Illogical ads at their worst

This ad campaign must have cost IBM Corp. a lot of money, but it sure is a dumb one. Two guys in baby blue space suits claiming to be from a parallel universe. It’s sort of like the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey” set in corporate America.

In my opinion, it’s the ad agency that must be from a parallel universe. And it’s not only IBM that seems to have reached across the space-time continuum to find a doppelganger Madison Avenue.

Flipping through just a week’s collection of trade journals and TV shows reveals a number of other examples of suspicious illogic. Does anyone actually understand what WorldCom is trying to say with its “Generation D” ads or who the company is trying to target?

How about the Genuity Inc. “Black Rocket” series? The very sight of a little toy rocket ship, the design of which Buck Rodgers would have considered quaint, can silence the most vocal critic.

How many people actually believe Microsoft Corp.’s “five 9s” ads, which imply that the company’s servers will have 99.999 per cent uptime – which translates into about five minutes of downtime per year? It takes longer than that to apply the updates that come out over the course of a month. I note that the visuals that go along with the ads neglect to include a decimal point – maybe they actually mean 9.9999 per cent uptime.

Come to think of it though, are the ads any less confusing than Microsoft’s .Net “strategy”?

There are still more. Sun Microsystems Inc.’s “the dot in .com” series in which a large black sphere destroyed corporate boardrooms sure made me want to rush out and get one for myself.

Then again, having AT&T Corp.’s business networking group portrayed as being chiseled in sandstone in ancient Egypt might explain some things I’ve observed about traditional telephone companies and suppliers.

I know it’s hard to sell some things. It’s even harder when it’s no longer politically correct to use the old standbys like sex as a sales tool (although Computer Associates International Inc. doesn’t quite seem to have gotten that message, and that message will be nowhere to be seen at NetWorld+Interop this month in Las Vegas.) But I’ve seen enough good ads to know it can be done.

There just seems to be a bunch of companies that use ad agencies specializing in the obscure, and amazingly enough, these companies approve the results. Makes you wonder how good their judgment is when dealing with corporate business matters.

Maybe I’m getting old and out of touch but it seems to me to mirror the premise in TV’s “Third Rock From The Sun” – visitors from outer space that don’t quite get how humans think. I wonder what these agencies from far, far away get paid with – mirror-image, reverse logic dollars?

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University’s University Information Systems. He can be reached at [email protected].

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