Archives For IBM

Whoever designs the software defines the world.

Radical urban planner Mitchell Sipus questions the universal appeal of “smart cities”

Even then, they are still kind of dopey. Ok, dopey is a bit harsh. At best, they are an imprecise measure of a spectacularly subjective quality, which is, ironically, ‘quality’. At worst, they can totally warp an agency’s culture and turn relatively normal people into career dickheads. Irregardless, it was welcome news to learn that both our China team and our Sydney team were handed silver trophies from the DMA Echo Awards last week.

When we’re talking about demand generation in particular, the Echos are the creative awards you want to win, because of the fairly significant and reasonably rigorous effectiveness component of the judging criteria. The work has to be good, it has to be real and it has to have worked.

What was really interesting was that the two pieces of work were for the same client, reaching the same (basic) audience, entered in the same awards category to produce the same awards result: silver. But the 2 pieces are radically different from each other – in form, strategy and tone.

The Ogilvy China team produced a branded content film called Parallel Paths for the Notes productivity suite, which told the story of two young and hungry salesmen climbing the corporate ladder, and let the Lotus information flow naturally throughout the story. This piece picked up a similar coloured trophy from Spikes just a few weeks earlier.

The Sydney team were tasked with convincing CIOs to outsource parts of the workload and resources they would normally consider to be the domain of ‘their department’. The approach here was to appeal to the audience as people, not roles, and draw a parallel (see what I did there?) with their own workloads – in this case, mowing the lawn.

DMA echo, award, Ogilvy Sydney

It’s hard to ignore the fact that someone just sent you a load of grass.


The “Grass Pack’ as it became known is particularly interesting, as it’s almost retro in execution: a completely analogue, dimensional mailer. It was particularly effective, I believe, because of the contrarian approach the team took to delivery. The average IT manager’s inbox is overflowing with messages, while their in-office pigeon holes would be lucky to see more than the occasional leaflet. If you want to stand out, move away from the crowd, which is part of the reason why a piece of artificial turf outperformed a dozen email campaigns, combined.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”.

I love to say it. Which is why I’m going to point out that I called Direct Mail “The comeback kid” a couple of years ago, and I think the assertion is still valid. There are a lot of fundamental disciplines that classic DM can offer to digital campaign planning (the importance of the list, the creative opportunities of segmentation and personalisation, the advantage of perceived value versus actual cost and so on).

But if you treat the desk space (rather than the desktop) as media space, the reach and frequency of creative mail can be spectacular, especially if you are selling into a ‘buying cell’ of multiple stakeholders and decision-makers.

I don’t think these pieces are good because they won (I think they are good and they won). We’ve had other great pieces struggle in award shows this year, I believe, partly because the complexity of the solution slowed them down. We’ve even had pieces rejected by awards show entry co-ordinators for being in the wrong category, only to be rejected again in the categories suggested to us by those same co-ordinators, again for being in the wrong category. At that point, you know it’s time to walk away from that particular casino.

Again, congrats to our China team for creating entertainment from email software and to our Sydney team for cleverly moving against the herd.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+


Google has certainly copped a lot of flak for its corporate motto “Don’t be evil” and some of the criticism has merit, but I still love the simplicity of the phrase and the boldness of the sentiment.  It demonstrates a lot of respect for the intelligence of the employees and a willingness to give them room to make their own decisions. Also, it’s a very instructive example of the difference between guidance and rules.

We’ve been working towards a guiding philosophy for the sort of marketing we do (or at  least, the sort we’d like to do) that gives us enough room to make decisions while providing a clear direction, or reference point, to check that we’re making progress.

And the closest we’ve got so far is this: “Be useful”

If truth be told, it started out as “Don’t be useless” which we liked as a both homage and self-directed threat. But we had a bout of the positives and tried to make it more about what you should do, rather than what you can’t.

But what does it mean? Take a look at a lot of traditional marketing (the ads, the catalogues, the mailers, the webpages and emails), and try to measure it’s usefulness. How much simpler does it make your life (or just your day)? How much did you learn from it? How much more do you know now than you did before you read or listened to that piece of marketing? What can you do now that you couldn’t do before? How much time or effort has it saved you? If you had to pay for that piece of marketing, how much would you be willing to hand over?

FWIW, I think this is particularly important when answering briefs that describe the audience as “Time-poor” (ands that’s just about everyone, as far as I can tell). If they don;t have much time for anything, they certainly don’t have time to spend on stuff that isn’t useful to them.

These are pretty tough questions for a piece of marketing collateral to answer. But what if we stopped creating marketing and started building something else on behalf of our clients? Something that helped people, that gave them information, or a tool or an experience, or wisdom? Or anything really, as long as it was useful.

We’ve been playing at the edges of this for a while – our Live Event Matchmaking effort for IBM’s Pulse events was a step, but we believe we’ve moved even closer with a recent campaign for IBM’s sponsorship of the Australian Open 2011 tennis tournament. We took a look at all the data that IBM generate  from the action on the court, married it up with all th open-source data that fans generate on the web and presented it back as a data-powered window on the Open experience:

Yes, it is marketing, but we’re hoping that it is useful marketing. And we’re going to spend a lot more of our time trying to figure out how to do more of it. Let me know if you’re on a similar path.

We’d been talking about a visit to the Latin-American markets for a while, but the final decision to go was extremely last-minute, timed to coincide with a few other meetings and get-togethers in various cities.

First stop was the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, which really has to be the ultimate urban mash-up: ornate European architecture, a vibrant street-art scene, developing-economy sprawl to the outskirts, the world’s highest density of old Puegots, and some of the most passionate approaches to driving I’ve ever witnessed. It’s no accident (pun intended) that this is the country that gave us Juan Manuel Fangio.


The team @ Buenos Aires choose to intersect "kids" and "celery"


The team at Ogilvy Buenos Aires did a superb job hosting and the local IBM clients really came to the party for a very lively workshop. Interestingly, there was a real willingness to use the session to cut to the heart of some of the process questions around briefing (and brief-writing), which is really important when you want to put collaboration into practice. The team were quick to grasp the importance of local insights and we moved quickly to discussions of where to find them & how to cultivate them – there was also plenty of interest in using The Bomb Squad as way to get more of the stakeholders and influencers involved in the messaging, up front.

Mexico City was the next stop, but I really can’t tell you much about this high-altitude city of over 21 million people – we spent a grand total of 13 hours in the country. Several of those hours, however, were spent with the IBM marketing team, learning about this high-growth market that is starting to detach from the US and become a major high-tech manufacturing player. Its these kind of markets – the ones in a period of change, emerging from the shadows of more powerful economies – that really do need insight-driven marketing. A global brand can only take you so far, particularly when your competitors have also recognised the growth potential of the local market.


There's always a need to tune in to local thinking.


I had been warned that the spirit of competition was alive and well amongst the people of Latin and South America, and the Mexico City edition of w2fm bore the maxim out. The game of “Features to Benefits” generated some real debate, and we even managed to squeeze in a quick game of “What’s My Motivation In This Scene?” that revealed some surprising local drivers in the server market. Again, this is the stuff that you simply can’t find in global guidance decks. We had time for a very quick sampling of the local fare before heading off to catch yet another plane.

We had a pretty big turn out for w2fm in Sao Paulo – probably as large as the crowd in Beijing – which can sometimes be a challenge in terms of generating interaction and participation. It’s a fact of human nature that it is easier to “hitch a ride” with a larger group. But the natural expressiveness and love of communication that my Brazilian friends had assured me were national traits won out and, pretty quickly, we got rolling.  Some of the tools and games naturally  lend themselves to a bit of friendly competition, revealing why Brazilians are world champs in so many sports – they really put everything into it.


Proving that 2 heads are indeed better.


Collaboration is something that seems to come naturally in this part of the world – it’s a very inclusive culture. Perhaps the most striking thing about this high-velocity tour of South America was the just-below-the-surface tension between the raw creativity and innovation that defines so many growth markets, and the hierarchichal, process-driven nature of so many multinational organisations.

The companies that can loosen their processes enough to let local innovation shivne – and then encourage a culture of lateral, country-to-country sharing – will find real value in emerging and growth markets, beyond the obvious attraction of selling to new markets.

I did get to visit one more city, unintentionally, on my way home: Santiago looks beautiful, in a dramatic, just beneath-the-Andes kind of way, but is very hard to recommend as a half-day trip for the international visitor.

We spent way too much time in airports and on planes, but we also spent time with so many great new friends at some fabulous places, so don’t cry for me Argentina. One of the highlights of the downtime was this organised tour of Buenos Aires Street art:


In BA, you don't need permission to paint your own house like this, apparently


A film production company, near palermo Hollywood.

On the wall of a power station - the artists were invited by the power company.

graffitimundo runs informative, relaxed walking tours twice a week

Whether you’re trying to write a brief – or an operating system – clear thinking and simple objectives are pretty much all you need, the rest gets figured out as you go along. Wired magazine has just published a short yet brilliant interview with University of North Carolina computer scientist and author Fred Brooks who not only designed IBM’s first successful mainframe but also coined what became known as Brooks’ Law: the flawed assumption that more manpower meant predictably faster progress.

In the interview, he shares some great perspective on how things get designed, but may favourite has to be this one:   “The critical thing about the design process is to identify your scarcest resource. Despite what you may think, that very often is not money. For example, in a NASA moon shot, money is abundant but lightness is scarce; every ounce of weight requires tons of material below. On the design of a beach vacation home, the limitation may be your ocean-front footage. You have to make sure your whole team understands what scarce resource you’re optimizing.”

It’s a great way of thinking about a problem and if we apply it to brief-writing for marketing, we’d have to admit that the scarcest resource we have is the audience’s attention.

Among Brook’s other advice: live prototyping; examining failures more closely than successes; and (perhaps surprisingly) judicious use of silos – something he refers to as “encapsulation”.

After just a little taste, I’m loving the way Fred Brooks thinks and now I’m on the hunt for his books The Mythical Man-Month and the just-released The Design of Design.

Check the Wired Interview here.