The Power of Self-Parody: IBM's ad campaign (continued)

Technology Ad

In the Buzzword Bingo ad below, the Millennials (this time as a group) show their mild contempt for upper management, hinting at their ability to deal with the hype, albeit without dealing with the problem. The technology-marketing series of adverts attempts to conjure a unifying theme that such empty-worded approaches to innovation management aren’t going to move the needle.



To get a better understanding of the objective that Ogilvy & Mather were targeting with the campaign, it is important to step back and remember that IBM acquired the Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) consulting group in 2002, and has been trying to get people to think of IBM as a premiere consulting firm ever since. As Ogilvy & Mather put it, the Global Marketing Challenge was to:


…make people understand that IBM is not just the world’s leading technology company or one of the best business consulting firms – but that it’s both. And that is what makes IBM uniquely valuable to its clients.


…it’s been working hard – real hard – to change its image. Not from bad to good, for it was already viewed as one of the world’s most respected brands, but from its hard-earned and well ingrained distinction as the world’s leading technology company to something quite different – something unique and a category unto itself. In acquiring PwC, IBM had become the only company in the world able to bring the best of technology expertise and the best of business knowledge to bear for its clients…


‘Why?’ you ask? Because for the first time, clients could partner with one group who both understood their business and who could implement a solution. That may not sound sexy, but let’s say, for example, you’ve just acquired a large multinational corporation to take advantage of an of-the-moment business opportunity (think Barclays/ Lehman Brothers). You have very little time for messing about. Overnight you’re faced with the challenge of integrating two huge organizations with global presence. For that you need someone who knows how banking works, and you need someone who knows data and integration technology. And it would be really, really great if they were the same person. That’s IBM.


So the challenge to us became how do you get people to see the full IBM? Not IBM the technology company and not IBM the consultant – but the marriage of the two? Because in a world of ever-increasing domestic, European and most importantly low-cost emerging market competition, that marriage is something no one else can touch.

This point is hammered home best in the Innovation Man commercial below.




The zinger at the end of the technology ad says it all – too many managers are focusing on ideation, incubation, invigoration, and forgetting about the all-important implementation of innovation management. The ad-agency team sum up the broad parameters of the targeting of their technology-marketing campaign as follows.


A new angle on a tried and true IBM brand strength: In a world of talk, IBM gets stuff done. The beauty of the idea is that it’s unique to IBM and strikes directly at the heart of the traditional consulting firms. For McKinsey, Bain and Accenture talk – and talk plenty. They come in, ‘assess’ your problem, give you a 500 page PowerPoint deck and then bid you farewell… leaving you to your own devices as to how you’ll make their vision for your company real. In contrast, because IBM’s not only a world class business consultant but a technology implementer as well, they work with you from the thinking to the planning to the doing, taking you from strategy full through to execution. In other words, they solve your problem.


…it became very clear to us that although we would be focusing our message to the business community, the sentiment was universally resonant. For it wasn’t just McKinsey doing all the talking and none of the doing, it was our government, other peoples’ governments, big business and public figures. It seemed like no matter where you looked, there was a hell of a lot of talking going on and not much doing. Not much ownership or responsibility for action. The war in Iraq. Katrina. Undelivered promises of corporate responsibility. Energy policy and the environment.


Once the team felt that this theme had been adequately conveyed to the consumer, they were ready to turn the tables again, and put IBM back on top of the deck of innovation management. As in The Cool Factor ad below, it is here where they cash in on all that self-deprecating humor. In another flipping of roles, the solution provider is a Millennial with the manager complaining about his own expectations of Millennials in his own kids. The role exchange in the technology marketing also serves to bolster a youthful image for a seasoned company like IBM.



The tagline says it all. Business is the game. Play to win. Following this line, in the last technology ad profiled here, the Tree Huggers spot below again lets the Millennial bask in the sun of effective innovation management. At first, the Millennial patiently absorbs the awkward feeling of having her proposal being branded as just another green appeasement project, until the dollars and sense show the boss that energy efficiency can add up.



The austere piano backtrack in the technology-marketing clip accentuates the boss’s banal opinion of the process. When the numbers finally click in his mind, the music lifts to lofty heights (“you’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night, step into the sun, step into the light”) as the black-and-white motif that the series has used thus far is transformed into a colorful, virtual aviary – Stop Talking. Start Saving.


The technology-marketing campaign’s goals may seem to have been quite clear after scrutinizing the series of ads highlighted here (there are more of these commercials as well), but the truth of the matter is that pinning down IBM’s image problem as the crux of the challenge was rather elusive. It is in situations like this that execution of innovation management falters, delivery ends up falling short of expectations, and forecasts take a precipitous nosedive.


Reality’s hard. Once you realize that execution can only achieve remarkable dividends with the underpinning of solid strategy formulation and logistic assessment as the backbones of innovation management, you can confidently deploy with reliable follow through to support the effort. Bingo!


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