or know somebody who could become a Barracuda customer.

That works out to 6 out of 1000 British Columbians who might be the target market for these ads. That fraction is certainly lower for foreign visitors. So–best case scenario–that ad might be relevant to one out of every 200 passengers. In truth, I suspect the number is closer to one in 1000.

And yet this is a sadly commonplace scenario. Most offline ads are incredibly dumb–they’re irrelevant to 99.9% of people who see them. Barracuda runs these ads as an act of faith. That one or two out of the madding crowd of visitors grabbing their bags might take an interest, and start on the long, treacherous path towards an IT purchase. And do the folks at Barracuda Networks have an accurate sense of the return on investment of these airport ads? What do you think?

On a vaguely related note, I saw an enormous barracuda in shallow water in Panama a couple of weeks ago. It was at least three feet long, and just cruising gently by in about three feet of water.

8 comments

  1. I’ve definitely seen them at McCarran Int’l in Las Vegas, and seem to recall seeing them at O’Hare in Chicago as well (but I’m less confident on that one).

  2. They’re likely not advertising to IT workers, but rather to CTO/CIO/CEO and mid-level management of mid- to large-scale enterprise, who are often the drivers of this kind of purchasing. IT are just the poor saps who have to implement the humming boxes once they’ve been purchased.

  3. Darren: Maybe. The price point of those boxes is quite low, so it’s easy to imagine an IT manager or, you know, ‘guy’ buying one. In lots of small and mid-size companies it’s just one or two poor saps in the IT department, anyway. They tend to perceive these problems, and thus shop for solutions (though it may be the CTO/CIO/CEO who approves the purchase).

  4. I have also seen these ads in many airports. In fact, without seeing the ad, as soon as I saw the name “Barracuda” in your posting, I knew exactly what the ad looked like and what the product was. So… if their marketing objective was to raise awareness amongst the technology literate, then it worked. I even went so far as to ask my sys admin about their products one time, although I can’t remember what he said. Perhaps I was drunk. We can discuss this further over dinner next week, when I will likely be at least hung over (and returning from Vegas, so I will look for the Barracuda add at McCarran to back Jen up!).

  5. Being a marketer, this same thought occurred to me when I first saw the ads on multiple business trips a while back. I realized that the ads reinforced the brand in my mind…kind of like Intel made me care about what was inside my computer. However, I think the true target for this ad campaign is a C-level or senior manager or small business owner or other influencers and authorities in the buying process. It has to do with reinforcing the purchase decision — in terms of the signing off on the purchase, not the actual buying. Kind of like nobody gets fired for buying IBM.

  6. Is the Vancouver airport a hub for any airline? If so, then I’d say that’s your explanation of why they advertise the product there. Assuming the answer is still yes, people from everywhere but Vancouver fly in and out of that airport. I bet they are not targeting locals but visitors and those catching another flight.

    Ever see SAP ads in airports? I do and I have no idea what or who SAP is.

    Ever see or hear about an art gallery or museum in airports? Do the locals actually visit? Why would they bother dealing with the traffic? And if the airport isn’t betting on locals visiting, do foreigners have the time and interest to visit? Seems silly to me.

    Why does your local power company and phone company advertise in your local area when you probably have no choice but to “choose” them? PR reasons maybe. But so many of the ads try to make a compelling reason why their stuff rocks more than anyone else.

    I actually interviewed for a position at Barracuda a few months ago. As soon as I saw several vehicles entirely covered with vinyl signs advertising the companies fancy hardware in the parking lot, I got a feeling the company isn’t exactly the place to be. Then once inside there was no receptionist but merely a phone with a label instructing me to call a receptionist (huh?). After I made the call and asked for a manager, I turned around and noticed their line of Barracuda clothing. Oh man, you got the new blue Barracuda t-shirt! Where’d ya get it?! I heard they ran out.

  7. I am in the airport advertising business and find this topic interesting. Barracuda advertises in airports to keep thier name and brand in front of decision makers. Not necessarily just IT or even senior managers, they are also looking to position thier brand to the wallstreet crowd. Far too often advertising is judged on moving product instead of creating value. The airport audience is simply one of the best demographics no matter what city you live in. This whole thread of comments proves that thier strategy is working.

  8. I actually work for Barracuda and ran across this page when I was searching for something else. It’s an interesting point, but I think I’d agree that our marketing execs really are trying to make sure that we get our name out there and become easily recognized more than anything…

    If nothing else, I get a call from my dad every once in a while who tells me that a friend saw our ad at an airport and he’s proud to tell them “My son works there!” 😛

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