IBM Drops $350 Million on New Ads

IBM Corp. is spending the remainder of its 2002 advertising budget — an estimated $350 million — on a new campaign designed to promote the company as a whole.

The new effort, which will use the tagline “E-Business is the Game. Play to Win,” includes Armonk, New York-based IBM’s familiar blue letterboxed TV ads, as well as daily and trade print, outdoor, radio, online and direct.

Multiple-page newspaper ads — which started Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal — will promote several company units, while other print, radio and outdoor executions will focus on particular clients, showing how they’re “playing to win.” Clients featured in the ads include eBay , Saks Inc. and Bank of America .

Print ads in vertical trades will aim to brand IBM’s solutions for particular industries, starting with automotive, retail and banking publications.

“E-business. It’s the only game in town,” reads copy from one execution. “And downtime means losing profits and opportunities, so you can’t let it happen. IBM Tivoli software allows you to predict the business impact of the technology you’re responsible for, so that you can make smarter decisions today.”

Accounting for 70 percent of its full-year spending, the new effort — designed by WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather — represents the most Big Blue has ever spent on a single advertising campaign. It’s also the first time that IBM has had a single, consolidated campaign across all of its divisions and offices.

The effort replaces several currently ongoing campaigns. The company’s long-running “Codernauts” ads — which featured two bumbling visitors from another dimension who explored IBM’s Tivoli, WebSphere and Lotus products — will be one of the first campaigns wrapped up.

A year ago, IBM took initial steps toward a company-wide campaign with “Big People, Big Ideas,” a print and Internet effort that spotlighted some of the company’s employees. However, IBM also continued running television spots and other ads at the same time, and has since discontinued the work.

In January, the company launched a television campaign featuring basketball legends who represented the various players of an smoothly-functioning, IBM-based infrastructure. In that effort, stars like Moses Malone and Muggsy Bogues became “Mainframe” and “Linux,” and faced down their team’s archrival, “Crash.”

Now, IBM says it’s planning to build off of the success of the basketball effort, which launched the “Play to Win” tag, and which will continue for several more weeks before being phased out.

“You could really look at [the basketball campaign] as more of a bridge,” said IBM spokesperson Carol Makovich. “The basketball ads emerged as almost an introductory iteration of the idea. The ‘Play to Win’ theme just got such a good reaction that we kind of built on that.”

Makovich said the campaign came about through a decision in autumn to rev up its pitches to business despite the recession, to convince businesses that e-business is the most important issue in business today — and that it’s more than e-commerce.

Thematically, the company-wide integration of messaging itself serves as a point of branding, Makovich said, a “subtle way to underscore IBM’s portfolio.” As a result, it’s also a sly shot at smaller, server, software and services specialists, which compete with the global technology giant.

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