Mar 11

Dell rearranges the deck chairs

The marketing business is full of smart people doing it their way.

Then they get fired.

And new people step in to do things their way.

It happens at clients, it happens at agencies. It’s happened before, and you can be pretty sure it’s going to happen again.

In marketing, there is a time-honored tradition of revamping, rejigging and restructuring — and a fairly dismal record of these moves producing desired results.

Far be it from Dell to buck tradition. In 2008, after years of dissatisfaction with their marketing, they boldly consolidated the work of many agencies into one new global entity. Now they’re boldly going back to where they started. They’ve recently named three new agencies to handle consumer, small/medium business and public/govt marketing, leaving “brand strategy” at its current agency (Y&R).

Unfortunately, Dell has proven itself more than capable of floundering under either system. Whether they have one agency or a boatload, they find new ways to run their brand into the ground. They have many ideas about how to fix things, yet they never seem to wake up with that wide-eyed epiphany: “My god! It wasn’t our agencies. It was us all along!”

Given the facts, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion. Dell’s multi-decade record of marketing mediocrity has almost miraculously survived a parade of agencies and internal reorganizations. By sheer chance, you’d expect them to do better at some point.

What Dell suffers is what many brands suffer: a lack of appreciation for great marketing and the power of creativity.

It’s really that simple. They don’t put value on such things, and therefore they don’t invest in such things.

Dell could easily go out and spend a small fraction of what they spent on their agency search (millions) to hire a well-traveled and passionate expert to lead the marketing charge. Of course, they’d have to be willing to give that person real responsibility, and the chances of that are virtually nonexistent.

In a world where the power of simplicity is on display every day, Dell digs in its heels. They’d rather create a grid of agencies that segregates strategy and creative than recognize the power of those things being conceived and implemented together.

Let us not forget that agencies are ruthless creatures. Ultimately they will claw and scratch for a bigger piece of the pie. I think Dell likes it that way though. In their world, this type of competition is a good thing.

Others — Apple and IBM included — would say that partnership is a far more powerful thing.

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  • Apt title. It is sad what is happening to Dell.

  • Bmcfadden

    Ken — I agree with your posting. But also, arent you just calling a pig a pig? Dell will never wake up with a clue about marketing or branding, but that’s just who they are. Like microsoft they have “no taste”. Remember the Dell DJ Ditty mp3 player and its associated marketing? simply horrifying.

  • Denzil

    @Samir – it has always been this way at Dell. It isn’t merely happening – it just is.

    They seem to be totally hung up on drilling more volume out of their agencies for less money.

    Surely they will eventually wake up and realise that millions of impressions of utter shit is ultimately more harmful than a handful of impressions of clear, insightful and witty communication – no matter what dollar amount is attached.

    Their only big achievement is that they spend less cash to do more damage to the brand – to a much wider audience than ever before.

    Well done, Dell – you’ve done it again.

  • ken segall

    I admit, it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. I just find it fascinating how Dell keeps concocting these grand plans to fix itself, but always finds a way to screw things up. I suppose I call Dell out because the company makes such a great case study — having evolved from an entrepreneur’s dream to a mediocre mess.

  • Cory

    Dell needs to “think different” and do some purely brand marketing…. and at the same time, they actually need to start fixing their brand and products.