OS vendor tweaks Microsoft, builds brand with 'Sorry Bill' ads

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Many marketing experts believe that b-to-b messaging should be as clear and simple as the text of a children's book. Well, one Linux operating software developer took that approach to the ultimate conclusion in an effort to build awareness among original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and value-added resellers (VARs)-and tweak primary competitor Microsoft Corp. in the process.

Markham, Ontario-based Net Integration Technologies and its agency, Jouard Wozniak Advertising, launched a major campaign in June that centers on a collateral piece called "Sorry Bill," a colorful, retro-looking book reminiscent of "Dick and Jane" stories. In it, Net Integration demonstrates how much easier and better its Ntix OS is than Microsoft's OS offering.

"Our OS is a complex, technical product and we felt we needed to make it as simple as possible for business executives to understand it," said Ozzy Papic, Net Integration's president-CEO. "And simplicity itself is a key appeal of Ntix; it's an area where Microsoft has been stumbling."

Campaign stands out

Net Integration launched the "Sorry Bill" campaign in May at the CeBIT show in New York. The company then packaged more than 100,000 copies of the book with summer issues of VARbusiness and Computer Reseller News. "It looks completely out of place with the traditional tech ads," Papic said. "But that's precisely what we were going for." Additionally, a "Sorry Bill" Web site was created to share the story online.

The cover of "Sorry Bill" shows a bespectacled boy-exactly how you'd imagine a young Bill Gates-fixing his broken wagon, while another kid stands proudly in front of a shiny, fast-looking racer. The story starts out like this: "Bill's got a server/With a flashy OS./"Drive with me Mabel,/'cause I am the best." But after Bill and Mabel promptly crash, the story continues, "Oh my, oh no!/The OS is not stable./'But you promised, you promised'/Cries unfortunate Mabel."

The book stirred up a little bit of controversy and a lot of buzz for Net Integration. "We've had very little negative feedback, just a few raised eyebrows," Papic said. "Meanwhile, our prospects and customers keep asking for more copies of it. And the PR side of things has proven to be huge, as the book and the OS have been featured in dozens of industry magazines and blogs."

The "Sorry Bill" piece wasn't merely about awareness. The end of the book includes a detailed chart that compares Ntix to Microsoft and offers a free trial download of the software.

Web site traffic doubled

"Since we introduced `Sorry Bill,' Ntix downloads and Web site traffic have more than doubled," Papic said. "We could never have gotten that kind of response with a traditional ad campaign."

Perhaps even more important, the recognition has helped Net Integrations seal a deal with Ingram Micro, one of the world's largest technology distributors. "Ingram Micro places exacting demands on its technology vendors, and we are very fortunate to be able to partner with them" Papic said. "We fit into their Linux strategy very nicely."

Thanks in part to the "Sorry Bill" campaign, the company has also begun to build partnerships with OEMs such as Sun Microsystems and IBM Corp. in Asian markets. "The key to marketing to a computing OEM is to make sure you're perceived as a company that has arrived, that you're solid and of value to them," Papic said. "The campaign has raised Net Integration to that level of recognition."

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