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Amid the madness of March, b-to-b advertisers turned out in strong numbers to compete for attention during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, which has become one of the more vaunted and expensive venues in televised sports. Some advertisers got their game on; some did not. Here's a look at some of the b-to-b spots, which by degree of quality ranged from air balls to three-point plays.

Air balls: A perennial top seed, IBM Corp. missed the mark with a spot that featured a series of robotic, expressionless corporate warriors who mouth the line from the old Kinks' anthem: "I'm not like everybody else." While IBM has long since shed its stodgy, conformist image, it's hardly become the vanguard of the counterculture.

The questions "What makes you unique?" and "What makes you special?" are superimposed. Blue flower petals mysteriously waft through the scenes framed by the standard blue letter boxes favored by IBM. We have no argument with the energy and visual magnetism of the spot, we just weren't able to divine a relevant message.

A second spot from the IBM series also struck us as off-key. In the opening scene, garden-variety office plants are making their way through midtown Manhattan. States the narrator: "They left behind the cubicles of the commoditized enticed by the allure of the innovators." The plants all end up in the lobby of a sleek-looking office building, but the ad fails to bring its story full circle by noting what brought them there. Viewers are left to assume that the generic-looking lobby is home to the innovative thinkers that IBM is championing.

Free-throws: Among the serviceable creative we saw during the commercial breaks were spots from Cisco Systems and Staples. Networking concern Cisco played off an espionage theme by depicting a man with a British accent who's apparently savvy with high-tech communication tools briefing another man who's preparing for a mission to Oslo. The Norwegians always merit careful scrutiny, of course.

When the would-be agent inquires if the device he's being equipped with is secure, the other man curtly intones: "It's on our network. Secure!" Cisco smartly drives home the spot's central point with the headline: " Security … Powered by Cisco."

In a spot for office supplies company Staples, two warring armies of the Genghis Khan era prepare to square off in what promises to be a savage encounter. But the battle's put on hold when the leader on one side pushes a red "Easy" button. From the earth rises a great wall to protect the troops from the charge.

The narrator explains away the borrowed interest by stating: "The world may not come with an "Easy" button, but your business does—it's called Staples."

Three-pointers: Microsoft Corp. unveiled spots for its "Software for the people-ready business" campaign during the tourney and came away a winner. One spot depicted everyday people doing everyday activities across a broad sweep of places as they prepare to spend a day in the workplace. Microsoft effectively and artfully makes the case that these people—your employees—are only as good as the software that supports their efforts. The human side of software appropriately gets its due.

Panasonic takes full advantage of television's ability to demonstrate a product's value by putting one of its Toughbook laptop computers to the torture test. An engineering type in a hard hat accidentally knocks a Toughbook off a table. It all but bounces back in the man's hands, no worse for the wear. The unique selling proposition of toughness comes through with great clarity.

Finally, there's a spot for Dell Computer that touts the server maker's skill at helping customers "expand seamlessly for a faster return on your IT dollars." The futuristic images from a corporate setting sizzle with visual appeal. But it all boils down to a final scene where a bank of Dell servers are all that remains in the frame and bask in a heroic light.

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