Partners’ campaign a study in quickness

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Using the tagline ‘‘It’s b2bx3,’’ IBM Corp., i2 Technologies Inc. and Ariba Inc. launched a $90 million marketing campaign last month. They are trumpeting their partnership in building e-marketplaces, an increasingly competitive market where the three go up against Oracle Corp. and Commerce One Inc., among others.

IBM, i2 and Ariba became partners primarily because of the pace of the Internet economy, said John Kahan, VP-e-commerce strategies for IBM. ‘‘It’s necessary because of speed,’’ he said. Instead of opting to develop its own applications similar to Ariba’s e-procurement software or i2’s supply chain management software, IBM decided to partner because it was a faster path, he said.

Speed was also critical for the marketing campaign, which debuted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other national publications. ‘‘I say, let’s get it 90% right, but let’s get it out,’’ Kahan said.

The ads were created, from concept to placement, in about eight weeks. ‘‘Normally, programs like that can take six to eight months,’’ Kahan said.

Streamlined process

The process was streamlined because the project had only one lead agency: Ogilvy & Mather, IBM’s agency. The task for Ogilvy & Mather was to create a look that was distinct for the alliance--and different from the e-business campaign that Ogilvy had helped create for IBM. ‘‘I was very happy with the first ad concepts that we saw,’’ said Karen McCavitt, Ariba’s director of brand and demand. ‘‘I felt immediately that this didn’t look like an IBM ad.’’

However, elements of IBM’s e-business campaign do appear in the ads. The black-and-white photography resembles that of the e-business campaign, and, more important, IBM’s e-business logo appears in the ads.

Bob Parker, VP of e-commerce for AMR Research Inc., said the alliance made a good decision in going with IBM’s agency. ‘‘To its credit, even though you have three very successful companies, the alliance did the right thing in looking to IBM to take the lead on the marketing side, especially when you consider there’s a lot of missionary work for building e-marketplaces, just like there was for e-business,’’ he said.

Michael Martin, VP-business development for i2, likes the IBM elements in the ads. ‘‘That’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,’’ he said, explaining that his company gains a ‘‘tremendous’’ amount of credibility by its association with IBM.

For his part, Kahan said IBM also wanted to help its brand by being affiliated with i2 and Ariba, which have relatively strong Web brands. ‘‘They’re more hip,’’ he said.

But in partnerships, there is always the question of how elastic brands are and whether staid IBM can be credibly linked to the Web-oriented partners.

Ariba, for instance, is currently pushing the b-to-b marketing envelope with its ad campaign that features James Carville and Wayne Newton, two people who are detested as often as they are loved. Additionally, the ads, which feature Carville advising a girl running for student council, don’t exactly flatter Ariba’s potential customers.

‘‘These ads are saying, ‘Our customers are totally stupid and they need us,’ ’’ said Al Ries, chairman of branding consultancy Ries & Ries Inc.

Others see Ariba’s ads as benign. ‘‘I think what Ariba is playing to, and what IBM has done as well, is to play to the general insecurity at the board level of old-economy companies,’’ Parker said.

Ultimately, however, the alliance will probably be less about marketing communications than about straightforward marketing. ‘‘It’s a pretty powerful combination because they each bring something different to the table, but something complementary,’’ said Steve Kafka, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc.

Ariba and i2 supply software, while IBM provides the sales force. Of the 250 salespeople dedicated to the alliance, IBM supplied 210.

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