Jul 11

Dell’s perfect train wreck

If nothing else, at least Dell is consistent. Change agencies, change marketing chiefs, change CEOs … the end result is always the same: ads that break new ground for tedium.

This time it was a Herculean effort. This isn’t just a new ad — it’s the culmination of a 10-month journey. Deciding it was time to shake up its marketing effort, Dell conducted an all-out agency search, went through all the presentations and evaluations, selected a new agency for each of their market segments, and finally released the hounds to do their creative magic.

After all that, the first work from the new consumer agency, Canada’s Sid Lee, finally appears.

Maestro, hit the Play button.

My goodness, where do we start.

Dell explains that the theme of this new campaign is More You. This is icing on the cake after they recently introduced their new brand theme line, The power to do more, along with that other theme line, You can tell it’s Dell. One can never be too thin, too rich or have too many theme lines.

In a WSJ article about this campaign, Dell’s chief consumer marketer Paul-Henri Ferrard explains, “We realized it was more important to connect more emotionally with customers.”

Dell’s emotional copy goes basically like this: “It has an HD webcam, killer audio… Get this loaded Inspiron 15R now for only five-ninety-nine ninety-nine, powered by the second-gen Intel Core processor family.” That’s connecting, Dell-style.

The Festival of Emotion continues with the following product visual that remains on the screen for about six seconds:

In still-frame form, you can savor things on this screen that the human eye could never absorb in real time.

I’m disappointed that You can tell it’s Dell isn’t in here, because both of their other theme lines are. Although I probably shouldn’t count The power to do more, because you practically need an electron microscope to read it. This is a tribute to the staying power of the Dell marketing person who insisted that this line be present.

Dell’s own press on this campaign trumpets the campaign theme, More You — yet in this entire spot, those words only appear as a throwaway at the bottom of the product screen.

I will assume that More You is meant to describe how Dell computers make it easier to be you. I can only assume — because there is scant evidence of that in this ad. After the basketball player states that his Dell “helps me try new moves, on and off the court,” all we get is the Goofy Dance and a list of product features.

Trying to decipher the meaning of it all, I’d say that switchable lids are supposed to be the big deal here — though that feature is merely shoehorned in with all the clutter. It would never dawn on Dell to create an ad about one feature alone, as Apple did with the iPad Smart Cover. Better to just cram every possible selling point into an ad.

We are assured that other ads in this campaign will follow. Given the brief synopses that appear in various articles, Dell’s imagination is running wild.

In one spot, a young Dell user explains how technology allows her to “indulge her passion for Justin Bieber.” In another, a grandmother shows how a Dell tablet lets her stay in touch with her grandchildren. Will wonders never cease!

Interestingly, Dell actually claims that this campaign positions them as a “lifestyle” brand. In their dreams, maybe. This ad is simply a moving-image version of what Dell normally does badly — catalog advertising. What we get is an unimaginative image of a person with lots of specs sprinkled about, with the price being given the most prominence. This is Dell’s lifestyle, not the customer’s.

I will say this: it’s a remarkable achievement when the 10-second leader at the start of your ad is more engrossing than the ad itself.

In most companies, ads like this are reason enough to fire someone. Oh, right. They already fired their agency, didn’t they. This is from the new agency. Never mind.

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  • qka

    The best part of the ad was the lead in countdown.

  • neilw

    Good grief, they’re hopeless. That is supposed to make them a lifestyle brand?

    As I commented on AdWeek, I’m glad they continue to include the CPU marketing inserts from Intel, so they can keep riding that gravy train.

  • Bladrnr

    The dance was goofy? Try awkward and dumb. “The Festival of Emotion.” LOL! Spot on.

    What is it about these ad people who can’t figure out what the number one player (Apple) is doing, and at least start from there? Steve Jobs was (is) right: “Microsoft has no taste.” And it certainly trickles down to the PC hardware manufacturers.

    No taste. Hey, Sid! Did you hear that? Geesh. That was actually painful to watch.

  • Bladrnr

    One more thought: ever notice that Apple’s ads never have background noise? Usually just a white or black background. Nothing to distract from the product. The focus is totally on presenting the device in the best possible way. Not even a face unless it’s an image on the device or someone using the device. Usually all we see are hands and fingers. Even the “I’m a Mac” ads had a white background. It really makes you focus on the subject. Interesting.

    And I don’t even work in the ad industry.

  • ppgreat

    B-A-D. And it’s even worse once you hear the backstory of how long it took them to get to this stage.

  • Magoo

    Swappable covers… mobile phones had them in the late 90s early 00s. Cheap and only managed to make a bad product worse.

    Now they’re a feature on the latest Dell.

    I don’t think there’s enough marketing genius in the world to make swappable plastic covers a factor in any buying decision.

  • “And I don’t even work in the ad industry.”

    But maybe they should hire you, Blandrnr. You’re obviously more on the ball than the bozos above.

  • At least someone in the Dell Technical Support Call Center got their 15 seconds of fame.

  • Ludovic

    I think the ad agency or Dell pontiffs didn’t realize that “You can tell it’s Dell” is a double entendre that doesn’t play in their favor at all.

  • roy

    Dell, like Microsoft, is living in the past. It’s sad that Dell is complacent with her record of being the No. 2 PC company, in terms of shipments. She did not care enough and put much heart in her product line.

  • writing devil

    looks like the ad agency saw how many hits the “dont steal a computer” on cam dance got (over 1.5 mill) and one of the creative geniuses said…”hey, people like this..let’s have him dance for the cam” ……..and a second genius said..”we can have a mature voice over people will trust and let our ‘college’ athlete lip sync our powerful copy………damn, we did it, guys!”

  • Stephen Sonnenfeld

    You gotta love Dell. They’re the corporate equivalent of the blissfully unaware fool that walks around with his fly open and food in his teeth. Totally oblivious to how bad they look.

    Here’s Paul-Henri Ferrand (PH as he’s known in Round Rock) Dell’s Consumer CMO describing the intent behind this campaign, “We are talking about people and how technology empowers them rather than technology for technology’s sake.” Paul-Henri you marketing visionary. What year is this quote from, 1994?

    Earlier, when Dell unleashed their “ambitious” Power to do More brand campaign (supported by a single print ad as far as I can tell) Dell’s other CMO, the corporate one, Karen Quintos said, “The new consumer advertising and marketing work set to come out…is a natural extension of the corporate effort.” Right you are Ms. Quintos. It extends a legacy of advertising incompetence unmatched by virtually any other company.

    So after the little Enfatico consolidation experiment, Dell is back in their happy place with multiple agencies, multiple CMOs, multiple campaigns, all promoting a brand through a myopic lens on the world that seems to be a good twenty years out of date.

    You can tell it’s a Dell. Damn straight.

  • Couple of things here. “More you” is the Consumer part of “The power to do more” campaign. The concept behind it is to make it about our customers and what things are important to them. As you mentioned, more of these ads will follow.

    Time will tell how effective this will be, but the switchable lids thing has already proved pretty popular with our customers before this ad.

    In my view, focusing more of our efforts on what our customers want to use a laptop for is the right thing. So this guy is not the best dancer… a lot of folks are like that–myself included. And I’m okay with that. :)


  • kevin

    “more you” and “the power to do more” still mean nothing to me, even knowing that “more you” is supposed to be a subset of “the power to do more”

    authenticity is what makes ads and ad campaigns work – the feeling of truth in what a company is about. and those lines just do not connect with me.

  • ken segall

    You’re a brave man to stick up for the home team :)

    I’m not sure what your job is over there, but the point of this post was that Dell has been wandering in a marketing desert for years. When agency after agency turns out such unremarkable work, one can only conclude Dell itself is the culprit.

    You say, “focusing more of our efforts on what our customers want to use a laptop for is the right thing.” Not sure I agree. If there was some imaginative, memorable way to do that, and make it seem like Dell has some special connection with people — maybe. This one ad certainly isn’t that. It’s just the typical Dell laundry list, with a “real” person tossed in. (Real, meaning from central casting.)

    Most people already know how they’d use a laptop. What they need is a reason to buy Dell’s laptop over Acer’s or Apple’s. Your marketing leader says that the goal is to build an “emotional connection” with customers. Since most PCs have similar specs and run the same software, going for the emotional connection could work. But if this ad is Dell’s idea of building emotional connection, it’s time to abandon ship.

    The problem is obvious — though nearly impossible to solve. The Dell brand needs to stand for something. Its products need to be the manifestation of the brand. And the ads need to be authentic to the brand. None of that is happening right now.

    This is a terribly important issue for Dell to solve. At the moment, they’re just solving it terribly. If I were Michael Dell, I’d take a good long look at the marketing talent of his leaders. If I were the board, I’d be taking a good long look at the marketing talent of Michael Dell.

  • anonymous armchair salesman


    Anything a person can do on a Dell laptop, they can do on just about *every* brand of laptop.

    Personally, I’d focus on the stuff that makes a Dell actually stand out – like replacable lids – and totally forget about trying to sell them based on anything else. And if there aren’t enough things that make them stand out, then that’s just your cue to add more. I’m not talking about techspecs, either, not unless you’ve got some crazy awesome new technology that nobody else is gonna have for the next 3 years or something.

    And… Wait a minute, did I just basically say everything Ken did? Bah.

    Okay, okay, I’ll try to make *my* comment stand out: the ultimate differentiator would be if Dell developed their own PC operating system. Why does Apple get to hog all the monoculture-challenging fun?

  • ArtimusMacimus

    Lionel, are you kidding.

    You seriously had to explain what the message meant? Don’t you think it should’ve been clearer. I thought the message was suppost to explain for you, not you for it, why I should buy a Dell. You guys may know how to make PCs but you definitely don’t know how to make ads.

    WOW, what an epic FAIL. Hope your resume is up to date. You’re going to need it real soon.

  • Denzil

    Ken, I seem to remember having that same conversation with Dell on numerous occasions, albeit slightly less eloquent than your carefully crafted prose, the sentiment was always the same.

    Figure out who you are and what you stand for.

    Unfortunately, they always seemed to chuck another ‘new’ and most often, rushed product into their cluttered list thinking variety was the way to solve all their problems.

    Lionel, I commend your braveness but until Dell switches from it’s current model of
    ‘See a situation – rush out a new product’
    ‘let’s focus on making some really good, relevant products’

    Putting a finger on what Dell is and what it stands for is going to result in a lowest common denominator exercise each time which will probably end up looking like the above ad… every time…

    @anonymous armchair salesman:
    I think the custom operating system argument can be simply argued against apple by Dell going further into their offerings of multiple OS choices such as Ubuntu or Windows. The freedom of OS in itself is a great point of difference that is often neglected.

  • Hobbes

    The overall problem with the Dell brand, IMHO, is that it’s the very model of a modern laptop: interchangeable. Takeout the Dell logo and put in Acer, Toshiba, etc. You would hardly notice.

    It’s hard to appeal to a wide range of emotions when your products are paint-by-numbers: same processor and therefore same processor speed, random HDD size that really tells you nothing, same screen size as everyone else.

    If anything, focus on quality and durability. If you’re focusing to college students, let them know Dell will give them a decent combination of hardware components that will get them through their 4 years of college at a reasonable price.

  • Magoo


    Honestly, the switchable lids are proving popular? Like ‘this may become a feature on other Dell laptops…’ popular – or like ‘this is just covering our costs’ popular?

  • I had to lament this with you. The “Derek” spot just made Ad Age’s “Top 10” list for Back to School ads.

    I’m reticent to produce lots of snarky commentary because of our former colleagues still at E! who worked so hard and many long hours to localize and produce these Sid Lee spots.


  • ken segall

    I have no problem with the snarky comments :) Where I come from, if you work on crap, you get called on it.

    As for these Ace Metrix guys doing all their testing to come up with the “Top 10” back-to-school ads, there couldn’t be a better example of the perils of research. By the numbers they use to measure goodness, I have no doubt that these ads are the leaders of the pack. But common sense is enough to tell us that these ads fall way, way short of creative greatness.