The Pitch A balding butterball stumbles through a barren, Tatooine-like landscape. He's on the search for water, no doubt, but instead he finds a cluster of fridge-sized servers—the gods are obviously displeased with our afflicted protagonist. "The servers are too hot!" he exclaims, before crumbling in a heap. Moments from death, however, a bespectacled angel appears—the archetypal IT geek, passing along a message of sweet salvation. Turns out the desert scenario was all in Butterball's tortured mind, and he's just passed out at the base of a nifty IBM BladeCenter—a server ostensibly designed to run cooler than its competitors. All in all, a no-nonsense, slightly ham-fisted spot—as well as a salvo in an increasingly bitter server war twixt IBM and HP. And so begineth an era in which enterprise hardware shall be marketed like Fruit Loops—what an exciting time to be alive.Rip-Off Of Haven't manufacturers of cheap, swilly beer been using the lost-in-the-desert scenario for ages? Although their spots usually end with the protagonist discovering a trove of Bud Light and lots of jiggly girls in teddys, which I'd say are far more desirable prizes than a lesson about the new BladeCenter's operating temperature.
The Spin Unbeknownst to most of the millions of baseball fans who've recently been bombarded by this ad, IBM is taking an overt swipe at HP, maker of the rival BladeSystem. It's IBM's recent contention that HP's blade servers run too hot, and thus fry memory chips at an alarming rate. HP, of course, begs to differ, claiming that its own lab tests have fingered BladeCenters as the scorchers of the two. Trouble is, HP doesn't have a semi-comical commercial vouching for the BladeSystems' relative frigidity. So point to IBM for simply recognizing that, yes, there are IT geeks with purchasing power who watch pro sports. Will HP counter with mainstream advertising of its own, or will it continue working the drab trade-mag channels? With tens or hundreds of millions dollars at stake, it shouldn't be long till we see a counter from HP—perhaps the company still has Gwen Stefani under contract? I'd love to hear her salient BladeSystem thoughts.
Counterspin First off, the ad itself is a typical one for IBM as of late: stylish, for sure, but guilty of leaving painfully little to the imagination. If it's true that geeks aren't fond of abstractions, well, then I guess this is perfect—they pretty much club you over the head with the message, much like in that dreadful "The Heist" ad from a few months back. Secondly, is IBM grasping at straws by choosing to emphasise the BladeCenters' literal coolness, of all things? HP certainly seems to think so, claiming that its rival is "panicking" due to weak sales.
Takeaway The real story here seems to be the hawking of enterprise hardware to the masses. It's one thing for enterprise vendors to advertise in The Economist, quite another for them to run jokey spots during Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS. The slide in blade prices has a lot to do with that; the BladeCenter S system, set to launch on December 1, will sell for a paltry $2,599. With the hardware now so cheap, perhaps CIOs and their ilk feel a lot more comfortable about putting the purchasing decisions in the hands of their lower-level IT staffers—hey, even if the geeks in the basement mess up, it's no monumental loss. Still, I'd like to think your run-of-the-mill IT pro has a slightly sharper sense of humor than IBM's giving him/her credit for.
Hype-O-Meter 5.5 (out of 10). I was tempted to grade it lower because of the irritating lack of imagination, but at least the spot's message is clear and concise. And I'm actually sort of excited about a future in which enterprise hardware is pitched during sporting events—good to know my forthcoming son might live in a world in which Julio Jones is someday hired to endorse the Sun Constellation System.