Creative Spotlight: IBM

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Amid questions about the role of big tech companies in society, IBM confronted those issues head-on with its Dear Tech campaign, which the company showcased in a television ad during this year’s Academy Awards®.

It’s been a challenging year or so for big tech companies, as the conventional wisdom about many of the largest players has shifted from “they’re creating cool new things and changing the world for the better” to “they’re tracking my data and invading my privacy.”

Picture of Mayim Bialik from IBM ad campaign

That’s the sentiment IBM wanted to address with its campaign, giving it the subtitle of “An Open Letter to the Industry.” It’s a powerful spot made by IBM’s longtime agency, Ogilvy, that features a wide variety of cross-cut faces — some famous, some recognizable, some unfamiliar — imploring technology to work “for all of us, not just a few of us.”

“We wanted to be provocative, and we wanted to make people really think about what a tech leader is, what a tech leader should be, and we wanted to remind our clients and the world what kind of tech company the world needs,” Ann Rubin, IBM’s vice president of corporate marketing, told SheReports.

The campaign first debuted in February at IBM’s Think Conference for clients, to introduce a speech from IBM chair and CEO Ginni Rometty. It set the stage for how the company is thinking about technology today.

Screen capture from IBM ad - bored looking woman sitting at a desk

A long version of the ad, used then, starts by highlighting some great things about tech. “I love my smartphone,” it begins. “I love my apps,” says a farmer. “I love developing apps,” says a young girl. “I love the way you help me connect,” says someone else. But then it shifts. “I feel like you’ve got the potential to do so much more.” The script asks, “How do we protect our natural resources? And better respond to natural disasters? How do we bake security into everything we do?” It goes on to highlight issues like data security, removing bias from AI and helping people understand one another.

All of the lines are delivered to camera by a diverse cast. Recognizable faces include Arianna Huffington, Buzz Aldrin, Mayim Bialik and Janelle Monáe. Participants that are less recognizable but still notable include Bruce Perens, a well-known advocate for open-source code; Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist and founder of the Me Too movement; and IBMer Lisa Seacat DeLuca, a technologist who is the most prolific female inventor in the company’s history.

The film ends with a powerful punch. “We have the power to do so much,” says Huffington. “Let’s do it all,” says Monáe. “Together,” says a chorus of faces. “Let’s expect more from technology,” says Aldrin. And then there’s a young boy, a 9-year-old spelling bee champ, with the closing line: “Let’s put smart to work.” (“Smart” being a longtime IBM phrase.)

The shorter version ran during the Oscars®, with influencers helping to amplify the ad on social media. IBM found that it drove significant engagement. More than 100,000 people watched the full 60-second spot on social, in addition to millions of partial views, Rubin said.

The company has created other versions too. One features just clients among the speakers. Another features just tech leaders. One featured all women and ran on International Women’s Day. Versions ran during the Masters golf tournament, of which IBM is a longtime sponsor. They’re planning more versions.

“We know from research that the ads are conveying the messages we care deeply about, like shaping the future of business,” says Rubin. “People see it and understand that we’re talking about how tech is changing the way the world works.” She pointed out that it’s key to IBM’s brand: “We’ve been talking about changing the way the world works for 100 years.”

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