Oct 10

Brand-building, Dell style

Dell, as we know, prefers to live in an alternate reality. Theirs is a place where numbers trump emotion, brands languish and barely amusing passes for hilarious.

Now, after an 18 month-gestation period, Dell is poised to unleash a new campaign. The first ads are now posted on Dell’s site.

Purely out of scientific curiosity, let’s dissect one:

Mission. For some reason, the press is describing this as a brand campaign. It isn’t. It’s a product campaign. When your brand stands for innovation, product ads are brand ads. Ask Apple. When your brand is wandering the desert without water … not so much.

Headline. It was a hoot when Spinal Tap did the “turn it up to 11” thing 26 years ago. Now it gets the same, polite half-smile we give Uncle Fred when he cracks a joke. Awkward.

Layout. Let’s see: five lines of type — five different sizes and/or weights. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for any awards from the Art Directors Club.

Copy. Dell marketing maven Paul-Henri Ferrand describes this campaign as “Crisp copy with a dash of humor.” Probably just an honest mistake. He said “dash” when he really meant “microscopic particle.”

Personality. Dell needs one. These ads don’t have one. Problem. This stuff reeks of committee approvals and focus group testing — well homogenized.

Lovability. Ferrand says, “We believe there’s a real space for us to become the most loved PC company in the industry.” In PC-land, there’s real space for anyone to become the most loved. It’s just going to take more than a harmless ad campaign. It will require breakthrough products, a compelling vision, great customer support, a simple product line and marketing that builds a real bond with customers. Only the big guy can conduct the entire orchestra here. CEO transplant desperately needed.

Dueling theme lines. Leave it to Dell to think so hard, they end up with two theme lines. The press (and Dell itself) refers to this campaign by the line You can tell it’s Dell. But look. Up in the sky. Under the logo. There’s yet another theme line: The power to do more. If you want customers to make the catch, it isn’t wise to throw two balls at once.

The power to do more. If this line is meant to ultimately unite the different Dell divisions, that would be a step forward. Unfortunately, it’s also two steps back — because the line itself is well-worn and harmless. It’s old Apple (The power to be your best) melded with old Amex (Do more).

Simplicity. Layout violations aside, at least these ads are somewhat clean, right? Not so fast. This pristine ad was lifted from Dell’s site. Once it appears in the world, we can safely assume it will be garnished with Microsoft’s ugly come-on and Intel’s garish processor badge, which will be larger than Dell’s. Hey, somebody’s got to pay for these ads.

Word is that a real brand image campaign for Dell is in the works. I’m sure that will change everything. Hopefully it’s being fine-tuned in focus groups as we speak.

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  • Hilarious. Thanks, Ken, for being one of the few — if only — people pointing out what a complete mess Dell is in every single way imaginable to mankind.

  • Joseph Steel

    “…for being one of the few — if only — people pointing out what a complete mess Dell is in every single way imaginable to mankind.”

    The wonderful thing with Ken is that he makes the act of kicking a dead horse seem … eloquent.

  • ken segall

    Thanks, men. I do get a little self-conscious about the “dead horse” thing. I’m sorry, I just can’t resist the lure!

  • ’round and ’round she goes, /when/ she’ll stop, nobody knows. But if you have a hint, let me know so I can sell my remaining stock, please.

    It’s interesting, on an intellectual level anyway, that they know the problems, they understand the problems, they talk in the press about the problems (and solutions), but they refuse to change.

    Sounds like the ad industry in general.

    Fear is such a powerful emotion, eh?

  • bryan Birch

    “Brand ad” simply means product ad without model number and/or price. Brand ad also means every division gets to weigh-in and make changes. These are the meetings where the horse is starved, tortured and suffocated to death.

  • I’ll add one thing: The laptop in the ad isn’t usable. The screen isn’t open enough to work with. It looks like it’s in a defensive posture, ready to snap shut on anyone who tries to touch it.

  • ChuckO

    If nothing else they reminded me to go back and view some 80’s indie classics: Spinal Tap (misquoted or paraphrased? Is it funny if paraphrased?), Repo Man, Stranger Than Paradise, Blood Simple, Heathers, She’s gotta have it, The Princess Bride. I could go on all day. Great stuff.

  • AMR71

    Actually, the Streak fits just fine in your pocket. I’ve had one for a few weeks now, and I get comments on it wherever I go. Last night at dinner, I had three waitresses come over to my table and ooh-and-ahh over it. You’d think I’d brought a puppy into the restaurant or something.

    The cool thing about this device is that it’s small enough to be a phone and big enough to be a tablet. For me it’s like having an iPhone and an iPad in one device. Judging from the reactions I’ve gotten, I think this thing *could* be huge — if only Dell didn’t fumble it so bad. Those of us who wanted one of these things had to wait for months for the U.S. release — and then it ended up being available *only* at Best Buy, with AT&T as the only carrier. You can’t even buy it at an AT&T store, which makes no sense. Now we’re all waiting for the Froyo upgrade, which is going to happen “any day now” for the past two weeks.

    It’s sad that Dell seems to have fumbled the rollout for such a promising device.