IBM Celebrates 100 Years With Life Lessons (and a 4-Page Ad)

2,500-Plus Words of Advice Plays Down Centennial Celebration to Impart a Bit of Wisdom

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View the ad.
View the ad.

As IBM turns 100 years old today, and in accordance with its age, the tech giant is taking out its reading glasses for a celebratory 2,592-word four-page ad.

This ad will be featured for one day in U.S. issues of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post and then be accessible only online.

Referring to this insert as "three pages of intense thinking," Ann Rubin, VP-global advertising for IBM, admitted that this ad is "not your typical anniversary advertising. We wanted to be provocative," she said.

The overall message is about the "credibility" and "values" that IBM has adopted through its longevity, Ms. Rubin said. With phrases like "Perhaps you'll agree with us...," and "We have learned...," it is not difficult to imagine IBM celebrating this birthday with a bit of gloating aimed perhaps at today's flashy startups.

But IBM has recently proved it's not letting its age get the best of it, something the tech company isn't shy talking about. One topic touched upon in the ad is the creation and success of Watson, a computer named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, on "Jeopardy" this past February.

Originally targeting the leaders of businesses and forward thinkers, Ms. Rubin says that now "there is something in there for everyone." Everyone who's willing to read it, that is .

With sidebars and subheads, it is likely that most people won't want to read the rest of the 1,888 words in old-media form. But Ms. Rubin believes that if people read the subheads, that they will want to "go back and get some more."

As the birthday itself is being overshadowed by the lessons IBM is trying to teach in this ad, Ms. Rubin explains, "We're not great because we've been around 100 years. We're great for other reasons."

IBM isn't the only company to force its target audience to break out bifocals. BMW created a wordy ad that uses sarcasm as it attempts to target an audience that is "not afraid to insert a letter between A and B." Admittedly the very first line reads, "We bet you hardly ever read ads." But for BMW and IBM, they're counting on a sudden change of heart from consumers who hopefully have enough time to sit and read.

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