When Cisco Systems introduced its latest big line of routers last week, it threw in something that's never come in a major platform from the company before: Fun.

The launch of the ASR1000 series of WAN edge routers was accompanied by a Facebook group, a product demonstration in the virtual world Second Life and a series of online video commercials that feature Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other fairy-tale figures as IT managers. To top it all off, chairman and CEO John Chambers introduced the product in an online video event where viewers could post questions as he talked.

This was a departure for Cisco, an IT giant traditionally known for dull blue-green racks of Ethernet ports and fine-print fact sheets listing interface speeds and acronyms. But since late 2006, the San Jose company has seemingly been looking south to Hollywood for inspiration. It launched TelePresence, a big-screen, high-definition form of videoconferencing, and acquired collaboration and social-networking companies.

Cisco's idea was that a networking vendor should help enterprises collaborate and reach their customers, and that social-networking technology will creep into business through the back door. If employees are going to congregate online instead of in person, why not sell the virtual water cooler?

For the ASR1000 launch, the company used all its traditional marketing tools, such as press briefings, direct email and product data on its website. But it added several Web 2.0 pieces to reach a wider audience and also show what the new, high-powered router is needed for.

At Cisco's virtual campus in Second Life, the company gave a stage presentation and then led participants into a building with visual demonstrations of the ASR1000, including one in which more than 150 current Cisco routers morphed into a single ASR1000, showing off its space-saving qualities. The initial event drew 60 or 70 participants, according to Doug Webster, director of service-provider marketing. Typical of Second Life, it wasn't exactly a buttoned-down audience.

"It was an interesting situation, talking about the power of the Quantum Flow Processor to people without their clothes on," Webster said.