IBM Plans Linux Ad Push

IBM is continuing its push to align itself with open-source software with a new integrated ad campaign that introduces Linux as a young autodidact who absorbs knowledge from diverse sources.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant began teasing the ad this week, running online ads on sites like NYTimes.com that show a young boy. The ads read, “He is” and then feature a stream of different adjectives that describe the boy’s qualities. The ads leave unclear what product IBM is pushing, encouraging visitors to meet the boy in a commercial during the men’s final of the U.S. Open or Fox telecast of the NFL on Sunday.

The 90-second TV spot features a young boy of about 9 or 10 seated in what appears to be an examination room. Off-camera voices speak about how remarkable he is, picking up whatever he is taught. A stream of noted luminaries are shown tutoring the boy, mostly through aphorisms, while he sits impassively. Appearances are made by a grab bag of achievers, including Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.(“Collecting data is only the first step toward wisdom, but sharing data is the first step toward community”), Penny Marshall (“Everything’s about timing, kid”), and Muhammad Ali (“Speak your mind, don’t back down”). An observer notes that the more the boy learns, the more the world will benefit. In the end, one off-camera observers intones, “His name is Linux.”

IBM’s agency, WPP Group’s Oglivy, designed the campaign. The agency was also responsible for IBM’s “Bagotronics” ad campaign, which also began with slightly mysterious teaser ads before using a TV commercial to explain, in abstract terms, a very technical subject. In the “Bagotronics” case, the humorous ad was part IBM’s serious $800 million ad push for its on demand computing strategy.

Likewise, the Linux ad represents IBM’s commitment to the open-source operating system, which has emerged as a credible alternative to Microsoft’s Windows for many computing systems. IBM’s ads feature the tagline, “The future is open,” a way to link the computer giant with the amorphous open-source movement that created Linux. Unlike Microsoft, which keeps its code mostly under wraps, open-source systems are tweaked at will and freely distributed.

This is not the first time IBM has advertising its Linux credibility. In 2001, the company kicked off a “Peace, Love and Linux” campaign that trumpeted Linux as a boon for customers and integral to tapping into the promise of intermeshed networks. The campaign’s down note came when San Francisco authorities ordered IBM to clean up the sidewalks it spray-painted with peace symbols, hearts and penguins as part of an overzealous guerrilla marketing effort.

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