'Middleware' Peddlers Arrive From Parallel Universe

By Published on .

IBM Corp. is deploying aliens from a parallel universe to extol the virtues of middleware -- that unglamorous but essential layer of software that enables
IBM 'codernauts' will soon tramp across TV screens.
seamless integration across business processes.

Teaser ads for the $210 million global campaign broke March 19 featuring two spacesuit-clad aliens, or "codernauts," with the headline: "They have come in search of better software."

Massive campaign
The massive integrated ad and marketing effort was created by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York. The new push marks the first time IBM's software division has incorporated all four of its middleware sub-brands -- DB2, Lotus, Tivoli and WebSphere -- into one campaign.

"From a marketing communications perspective, it's by far the most integrated and comprehensive campaign we've ever run," said Lou D'Ambrosio, vice president of worldwide marketing for IBM software.

Of the $210 million budget, IBM will spend $100 million alone on TV and print and another $110 million on direct marketing, events, Web ad and marketing and other activities.

Budget for the outer space campaign is $210 million.
IBM is looking to underscore that its robust e-business software portfolio is the hub or glue by which a company's infrastructure -- hardware, software and services -- connect.

Distant universe
The campaign's creative premise revolves around the two codernauts, who are from a universe where software is proprietary and hard to use. They encounter IBM's e-business software portfolio and document their experiences with each in their diaries. The text of those entries will appear in what the company hopes are engaging and humorous four-page newspaper inserts starting next week.

The first of six TV spots featuring actor Avery Brooks break March 26 and deliver hard-hitting messages targeted to business executives about the importance of software in customers' e-business evolution. The spots forcefully tout IBM as the premier software provider and address the middleware sub-brands.

Microsoft's 'agile' effort
The need for speed and scalability is a theme also touted by Microsoft Corp., which broke its "Agility" campaign earlier this year (Advertising Age, Jan. 22). Microsoft's

Keeping humorous diaries.
effort via Interpublic Group Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, takes a far more subtle, almost sublime approach.

The IBM spots will air heavily on network TV and cable, particularly during IBM-sponsored sports events, through the end of the year. Three spot markets will receive additional emphasis: Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

The campaign continues IBM software's tagline: "It's a different kind of world, you need a different kind of software."

Beginning the first week of April, IBM will unleash brand-specific advertising showing the codernauts making important discoveries about software.

Tech heads like sci-fi approach
Mr. D'Ambrosio says Ogilvy and the IBM team found that the sci-fi approach appeals to IBM's target audiences -- business decision makers and information technology professionals including software engineers, developers, chief information officers and others. Research from focus groups showed that the idea of uncovering something new was crucial for technology-inclined audiences.

IBM has doubled its interactive spend supporting the campaign. "We're targeting people who live on the Web who have a technical background," Mr. D'Ambrosio explained. Besides Web ads, IBM's target audiences can download the commercials and print ads to engage with the alien plotline to get more information about the characters. IBM also hopes to launch a viral marketing effect.

No ad spending slowdown
Big Blue's emphasis on its $12.6 billion software business, of which approximately $10 billion is middleware, isn't surprising, given the need by old- and new-economy businesses to get serious about streamlining business processes and upgrading infrastructure. Despite a slowdown and postponement of corporate IT spending, IBM nonetheless is barreling ahead with the effort. IBM recently disclosed it would spend about 15% to 17% more on advertising despite weakness in the overall economy.

"We made the conscious decision that it was the right investment to make," Mr. D'Ambrosio said. "I think the reality is that economic challenges, slowdowns, clearly will have an impact. On the other hand, customers will need powerful software to help them transform their business processes to drive greater efficiencies in their organizations."

IBM's individual middleware offerings are growing; for example its DB2 database product grew 50% year over year, while Tivoli Storage software grew 80% in the fourth quarter of 2000. Overall, revenue for the middleware category posted 8% growth for 2000. But IBM is dwarfed by Microsoft, which reported fiscal year 2000 revenue of $22.96 billion. Oracle Corp., the database software provider, posted fiscal year 2000 revenue of $10.1 billion.

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

Most Popular
In this article: