For a long time, everything was all about the data. We’d all be amazed at new technology’s ability to collect and distribute data. But if Facebook’s recent troubles with Cambridge Analytica tells us anything, it’s that we’re no longer awed by data alone. If you want to impress–or infuriate–people, show them how it’s being used.
Back in 2016, that meant enlisting creative giants like Ridley Scott and Bob Dylan to make the connection between AI and creativity. For its newest brand campaign “Let’s Put Smart to Work,” created with Ogilvy New York, IBM mined its departments to innovative and come up with intriguing stories that not only show off its technology, but also focus on the scale and scope of its application in society. Using cloud data to improve crop yields, blockchain to boost supply chain security, or IoT sensors to protect endangered species, all examples the company pegged not just for IBM’s ingenuity but also their impact.
SVP and chief marketing officer Michelle Peluso says that she sees the campaign as an invitation. “It’s such an interesting time in the tech space, but we really wanted to answer the question of, how are we making society, professions, humanity, all these things, better?” she says. “The idea is putting smart to work for all of us, not just some of us. Whether through our data or AI principles, shepherding this new technology and putting it to work is something that has to benefit all mankind, not just the few.”
IBM’s business strategy over the last few years has been to target specific industries, like healthcare, retail, and marketing, to find ways its Watson-branded AI (dubbed “cognitive computing”) can enable greater efficiency. Last October, IBM Watson Health signed an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the benefits of blockchain. The year before it acquired The Weather Company for about $2 billion, giving it access to 2.2 billion forecast points worldwide, and all the data that comes with that.
The new campaign tries hard to illustrate the sheer diversity of how IBM’s tech is used, and Peluso says finding the right ones to showcase was an education in itself, and that there was a lot of internal competition for what stories they should tell. Her criteria was to find stories to show the examples at scale, things that highlight the most emerging and important technologies that also have the broadest reach. “Whether that’s blockchain or AI or cloud or IoT, we want to show the breadth of IBM,” says Peluso. “We want to make sure to focus on the industries where we have the strongest relationships, as well as a great diversity in what we do and who we work with.”
Much like General Electric, IBM is a century-old brand that, in a world where new is often equated with better, feels the need to continually remind people of its innovative bona fides. Another part of this campaign is to show to both potential clients and talent what the company has to offer.
Peluso says a recent conversation with a colleague sums up her pitch nicely. “She told me she ended a recruiting event recently by saying, ‘Listen, you can go work on algorithms at any company to think about how to improve the way people buy a brand of dog food. Or you can come here to figure out how to use AI to help solve cancer.'” she says. “Or to make beaches cleaner, or figure out how quantum computing is going to fundamentally change the trajectory of drug discovery. The issues IBM has the privilege to work on with our clients are the ones that change how the world works, and that’s pretty exciting.”