Symantec Blasts McAfee Partners With Guerilla Marketing

When McAfee partners arrived in Las Vegas for this week's annual global partner conference, they were confronted with a barrage of Symantec advertisements at the airport. The yellow bombardment was so intense that one McAfee partner was overheard marveling at how it "stretched all the way from the gate to the exit."

Symantec, to its credit, isn't trying to pretend that the timing was an accident. "We did indeed position a number of ads there in the Las Vegas area to take advantage of McAfee's Focus '09 security conference," a Symantec spokesperson said in an e-mail to

Symantec's marketing stunt was a recurring theme at Tuesday morning's McAfee partner conference sessions. Fernando Quintero, McAfee's vice president of channel operations, also called out Big Yellow over its Xtreme Truth Reseller Incentive Program, which offered VARs rewards for displacing competitors' products, suggesting that Symantec's claims weren't grounded in reality. "How can you call something 'extreme truth' when it's not true?" he quipped.

One longtime Symantec partner with knowledge of the campaign told that while it was intended to poke fun at McAfee attendees, Symantec is dead serious about competing more aggressively with its smaller rival.

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"Symantec believes that McAfee has done a pretty good job marketing their products, but Symantec is tired of losing market share to what they consider to be a small company with an inferior product line," said the source, who requested anonymity.

Symantec's campaign is viewed by some as a sign of loosening budgets in the security industry. Michael Sullivan, CEO of Quest Network Solutions, based in Dallas, has seen an uptick in security business over the past two months and says more vendors are calling with requests to carry their products. "The economy is picking up steam, and companies are realizing that security is a strategic decision, not just a commodity," Sullivan said.

But other solution providers see this type of marketing as symptomatic of the security industry's wrongheaded approach to showcasing its products. "It's like going to a chocolate convention and being bombarded with ads for vanilla. I'm pretty sure that all of the pastry chefs were already aware that vanilla existed," said Ken Phelan, CTO of Gotham Technology Partners, a solution provider based in Montvale, N.J.

Good security products don't require extensive marketing, but poor products don't enjoy the same luxury, notes Andrew Plato, president at Anitian Enterprise Security, a Beaverton, Ore.-based security solution provider. That's why he says it's best to view these sorts of stunts with the utmost circumspection.

"When you don't have a very good product to sell, there are two ways to increase sales: improve the product, which is time consuming and expensive, or just market the heck out of it, which is quick and cheap," Plato said.