Posts Tagged: dell

Mar 12

Dell’s underpowered “power to do more”

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Guide provided a wealth of information about the cultures of countless planets. Yet Earth merited only a one-word entry: “Harmless.” (After further study, it was revised to be “Mostly harmless.”)

I’ve often borrowed this description in discussions of corporate theme lines. I believe that there are two kinds of theme lines: inspired and harmless.

Inspired lines capture the spirit of a company. They strike a chord with customers, forming a solid foundation for every ad to come. Like Nike’s old Just do it, or BMW’s The ultimate driving machine. Continue reading →

Sep 11

Michael Dell’s world of fantasy and delight

Studies  have shown it’s natural and healthy for males to have recurring fantasies. But still, the ones dancing around in Michael Dell’s head may be pushing things.

To hear Michael tell the tale, life is sweet. All this talk of a post-PC world doesn’t phase him. Quite the contrary. With HP leaving the PC business, his eyes light up at the idea of gaining PC market share. So it goes in his recent comments to Financial Times.

Only a few problems with Michael’s logic.

First is the fact that HP decided to get out of PCs for good reason. Even though they sell more PCs than any company on earth, HP believes the smartest thing they can do is abandon ship. That’s because (a) PC profit margins are microscopic, and (b) it’s only going to get worse as PCs continue their descent.

Second, it’s hard to deny that demand for PCs is fading. Not only have the prognosticators lowered their global sales estimates, so has Michael’s own company. It was just one month ago that Dell cut its sales forecasts for PCs, citing “weakening consumer demand” and other causes.

Third, Michael was publicly downplaying his PC sales as recently as April, making sure we were all aware that Dell was now more focused on the enterprise, with PCs only representing one third of their business. The most positive thing he could say about PCs was that Dell made a “modest profit” on them. “I’m just level-setting what Dell is today,” he said.

He speaks optimistically of Dell’s prospects in tablets too—despite the fact that the 5-inch Streak is dead and the 7-inch model is languishing at best. For some reason, Michael’s fantasy here is that things will somehow be different when and if the tablet competition heats up. In fact, Dell will be one of dozens of tablet-makers all sharing the same OS, slugging it out for a sliver of the market.

“We are very distinct from our competitors,” says Michael in that Financial Times interview. Hard to argue with that.

At least IBM and HP stopped having those PC fantasies.

Aug 11

The tough and brief life of Streak 5

Dell’s Streak 5 phone/tablet may now officially be classified as phone/tablet/dud.

Visitors to the Streak 5 page at are now greeted by the above, with Dell giving it the happy spin: “Goodbye, Streak 5. It’s been a great ride.”

Interesting what qualifies as a “great ride” in Dell’s world: a product ill-conceived from the start, then sabotaged by some of the clumsiest ads in the business.

Trying to figure out how to cash in on iPad-mania, Dell decided it could wedge itself into success. “Hey, if tablets are so popular at 10 inches and phones are so popular at 3-4 inches, we could virtually own the 5-inch category.” And own it they did — for the nearly undetectable group of customers who actually wanted such a thing.

Rather than being the perfect size Dell proclaimed it to be, Streak 5 was too big to be a phone and too small to be a tablet. That much was obvious to anyone with eyeballs.

Not content to hobble Streak 5 with an awkward size, Dell went the extra yard by hobbling it in other inventive ways. Streak 5 was launched with Android 1.6, while the rest of the Android world was already onto version 2.2. And its unlocked version was actually priced higher than an iPad. Perfect.

Oh well, least they could make some good ads for it, right? Uh-uh. Not that this blog is the perfect measure of such things, but Streak 5 actually earned two posts here for advertising embarrassments in its short, tortured life. (See those here and here, if you are so disposed.)

If Streak 5 were a real child, Dell would be facing charges of neglect.

But don’t worry. You can still get a 7-inch Streak. And though they’ve certainly taken the scenic route to get there, rumor has it that Dell is finally working on the 10-inch size that’s been such a terrible burden for iPad.

So farewell Streak 5. At least you got to enjoy one great ride. Dell strapped you into the back seat and drove directly off the cliff.

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.

Jun 11

Apple’s new high vs. Dell’s new low

If anyone ever questioned the value of creativity in marketing, Apple and Dell are currently staging a public demonstration.

Scratch that — it’s actually more of a public debate.

With its new iPad ad, Apple argues that creativity can make a message more interesting and important. With the first ad in its new brand campaign, Dell takes the position that creativity is an unnecessary frill.

Here’s a quick look at two efforts that live on opposite ends of the creative spectrum.


Since Mac vs. PC ended, I haven’t fawned over too many Apple ads. What kind of fanboy am I? Well, we needn’t dwell on that now. This ad is Apple’s best in recent memory.

In fact, this is one of those ads that makes me jealous. It doesn’t try to be clever, it just is. It makes the point that iPad represents a sea change in computing without feeling self-important. And, miracle of miracles, it does all of this without using the words magical or revolutionary.

Against visuals of iPads doing various things in the hands of different people, Mr. Voiceover sums up what makes iPad so darn interesting:

“Now we can watch a newspaper, listen to a magazine, curl up with a movie, and see a phone call … [and more] … because now there’s this.”

Many tech companies fail to grasp that simple, everyday speech can be the most intelligent way to present a product. Here, Apple describes iPad using the most ordinary words, but combines them in a way that feels totally fresh — and important.

This spot is actually a continuation of two previous iPad ads, both of which were more lofty presentations of Apple’s philosophy. In this spot, Apple does not stand up to proclaim “we believe…” (which can come off as arrogant to some). It simply describes how iPad changes the way you look at the world.

This is the toughest kind of copy to write — unpretentious, intelligent and compelling. Whoever is responsible should take a very big bow. This ad fits well with the best in Apple history.


When Hollywood directors could no longer bear the thought of being associated with a film, they used to cleanse themselves by giving the director’s credit to the imaginary Alan Smithee.

From the first glimpse of Dell’s new $80 million campaign, this could well end up being the first marketing effort ever credited to Mr. Smithee.

The ad you see here was featured in a recent Advertising Age fluff piece, accompanied by quotes from Dell’s chief marketing person. So I can only assume it’s for real — even though it looks and feels like a placeholder awaiting real photography. And a real designer. And a real writer. And a real strategy.

This ad is significant because it marks the beginning of what is supposed to be Dell’s first-ever brand campaign. It’s meant to provide the big, overarching message for individual product ads yet to come.

In other words, it is supposed to be to Dell what Think different was to Apple. I’ll go out on a limb and predict it won’t have quite the same impact.

The only positive thing one can say about this campaign is that it will provide income for stock photo sites specializing in hackneyed people shots.

There are a total of 34 words in this ad. 15 of them — almost half — are the same five words, repeated three times. The power to do more serves as headline, theme line and last line of copy.

Why pound these words into our thick skulls? Perhaps it’s to distinguish Dell’s use of The power to do more from all the others who are using it — including Norlift Fork Lifts, Belkin High-Performance Routers,  Lenovo Docking Solutions, GE Healthcare, Kensington iPad Batteries and who knows how many others. (The 5.6 million Google results for this line were making me groggy.) This is originality, Dell-style.

And it’s not like the remaining 19 words are jewels either. In Dell’s world, boring words fit like a comfortable shoe:

With a range of solutions in cloud computing, interactive learning, healthcare, efficient IT and global services, Dell gives you…

Basically, Dell is saying that what sets them apart is that they churn out a boatload of stuff. So they choose to deliver an undistinguished message built upon an overused theme.

Makes you want to run right out and buy a Dell, doesn’t it?

Mar 11

Dell: daydreaming of iPad’s failure

Never mind that Dell has been losing its luster for many consecutive years now. Its leadership retains the ability to see the world through Dell-colored glasses.

That is, they use the same reasoning that worked so well in the good old days — when Dell was leading the pack, instead of struggling not to fall farther behind.

Andy Lark, Dell’s global head of large enterprise marketing, recently made waves by predicting iPad will ultimately be overtaken by its competitors in big business.

To be fair, he is talking about the enterprise world, not the consumer marketplace, where the rules are different. Unfortunately, iPad is proving that the rules aren’t quite as different as he wishes.

Think what you will of his conclusion. I was more aghast at the reasoning he used to arrive there:

[Apple has] done a really nice job [with iPad], they’ve got a great product, but the challenge they’ve got is that already Android is outpacing them.
I must have woken up in the wrong dimension today. I could have sworn iPad had 80-90% of the market and Android tablets had barely begun to ship.

Apple is great if you’ve got a lot of money and live on an island…
As everyone knows, the “Apple is too expensive” argument went out the window with iPad. No competitor has figured out how to significantly undercut iPad’s price. Andy might want to look at the pricing of Dell’s own 7-inch Streak tablet. Significantly smaller than iPad, it sells for $449 without contract vs. iPad’s $499.

…It’s not so great if you have to exist in a diverse, open, connected enterprise; simple things become quite complex.
It is also widely reported that iPad is finding lots of friends in the enterprise world. Three reasons: it simplifies things for a great many people, it is successfully being integrated into corporate networks, and while IT departments used to be free to maintain their decades-old allegiances, today they’re being pushed to give people what they want. What people want now are iPads — right up to the executive suite.

We’ve taken a very considered approach to tablets…
Dell’s “considered” approach to tablets is frighteningly similar to their considered approach to PCs and laptops. They wait until someone else lights the way (normally Apple), then try to copy the other guy’s success at a lower price point — sacrificing quality along the way.

…given that the vast majority of our business isn’t in the consumer space.
Basically, Andy clings to the same hope that RIM does with BlackBerry: “We have a huge audience in business, therefore we will win by being business-oriented.” Good luck to both of them. The flaw in their theory is that most business users are consumers too, and all users are human beings. People want devices that give them the best experience, period — for business and personal use.

An iPad with a keyboard, a mouse and a case [means] you’ll be at $1500 or $1600; that’s double of what you’re paying. That’s not feasible.”
What’s not feasible is Andy’s math. 32GB 3G iPad: $729. Keyboard: $69. Mouse: $69. Fancy case: $100. Total: $967. And — only in Dell’s world would we be talking about tablets that require keyboards and mice. The whole point of iPad is that it lets people accomplish things without a keyboard and mouse. Those who find those things essential are better off with a laptop.

When Andy thinks about winning in the enterprise, I’m sure he means selling more devices. Which, again, is a very Dell-like argument. Dell already sells far more computers and laptops than Apple, yet they make only a fraction of Apple’s profit. This is why Apple’s market capitalization is now over ten times that of Dell.

You can be sure that everyone at Apple hopes Dell continues to “win” like this for years to come.

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.

Feb 11

Great ads vs. laundry lists

As we all know, ads can fail for a number of reasons: bad creative, bad strategy and bad clients.

It takes a special kind of client to understand that the best way to win a customer’s heart is to focus on a single compelling point — not to stuff a commercial full of goodness.

Some clients just have a laundry list of points they want to get into their ad, and they find it impossible to let go.

Even Steve Jobs is capable of having — as Pink Floyd once said — a momentary lapse of reason. I saw it with my own eyes at a meeting when Steve was trying to get the agency to squeeze a few more product benefits into an ad we were about to produce.

Sitting across the table from Steve was Lee Clow, past and current leader of Apple’s agency. Lee crumpled up 4-5 pieces of paper and tossed one to Steve. “This is a good ad,” said Lee, as Steve easily caught it.

Then, all at once, Lee tossed the remaining pile of crumpled balls of paper to Steve and he caught none of them. “That’s a bad ad,” said Lee.

If I’d known that the incident would have become a blog post, I’d have made it a point to remember if Steve then let us have our way. But I do stand behind the principle, as would most every right-thinking marketing person.

Simplicity beats complexity every time.

People tend to remember one thing well said better than a laundry list well recited.

Fortunately, just as I need to illustrate the point, Dell rushes in with a new ad. Or, more accurately, a new laundry list. It goes like this:

If you buy an Inspiron 15R (catchy name, fellas), you’ll get:

(1) More fun, (2) more control, (3) more durability, (4) more sales support, (5) for less, (6) with an Intel Core i3 processor for (7) faster multitasking and (8) McAfee Security Center. It concludes, of course, with the dueling theme lines, “You can tell it’s Dell” and “The power to do more.”

When you compare the Dell-style  laundry-list commercial to a more single-minded Apple commercial (like “Mac vs. PC), it’s not hard to understand why Apple is better at winning both customers and advertising awards.

Feb 11

Again, Dell proves it isn’t Apple

Dell’s latest quarterly numbers are a beautiful synopsis of the company’s plight: income on business computers nicely up, income on consumer computers disturbingly down.

And bear in mind, this decline occurred during the holiday quarter — when visions of laptops and Streaks should have been dancing in consumers’ heads like sugar-plums.

Dell’s problem becomes more obvious with each passing year. They radiate “innovation envy,” but rarely innovate. They imagine themselves to be in Apple’s league, but demonstrate — product after product — why they are not.

A laptop that wasn't exactly laptop-friendly

Not that we need more proof, but consider Dell’s latest disappointment: the super-thin, and now super-dead, Adamo laptop.

Like most of Dell’s products, Adamo was less of an innovation, and more of a reaction to someone else’s innovation. (Zino — Mac mini, Streak — iPad, etc.) Adamo was Dell’s ode to MacBook Air. It didn’t exactly blaze new trails. It was created, Dell-style, to “cash in on that thin computer thing.”

Unfortunately, the cash didn’t quite materialize. With the high cost of miniaturization, Dell had to price their echo of an innovation at more than $2,000 — which is unsettling to a customer base trained over many years to expect value pricing.

Clearly, Dell wished to copy Apple’s success. Just as clearly, their own brand DNA made that impossible. Suffering poor sales, they tried to innovate their way to a turnaround by offering up the even thinner Adamo XPS — which was a bit of innovation gone amok. With its oddly hinged display, Adamo became the first laptop that was tough to use on a lap.

While Dell imagines itself to be an innovator in computers, it also imagines itself an innovator in marketing — with similarly unimpressive results. The marketing of Adamo fell somewhere between ill-conceived and laughable.

The ads here are representative of the overall Adamo campaign, which used ultra-fashiony, super-chic models to appeal to those interested in a razor-thin laptop. Never mind that half the ads didn’t even show the razor-thin part. Some future Mad Men-type show will have a field day with this one.

Given all of the above, it’s inaccurate to say that Dell killed Adamo last week. Looks like a suicide to me.

Dec 10

Searching for Mr. Goodtheme

For the marketing addicts amongst us, a great theme line is like a work of art. A crappy one is like that car accident you can’t stop staring at.

Some do such a great job of distinguishing a company from its competition, they last for decades. They might even work so well, they ultimately make themselves unnecessary. Others are left twisting in the wind until they die of malnutrition.

Some relatively recent changes in the world of theme lines are worth noting.

UPS. For me, a great theme line and a great campaign is enough to make me completely forget past sins. I’m easy that way. What can brown do for you? gave me hives. Yeah, I know, brown is the official color of UPS. It’s just a downer in real life. It’s so bad, Microsoft thought it was good, launching Zune with a brown model that quickly bombed. Of course, this shows how much I know — the UPS Brown campaign was apparently a big success, running for years. But now we have We (heart) logistics, and it gives me a whole new feeling about UPS. Just as the previous theme line tried to turn a boring color into a positive, this one turns a boring topic into a passion. I want my package delivery company to see glory in logistics. Add to this line a great launch commercial, and UPS has a campaign to be proud of. Thankfully, with a minimum of brown.

Dell. Poor, hapless Dell. Even when they rise above their dubious marketing history and attempt to unify their divisions with a common theme line, they manage to confuse things by unveiling two new theme lines at once. While the press covers the new You can tell it’s Dell campaign, the real theme line sits unnoticed under the Dell logo: The power to do more.

Not content to echo one company’s famous theme line, they shamelessly rip off two — including one that was once big in their own industry. They start with Apple (The power to be your best) and top it off with American Express (Do more). If you’re going to start with the words, “The power of” (only 428,000,000 Google results on that one, literally), you’d better be prepared to dazzle with what comes next. There’s little dazzling going on here. Worse still, the line just doesn’t reflect reality. Can you really do more with a Dell than you can with an HP? Is a Dell more affordable than an Acer? This is the kind of line whose one major positive is that the whole committee could agree on it.

BMW. The ultimate driving machine has a place in the Theme Line Hall of Fame. It’s hard to imagine a line that better expresses the spirit of a company. Yet all good things must come to an end. At some point, the BMW marketing team decided — rightfully or wrongfully — that they needed to appeal to a different kind of driver. And so we get Joy is BMW. Not nearly as manly, it tries to tap new into new emotions in both sexes. A couple of problems with this line. First, it sucks. I’m sure it comes as a shock to the global BMW culture, whose millions of members take pride in the spirit of the Ultimate Driving Machine. Second, BMW feels it’s necessary to keep the life raft handy. They keep the Ultimate line around, tucked in the corner, so they can point to it and say they still believe in it. Not very brave.

When a theme line works to the extreme, it can actually work itself out of a job. Its meaning is absorbed into the logo itself. Nike was able to drop “Just do it” from their ads, but the spirit remains. Apple has been line-less for about as long, with their “Think different” positioning well articulated by that simple apple shape. But this kind of branding nirvana is rare.

Other companies continue to search for their own Ultimate Driving Machine. A few will land on something truly authentic, as UPS did with We (heart) logistics — which serves as both a rallying cry for employees and a beacon for customers. The Dells of the world will continue to serve up lines like The power to do more, which sit quietly in the corner until one day they are put out of their misery.