IBM finds solution to become relevant

By Published on .

Advertiser: IBM Corp.
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, New York
Ad Review rating: 3 1/2 stars

We have learned two important lessons from the horrifying incident at Rancho Santa Fe:

1) Gullible, vulnerable people in the thrall of a maladjusted lunatic can become hapless victims of a mortally misguided science-fiction fantasy.

2) Watch who you hire to develop your Web site.

What better example, after all, of the fact that the clients' interests and the Webmasters' interests do not always coincide? Even before the principals of Higher Source Inc. suddenly skipped planet, the problem was plain enough. Any cursory tour of the Web reveals site after site with eye-catching graphics and no other utility whatsoever either to the consumer or the marketer.

Certainly Ogilvy & Mather has noticed. In two of its four marvelous new spots for IBM, we see prospective Web clients marveling over various sites' cool cybereffects until a colleague asks if anything can actually be bought or sold through them. Answer: no.

Black-and-white vignettes framed in a blue letterbox, the spots have a passing resemblance to Richard Avedon's terrible IBM campaign for Wells Rich Greene in the '80s. But, capturing as they do the essence of small-business computer culture, they owe a greater debt to BBDO's brilliant decade of anti-DOS spots directed by Joe Pytka for Apple.

No wonder. Pytka directed these, too. And with his help, after three years, Ogilvy has come of age on the IBM account.

There's nothing exactly wrong with the global campaign "Solutions for a small planet," which uses subtitles to put IBM products and cyberjargon in unlikely hands and mouths. It has undeniably communicated IBM's global reach, while mitigating the image of clumsy, soulless, out-of-touch corporate giant. What it never did was commend the purchase of IBM products and services. This campaign does--ironically, by reminding the target customers to enlist Big Blue's help in selling their products and services.

Sacrificing none of the subtitle campaign's style and attitude, the new spots make the long-awaited leap into relevance--a strategic shift foreshadowed by Ogilvy/Pytka's commerce-focused campaign for IBM Lotus, starring acerbic comic Denis Leary.

So, yes, this too is Joe Pytka, but the best of the spots almost looks like Joe Sedelmaier meets Joe Heller, as a typical office snafu is played out in dialogue right out of "Catch-22."

Woman: "It won't print."
Guy: "Still won't print?"
Guy 2: "Still won't print?"
Guy and woman: "It won't print."
Guy 2: "Jiggle the cable."
Guy: "I jiggled. I'll jiggle again."
Woman: "That's the light."
Guy: "That's the light?"
Woman: "That's the light."
Guy: "It won't print."
Woman: "It won't print."
Guy 3: "It won't print."
Woman 2: "What's the problem with the printer?"
Guy 2: "It won't print."
Guy 4: (peeking over cubicle) "Can you print?"
Guy 5: "It's not the printer. It's the computers. Hadley downloaded a virus off the Web."
Guy: (shaking his head) "Hadley."

Then we see an IBM virus scan in progress, and an ending title card: "IBM. Solutions for a small planet."

This planet, by the way. Don't buy computer services--and, for heaven's sake, just say no to applesauce--from anyone urging you to hitch a ride anywhere else.

Copyright April 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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