informa
/
2 min read
article

IBM's Branding Keeps Its Big Idea A Secret

IBM is building technology systems to help utilities and municipalities better manage resources. It thinks the water business could be worth $20 billion in five years, yet it has been running ads to make sure that nobody knows about it.
IBM is building technology systems to help utilities and municipalities better manage resources. It thinks the water business could be worth $20 billion in five years, yet it has been running ads to make sure that nobody knows about it.Using IT to source, allocate, and control complex utilities like water and electricity is a really big idea. Your average municipality can lose up to half of the fresh water that gets pumped through its faulty or inefficient pipes. Homes and business are notorious for wasting the stuff. An unconscionable amount of electricity is lost in transmission, or wasted because demand is so variable.

So addressing the demand side of environmental responsibility (i.e. wearing sweaters indoors and reading by candlelight) is truly only half the equation. And, unlike making the sometimes moral argument to temper demand, the supply answer is pure, agnostic good business sense: efficiency equals less waste, which means for sales and profits, generally. IBM is in a position to really make a difference in the environmental debate, in a way that makes simple sense to people irrespective of their philosophical predilections.

All of which makes the newspaper ads IBM is running on the topic so utterly senseless.

If you read the Wall Street Journal you've likely seen them, even if you don't remember doing so. The series features some large abstract image that takes up almost half the page, and then a long paragraph of text that ends with an inspirational and motivating line like "to learn more, go to web site so-and-so." I think I've seen ads for the water and electricity management ideas, but I'm not sure. The ads don't really make sense, and they require too much work to read anyway.

Most branding is an attempt to attach an imaginary benefit to a product or service that might not legitimately deserve it. In this case, it's the opposite: IBM is obfuscating with some creative interpretations an activity that deserves to be grasped, understood, and maybe even celebrated. There are lots of ways people could get engaged on the subject, only none of them are utilized in the communications strategy.

It's as if IBM wants to keep its big idea a secret. I wonder why?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.