When Cisco CEO John Chambers speaks in public, he is the networking world's evangelistic preacher, inspiring customers and the industry alike.
Yet, Cisco recently has taken a grittier approach to marketing by attacking a competitor, Juniper Networks. And the company does it without Chambers getting his hands dirty.
A new Cisco marketing campaign includes a satirical video that pokes fun of Juniper for taking too long to deliver promised products, comparing delayed networking gear to a late pizza delivery. The video begins with the words, "If networking were like pizza..." and features an actor clad in the standard polo shirt and khakis of an IT worker, standing in a kitchen complaining over the phone to Juniper Pizza about when his order will arrive. "You guys guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes, and it's been like 18 months," he says.
Near the end, the actor lights into Juniper for not just being late, but lacking a well-rounded product mix as well. "I'm not criticizing your product mix, but you don't even have pepperoni or large," he says. "I am merely suggesting that you take the money you are putting into packaging and put it into R&D."
The video, a related white paper and other materials mention Juniper products that have been delayed. It was released Monday, the same day that Cisco launched three new routers for the service provider market in support of its nV virtualization technology. The new Cisco routers are designed to help service providers cope with increases in data traffic arising from the use of smartphones and wireless tablets.
Juniper quickly responded to the Cisco campaign, calling it a "publicity stunt" but not saying much more. "Customers tell us they want an alternative to the legacy approach, and we're focused on delivering innovation for them. It appears as if Cisco has once again lost focus," a Juniper spokesman said.
The Cisco attack is unusual but not unheard of. Cisco called out Hewlett-Packard in July, and several years ago took on Nortel over its claims about environmentally efficient networking gear. But Chambers himself has never been the one to attack competitors, other than mentioning them as threats.
Analysts said Tuesday that Cisco's decision to attack Juniper my stem in part from Cisco's decline in the edge router market. In 2007, Cisco held about a 53% share of that market, but its share had fallen to 42% in 2010, according to Dell'Oro Group and others. Plus, Cisco over the summer laid off thousands of workers while at the same time hiring two high-level Juniper sales executives.
Remarking on the video, Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala said, "It certainly is a different Cisco.... Historically, Cisco didn't need to punch back on the competition."
Kerravala said it was good to see Cisco fighting back against Juniper and HP because those companies "have been taking a lot of shots at Cisco lately."
Whether the video and related marketing campaign will work remains to be seen. Kerravala said he believes customers will respond positively to the attacks on Juniper.
"Frankly, it's about time Cisco did this," Kerravala said, noting that Cisco is correct when it says that Juniper's QFabric/Stratus data center technology is late to market.
Cisco says on its site attacking Juniper that QFabric was announced two and a half years ago but still hasn't materialized. In a white paper, Cisco also attacks other Juniper initiatives and lists several technologies that Cisco itself promised and then delivered.
Kerravala said that in the past Cisco didn't need to be so strident in attacking the likes of Lucent, Nortel and 3Com, but the company has encountered more competitors than ever in more areas, including some that are large and successful. "Juniper, HP and Microsoft can run and gun with Cisco, so Cisco needs to respond differently," Kerravala said.
Still, he said Chambers "will stay out of it."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.