'Watson' campaign produces big business for IBM

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New York—What does a TV game show have to do with promoting an intensely complex data analytics engine developed by IBM Corp? In the case of IBM's Watson project, plenty. IBM's super data analytics engine, dubbed Watson, gained huge attention in February, and afterward, for being pitted again human competitors on TV's “Jeopardy!” and winning. But demand generation for IBM technology was part of an entire program from the beginning. The campaign, said Jim Gargan, VP-demand programs for IBM Corp., was to highlight the company's breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and analytics, leverage its ongoing “Smarter Planet” campaign about solving community issues and reintroduce the IBM brand to a younger generation without firsthand knowledge of the venerable software and services company. “At the beginning, we set up a tone: This wasn't about man versus machine but rather about the advancement of mankind,” Gargan said. “We wanted people to vote for Watson, not against him.” To that end, IBM and agency OgilvyOne Worldwide, New York, developed the theme, “Let's go, humans!” IBM partnered with “Jeopardy!” to stage a special edition of the show at the company's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., instead of Hollywood, Calif., the normal site of the show. (Watson's name, as well as that of the research center, honors Thomas J. Watson, the founder of 100-year-old IBM). IBM built a special stage set and invited two former “Jeopardy!” champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, to compete against Watson. “We paid 'Jeopardy!' a bunch of money and bought an audience,” Gargan said of the broadcast. “But the total audience was much bigger than we anticipated.” The event was supported by print advertising, TV spots on the NFL playoffs in advance of the broadcast, 22 YouTube videos and specially organized “watch parties” on the nights of the event. These attracted some 11,000 students on 60 campuses around the country, plus an abundance of IBMers as well. Meanwhile, Watson developed an enthusiastic following on “his” own Twitter and Facebook sites. The two-game show, broadcast Feb. 14-16, was one of “Jeopardy!'s” highest-rated, with 34.5 million viewers, and secured 1.3 billion impressions and $50 million in earned media for IBM. The technology behind Watson garnered a cover story in The New York Times magazine, was profiled on the PBS TV show “Nova” and was a subject on both “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Conan.” As a result, Gargan said, 70% of all impressions from the campaign were earned, not paid for. The Watson campaign produced $260 million in pipeline business and $37 million in business, Gargan said. “Even though the event took place on a game show, it was motivated by business and strategic issues first,” said Brian Fetherstonhaugh, chairman-CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide. “IBM wanted to capture the world's imagination with this invention and drive relevancy by demonstrating how IBM is making the world work better. “Thirdly, they wanted to sell stuff, things you can buy from IBM, like data analytics,” Fetherstonhaugh said. Prepping for the game also helped refine Watson's analytical capabilities, Gargan said. For its “training,” the engine was paired against numerous former “Jeopardy!” champions, and wound up winning only 71% of its games. “When the actual “Jeopardy!” broadcast rolled out, there was genuine drama,” Gargan said. “This wasn't a lock for the finals.” The machine now is being used at Columbia University and the University of Baltimore to refine medical diagnoses and to suggest treatments. Gargan said IBM feels its greatest social good can come in this area, but that the technology might be adapted to the financial services, traffic control or call centers.
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