Tangled Up in Big Blue: IBM Replaces Smarter Planet With ... Bob Dylan

Launches Cognitive Business Campaign with Monday Night Football Spots

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IBM is making a sweeping change to the way it frames its business internally and how the tech giant projects its value to the world.

The firm's Smarter Planet brand strategy has been replaced with what IBM calls Cognitive Business, a reflection of the seismic impact of cloud computing and data analytics on the company and its clients. The brand-platform update is the third in twenty years for IBM, and will involve an investment at least as large as that of its seven-year Smarter Planet effort, which encompassed around 100 TV spots and several hundred print ads.

"We will apply at least that amount behind the Cognitive Business idea behind Watson," said Jon Iwata, IBM's senior VP marketing and communications, who would not provide campaign budget numbers. "As we did with Smarter Planet, we will roll this out globally and it will continue and gain a great deal of momentum in the coming months." The initiative was developed in conjunction with IBM's longtime agency of record Ogilvy & Mather.

The company teased the concept last night during Monday Night Football on ESPN with spots featuring the computerized voice of IBM's Watson chatting with former "Jeopardy!" champ Ken Jennings and folk rock legend Bob Dylan.

"We wanted to go kind of big," said Mr. Iwata of the TV launch and buy.

"My analysis shows your major themes are that time passes and love fades," states Watson, IBM's data-parsing system, in an unlikely conversation with the music icon. "That sounds about right," responds Mr. Dylan, a prolific songwriter known for his lyrical prowess, in one of three :30 ads.

IBM began to realize that the message of Smarter Planet -- basically that computing is and will be integral to everything, as manifested in innovations such as smart power grids and connected cars -- is no longer a differentiator for the business, explained Mr. Iwata. The emerging pattern, as harnessed and fostered by its Watson technology, is that these super computing capabilities can be built into anything digital because they live in the cloud.

Today's fascination with artificial intelligence and big data analytics was another indicator that the company should turn the page on Smarter Planet. "This will resonate strongly with not only our current clients but…companies and decision makers and software developers who aren't currently IBM clients," said Mr. Iwata of Cognitive Business.

"We wanted to get ahead of that," he said. "I think of these as branded points of view, and they underpin our advertising but they're a lot more than that."

IBM has based an array of data management and analytics services tailored to industries from retail to healthcare on the Watson technology. The cognitive computing system ingests data -- like medical data, media research, or Bob Dylan lyrics -- at a rapid pace, learning and optimizing its analytics and language skills with each new bit of information.

The Cognitive Business strategic brand platform follows IBM's e-business initiative of 1995 which was followed by its Smarter Planet branding launched in 2008. Since Smarter Planet was introduced, IBM has developed new industry-specific ways for business clients to use Watson's cognitive computing system, highlighted by partnerships with The North Face for e-commerce, Nielsen for media planning, and Memorial Sloan Kettering for oncology research, for example, in addition to enabling mobile app developers to access the technology.

As part of its ongoing quest to turn Watson into a continuously-learning entity resembling the human brain, IBM acquired Merge Healthcare in August; the company provides medical imaging processing. When IBM announced the purchase, it suggested that Merge's technology would help Watson "see."

The new Cognitive Business brand strategy is intended to guide not only marketing communications, but how the company's salespeople interact with clients, and how it recruits new talent. Staff will learn about the initiative and find training tools such as videos and infographics on IBM's personalized internal online and mobile university, deemed Think Academy.

Today, an 8-page insert promoting Cognitive Business is featured in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Digital efforts including display, paid search and social media ads will complement the print insert and television spots.

"Digital is not the destination but the foundation for a new era of business," reads the insert. "We call it cognitive business, and IBM Watson is the platform."

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