Ad Review Rating: 2 1/2 stars IBM'S CLEVER NEW ADS DON'T ADD UP TO SOLID CAMPAIGN

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You can almost hear the agency pitch at the client meeting.

"Yeah, and it'll have an international look. And it'll have plenty of jargon for the digitheads, but also appeal to computer illiterates. It'll have gorgeous cinematography; we'll use Leslie Dektor. Plus a nice hard competitive edge. And it'll be funny. Not whoopee cushion funny. Charming funny. You know, like Apple.

"Basically, in terms of image and global positioning, it deals with a whole mess of issues all at once."

We're guessing, of course. But whatever Ogilvy & Mather, New York, said to pitch its latest IBM Corp. spots, the client bought in. And, verily, the new brand image campaign is everything we presume the agency promised: clever, competitive, charming and funny. And wrong. It is also wrong.

Or, at least, not quite right-just as all of the recent IBM work has been not quite right.

This time the problem is that the three arresting and amusing new spots fail to achieve their principal goal: to re-establish a unique and positive brand image. Ultimately they are very much unlike the last decade's worth of charming, funny, handsome, competitive Apple ads, because they don't convey what makes IBM IBM.

There are three news spots, all using the same joke: unexpected people in an unexpected context using unexpected slang to express unexpected familiarity with things digital. The best of them features a group of nuns in a Czech convent. Two sisters quietly converse, as translated in subtitles:

Sister A: "I'm trying to get that new operating system, Chicago, but they keep pushing back the release date."

Sister B: "The new OS/2 Warp from IBM sounds pretty hot."

Sister A: "OS/2 Warp?"

Sister B: "I just read about it in . You get true multitasking. Easy access to the Internet."

Sister A: "I'm dying to surf the net. [then a beeping sound] Whoops. My beeper."

Then the tagline: "IBM. Solutions for a small planet."

The Computing Nun. Very cute. Familiar, as well.

The surprise-slang premise is something we've seen before, from Pepsi, among other advertisers. And if you haven't seen it before, you'll see it again. Soon. The other two spots hinge on the same comic incongruity. One features two French retirees ("My hard drive's maxed out ... " "Bummer.") and the other a pair of Arab merchants in a Moroccan bazaar.

It's almost as if the writers couldn't decide whether the language/character dissonance is funny because it's ridiculous or because it illustrates just how universal the digital age has become. Either way, the juxtaposition simultaneously powers the spots and overpowers the message.

For instance, the nuns' inside chatter about Chicago, referring to the project name of Microsoft's oft-delayed new version of Windows, is such a hoot that the hard-edged sell that follows has little chance of registering. And because the subtitles are so hyperbolically colloquial, any selling point that emerges may be deemed as exaggerated, too.

The campaign is not bad. After all, first do no harm. But neither is it good. Maybe the hiring of ex-Apple creative guru Steve Hayden will help O&M find the elusive formula. Meantime, maybe the client ought to do what Paul Reiser has been advising us:

Next time, before you buy, at least think about IBM.

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