A Peek Behind the Big Blue Curtain

If you want your brand to remain relevant and well-defined, you need to tell your story in new channels and in the language of the audience. IBM just may have found the perfect medium.


For much of last century, IBM was everywhere you looked. Fast-forward to today and you won’t find any items with the famous striped logo of IBM for sale in any store. It’s an unprecedented transformation for a company that invented the PC industry and dominated global sales for decades.


Today IBMers have a different kind of gig. Instead of fashioning better laptops, they’re building a smarter planet. But this new direction brings new challenges for a brand whose accomplishments aren’t visibly apparent in the marketplace.

To offset some of that resulting brand-awareness mind drift, our job is to find new and relevant ways to put IBM in front of people besides on TV and in airports, and beyond C-suites and server room. One way we do this is having relevant stories to tell. And luckily each passing year at IBM brings no shortage of those.

101 going on 20

By late November of last year, for example, it was clear that IBM would be named the top US patent earner of any company in the world, more than Google, Apple or Samsung. And the kicker: this would be the 20th straight year taking that honor. Pretty good for an old timer that’s been around for 101 years.

As far as marketing opportunities go, this was a softball. Here was our chance to celebrate and remind tech audiences about a rich culture of innovation that doesn’t necessarily grab the headlines like its younger, hipper competitors in Silicon Valley and New York City.

Special delivery

A week after the agency was notified about the milestone, production began on the blog that would be come to known as IBMblr (IBM on Tumblr). We know what you’re thinking: The last thing the web needs is another Tumblr blog. Well becoming their 100 millionth blog wasn’t really something we set out to do either—but it was the only platform on which we could build quickly enough to keep up with the pace and style of content we wanted to create.


To start, we sifted through 20 years of U.S. patent documents. We sent surveys to dozens of notable IBM researchers—some with hundreds of patents to their names—to hear their anecdotes, insights and tips about inventing.

INSIDE THE INVENTIVE MIND “Break down a complex problem into simpler, smaller problems and tackle those one by one. The solution may not reveal itself for awhile, but research is usually a bunch of failures until the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and the answer becomes clear.” Lili Deligianni, IBM Researcher, 100+ patents

They told us what made them tick, what inspired them to solve seemingly impossible problems and what obstacles they had to surmount. They shared their failures, creative processes and strategies for helping the R&D department get a leg up on the bean counters. It was a rare look behind the lab doors— something Fortune 100 companies don’t tend to reveal freely. And it was just crazy enough to work.

Once we distilled down all the great patents and insights, it was time to reconstitute it back up for the design-minded, GIF-loving, short-attention-span Tumblr set. We channeled the energy of real IBMers to create content born from the same spirit.

So long, silicon chip? This innovation for one-atom thick graphene transistors can transmit electrical pulses 1,000 times faster than silicon. That could give a jolt to the rate that our computers and electronics improve—and uphold Moore’s Law for decades to come. See the newly-awarded Patent No.8,344,358.

Secrets, spilled

Today, IBMblr continues to evolve, pushing the limits of real-time marketing and exposing new audiences to the ethos of 400,000 humbly passionate IBMers.


Over the first half of the year, our more than 225 posts have accumulated 9 million views. And since we initially began talking about the 20-year innovation streak, we’ve added some design and navigation controls to let us integrate our page theme with an ambitious editorial calendar. Among our initiatives: inviting the world to meet the IBM Fellows class of ’13; creating bonus features for the world’s smallest movie; changing wonky patent documents into art; and paying tribute to technologistas, women who are tearing it up in the tech sector.

We’re really just getting started, and don’t claim to own the patent on our Tumblring ways. But in the spirit of spilling secrets, here are a few things we’ve learned bringing IBMblr to life:

  • Forget those text or quote posts. Image is king.
  • Tagging your posts too much just ruins search.
  • Even your best Tumblr posts have a microscopic life span.
  • Don’t post multiple things at once. It’s called spam.
  • People seriously love GIFs.

As we wrap up this look back on the origins of IBMblr, we’re reminded of our very first post—an image we created to commemorate the passing of the unsung hero of shopping.

IBM Research celebrates the man who forever changed the way we shopped, and left his mark on the world a trillion times over. 

N. Joseph Woodland was the IBMer who invented the now-ubiquitous UPC bar code. This other set of famous IBM stripes keep the company’s legacy alive and well on just about every store shelf around the world.


Ann Rubin is Vice President, Branded Content and Global Creative at IBM.  Sam Mazur is a Creative Director and Sue Murphy is an Art Director at Ogilvy & Mather.