IBM Uses U.S. Open to Debut TV Ads Targeting CMOs

Spots Are Part of Broader Effort to Position Firm as Customer Data and Analytics Solution

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IBM is inviting the CMO to join its Smarter Planet.

The company is set to debut two TV ads targeting chief marketers during the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Though the ads don't explicitly reference CMOs, they touch on topics of specific concern to marketers, from tailoring the customer experience to seeing customers as more than just a demographic. The pair of ads, which will run globally under IBM's longstanding Smarter Planet effort, are among the first to target marketers in general-market media. Ogilvy is IBM's agency.

"Since Big Data is emerging as a prized asset for companies to drive growth and innovation, the corporate marketing function is suddenly emerging as a bigger player in the C-suite," explained John Kennedy, VP-corporate marketing at IBM. "It's clear that marketers are increasingly looking for direction on how to interpret the change happening in the function."

IBM has long been a go-to resource for a wide swath of C-suite executives, from CEOs and CFOs to chief information officers and chief human resources officers. Yet, marketers haven't been on the company's radar -- until recently.

"Marketing is going to take over operations in a lot of ways. Everyone needs to think a little bit like a marketer, if they're going to satisfy the customer," explained Mike Hahn, group creative director at Ogilvy. "The person closest to the customer, carrying that flag, is the CMO."

According to research firm Gartner, by 2017 the CMO will spend more money on information technology than the CIO. It's a startling statement, but based on the rapid rise in data and analytics, is a means to better target and engage consumers.

IBM has been prepping for that reality for several years, investing in companies such as DemandTec, Sterling Commerce, Unica and Tealeaf Technology. In total, IBM has invested $2.5 billion in commerce-technology acquisitions and $14 billion in analytics-technology acquisitions. It has also committed to investing $100 million in analytics research and development over the next five years.

"Marketing has successfully avoided change management for decades," said David Cooperstein, leader of Forrester's CMO practice. "But marketers are aware now that technology can help them manage their efforts better."

IBM estimates that in 2012, $148 billion in information technology-related spending was owned or influenced by CMOs. And Gartner expects marketing budgets will grow 7% to 8% in the next 12 months -- or two times to three times the growth of IT budgets.

"Marketers weren't big consumers of technology 10 years ago," Mr. Kennedy said. "Marketing is the latest [area] to emerge with technology as an underpinning to the business. That's why it makes a lot of sense to reach out to the CMO."

IBM began approaching marketers a year ago, holding face-to-face interviews with 1,700 CMOs around the world. It found, in short, that CMOs are underwater, thanks to a flood of data, devices, social media and media channels. They recognize that changes are coming, but many admitted they and their organizations are not prepared. In fact, 78% expect more complexity over the next five years, though just 48% feel prepared to deal with it.

IBM recently held an event in New York for CMOs and CIOs, dubbing the pair the new "C-suite power team." It plans to reprise that event in Paris later this fall. The crux of IBM's message to marketers -- communicated through a host of outlets including newspaper ads, a forthcoming app and social media -- is that to be competitive, you must market to the individual, create systems of engagement and close any gaps between brand and culture.

Still, IBM isn't the only game in town, Mr. Cooperstein pointed out. Adobe, Omniture and Google are all players in the analytics and digital-marketing measurement space, while more recent entrants such as and Oracle are buying up companies in the social-media-marketing arena. And Deloitte and Accenture both have interactive divisions.

(And when it comes to reaching marketers via TV ads, IBM isn't alone either: two business-to-business companies, Undertone and Turn, have jumped into the space in recent months. Both ran ads on AMC, the former during "The Pitch" and the latter during "Mad Men.")

"The challenge for IBM and companies with long histories of selling technology is the ability to tell a story that doesn't lead with technology but is supported by technology," Mr. Cooperstein said.

Ann Rubin, IBM's VP-brand expression and advertising, believes it will accomplish that with the new spots, "Chief Executive Customer" and "Look-Alikes." The former shows a woman walking through the product cycle, influencing what gets made, how it's made and how it's sold. The latter shows a group of people dressed identically who gradually morph into individuals dressed and accessorized differently.

The ads are designed to also work in spots as short as 15 seconds and without sound, as IBM often airs ads in airports, targeting business travelers.

"It's so clear and simple that it's relevant to more than just CMOs," said Ms. Rubin of the ads. "Our broader target of the entire C-suite is best reached through sports environments. ...We think [these spots] will start the conversation in the C-suite."

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