Posts Tagged: dell

Nov 10

Streak video: good hoax or bad ad?

Help. I’m losing touch with reality. This YouTube video for the Dell Streak is horrifying on so many levels, I can’t tell if it’s on purpose or not.

Adding to my confusion is the fact that this video was pulled from YouTube by the original poster, only to be posted again by another.* Dell’s site contains no mention of it.

The video is about as awkward as it gets. It stars Chicago hockey players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who use the features of the Dell Streak to help them pick up women. A narrator calls the action, sports-style. For two grueling minutes, we watch bad actors performing a script that would be deadly even for good actors.

So is it real or not? Well, watch it for yourself, then consider the evidence.

It’s fake.

1. No corporation with adult supervision could possibly think this is funny or in good taste.
2. Pro hockey players have managers who normally advise them against doing stupid things.
3. Production quality (titling, voiceover, music, writing) is below professional standards, including even Dell’s.
4. No company would be so insensitive to women when women represent half its audience.
5. There is no Dell logo or theme line, nor does the typography match any current Dell effort.

It’s real.

1. Dell is eminently capable of creating a dud. Certainly they have a rich history in this department.
2. Hockey players don’t make videos like this on a lark. Someone has to pay them.
3. Dell has already exhibited an ability to offend women. Heck, why not do it again. (Despite #4 above.)
4. Many hockey blogs have reported on this video, mostly slamming it for bad acting and bad taste. Dell has remained silent in the face of criticism.

Considering all of the above, I have a theory. Maybe this ad was produced internally at Dell to fire up the troops. Maybe an enterprising up-and-comer thought it was funny enough to share on YouTube. Maybe he was quickly slapped and forced to remove it.

Of course that doesn’t let anyone off the hook for creating and approving the video in the first place. It’s not easy to create a really good ad. But it’s really, really easy to have some standards when you’re doing so.

[Thanks to Bill McGuire for the tip.]

*Update 11/24: The YouTube video to which I originally linked has been removed “due to a copyright claim by Dell, Inc.” (Draw your own conclusions about that.) Unfortunately for the perpetrator, these tracks aren’t so easy to cover up. You may still see the video here.

Nov 10

Dell Streak’s moment of truth

Of all those watching Dell’s new ad for Streak 5, two groups of people are probably more nervous than the rest.

First, of course, is Dell. Having spiraled for years, they crave a hit in two hot categories where they’ve been mostly invisible: smartphones and tablets. Then there’s Mother, the agency currently handling Dell consumer marketing. They could use a creative home run just as Dell embarks upon a formal review to hear pitches from other agencies.

Unfortunately, it comes off more like a bunt pop-up. (Last baseball metaphor till spring, I promise.)

The device itself is a bit of a puzzle. Streak 5 is either an oversized smartphone or an undersized tablet. It’s hard to imagine it being a hit for two obvious reasons. What’s most seductive about tablets is multi-touch on a spacious screen. And the whole point of mobile technology is to fit easily in your pocket — which this device doesn’t. (Never mind the fact that Streak is born with the already out-of-date Android 1.6.)

But if the size of the screen is the reason for Streak 5’s existence, and Dell believes this is the “sweet spot” between two popular form factors — you’d never get that from this ad. Streak comes off more like a smartphone, only casually described at the end as a “pocket tablet.”

Even more damning, the characters in this commercial don’t do a single thing with their Streaks that couldn’t be done with a smartphone. So what’s the point of carrying around this extra bulk again?

It seems that Mother is more focused on helping Dell grow a personality than define the Streak. But they aren’t helping. In context of such past embarrassments as Lollipop and Doorway, they appear to believe that quirky people, dancing people — or better yet, quirky dancing people — are key to reviving the Dell brand. Years later, however, Dell’s brand personality remains confused. We can all agree, “quirky” is not it.

I do hope Dell is preparing its defense for the International Court of Branding, because they appear to be serious about this double dose of theme lines. This ad ends with “You can tell it’s Dell,” followed immediately by “The power to do more.” Pick one, please. This is such a basic violation of advertising principles, it’s surprising that even Dell would do it.

Dell has every right to be nervous about Streak 5. But who knows. Maybe it will be a surprise hit, Dell will suddenly be seen as an innovator and Mother will ride this advertising success to a fat new contract. I’d just hate to see the Vegas odds on that one.

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.

Oct 10

“You can tell it’s Dell”

Prepare to be dazzled. Dell is about to unveil a new ad campaign.

No samples provided yet — but even with the scant clues offered, you can definitely tell it’s Dell. Because it’s taken an eon to produce and doesn’t sound very distinctive.

According to a story in Adweek, Dell intends to move the focus from price ads to brand image ads.

Can Dell undo its addiction to "creative" like this?

This, of course, would be a major miracle. (A) Dell has lived and breathed transactional ads for years, and (B) they need to stand for something before they can run a brand campaign.

This campaign will be Dell’s first major effort from Y&R, which took over the account from Enfatico. Interestingly, after Enfatico got slammed for taking 8 months to produce its first campaign, it’s taken Y&R 18 months to produce this one. That’s progress.

A new computer can be conceived, engineered and manufactured in less time than it takes Dell to produce an ad campaign.

One might also quibble with the fact that this brand campaign isn’t really a brand campaign. From the nuggets provided by Adweek, it seems that each ad simply highlights one feature of a particular computer. In most circles, this is considered a product campaign.

Apple can get away with ads like this, because they’ve created a brand that stands for innovation. When they run a product ad, it enhances the brand.

Not so much for Dell. When they run a product ad, it’s just a product ad. If they wish to imbue the word Dell with distinctive and positive meaning, they’ll need to do a major companywide rethink — from product lineup to communications.

It will take more than a product ad with a rhyming theme line.

Sep 10

Dell: in search of the creative grail

My my, isn’t this a shocker:
Dell is out hunting for a new agency.

As their spokesperson explains, “we think it’s appropriate to continuously review our creative.”

At some point, Dell may figure out that the idea is to continuously improve their creative, not just review it. Despite a parade of agencies in the last 10-15 years, their marketing efforts remain continuously forgettable.

An anonymous industry sage once observed: Clients always get the advertising they deserve.

That’s certainly the case here.

As a long line of psychologically damaged creatives will attest, it ain’t easy working with Dell. Campaigns that end up running are typically a faint echo of the original idea, ground down by second-guessing and never-ending revisions.

In my opinion, it’s because Dell lacks one essential ingredient: a passion for great marketing.

The tone inside every company is set at the top. And Dell has a leader who is driven by efficiency, not imagination. Quantity is Job #1. To Dell, selling to a customer takes priority over engaging a customer.

So, year after year, Dell’s agencies deliver what is demanded of them — creative that lacks in heart and rarely takes risks. In other words, Dell gets exactly the marketing it deserves.

I don’t imagine too many are surprised that Dell is sniffing around for a new agency, now that their three-year, $4.5 billion deal with monolithic holding company WPP is about to expire. You may recall, WPP started the relationship by creating Enfatico, a global agency devoted to Dell, with 1,000 people across 13 offices. That lasted all of a year. Then most of the Dell responsibilities were shifted to other WPP agencies — with no visible change in the work as far as I can tell.

(Uh-oh. I’m having some kind of weird flashback. A vague recollection that I actually had something to do with Enfatico. That’s not even possible. Is it? Whatever, back to our story…)

Dell will be listening to creative pitches from a number of agencies — including the WPP agencies they currently use.

Personally, I’m always amazed when clients do this. It’s as if Dell is saying to WPP, “Ya know, honey, there’s something missing in our marriage. So here’s my plan. I’m going to sleep around a bit, and if I can’t find anything better, I’ll keep living with you.”

The fact is, agencies invest a huge amount of time and energy in learning a client’s business. Making a switch is expensive. So my advice to clients is: If you think your agency is talented, work with them. If you think they’re not, fire their butts. Walking the middle ground just frustrates everyone.

If Dell is serious about improving creativity, however, they’ll fix themselves before they fix their agency roster. Since Michael Dell is missing the marketing gene, he needs to hire someone who’s got it — preferably someone who has been spectacularly successful elsewhere. He needs to give him/her the authority to streamline Dell’s sprawling marketing machine and make final decisions. He might also make more compelling products, but that’s another story.

Without this kind of substantive change, it will be creativity as usual at Dell.

Winning the big Dell creative shootout will be some agency’s reward — it will also be their punishment.

Aug 10

CEOs: feeling the love

In the wake of CEO Mark Hurd’s “resignation” (wink) last week at HP, quite a few stories have popped up about the man’s lovability quotient. Apparently, they weren’t exactly weeping in the halls over there.

This brings up an interesting subject. That is, exactly how do employees feel about their own CEOs at the major technology companies?

Turns out, there’s a site for that. offers “a free inside look at over 84,000 companies.” Here, employees can anonymously rate their own places of employment, so perspective employees can hear some straight talk before they sign on the dotted line. It’s hard to draw conclusions from this stuff, since negative voices are usually the loudest. But if you’re comparing one company’s loudest responses to another’s, you have to take notice when the differences are stark. And they are.

Let’s start with Mark Hurd’s pitifully low approval rating: 34%. This is in sharp contrast to Larry Ellison’s high 78% and Steve Jobs’ absurdly high 98%.

Common sense says that employees at successful companies will generally approve of their CEO’s performance. Yet HP has been very successful, and Hurd’s approval rating was in the tank.

Maybe it’s just that he was a tough guy? Well, Ellison and Jobs aren’t the most cuddly CEOs around — and their ratings are sky-high. So it seems that Mark Hurd really did have something special going for himself. He had that rare ability to push his company forward as he pushed his employees away.

Common sense also says that on a site inviting negativity, it would be virtually impossible for a CEO to score 98% approval as Jobs did. Not so difficult to understand, though. (A) Apple’s success is beyond phenomenal, and (B) tough as he can be, Steve Jobs demonstrates respect and responsibility for his employees. Cutting jobs is not the way Steve produces profit, and he does not wall himself off from employee contact.

And let’s not forget our friends Ballmer and Dell. They received 52% and 51% approval ratings, respectively. Sound roughly respectable? Nice middle-of-the-road numbers? Only if you’ve been conditioned by presidential approval polls. Personally, I find 50% to be shockingly low in a corporate poll. Unless your CEO had stolen your wallet or poured sugar in your gas tank, most would support him or her by default. 50% seems like a given, with bonus points for actual performance.

The fact that Ballmer and Dell dwell at the 50% level shows a lot of nothingness. Their failure has not been a matter of months, it’s been a matter of years. And when half your company wishes someone else had your job, it doesn’t bode well for your future.

Jul 10

The dark side of the dark side

While many Mac users already see PCs as “the dark side,” Dell has somehow managed to up the ante on darkness.

According to the S.E.C., the company has been dabbling in a little nastiness called disclosure accounting fraud — and they’ve  just coughed up over $100 million in penalties to make it go away.

In a nutshell, Dell lied. They told the world they were meeting their quarterly goals because of their legendary strengths, when in fact it was because of their legendary weakness: an addiction to Intel’s rebate money. Dell received money for using Intel chips, as well as not using A.M.D. chips. Messy.

The S.E.C. said Dell acted “to project financial results that the company wished it had achieved but could not.” They met Wall Street’s expectations “by breaking the rules.”

Okay, so companies get themselves in legal hot water every day. But Dell managed to do something special. The S.E.C. not only fined Dell the company, they took the rare step of fining Dell the person — along with a handful of his former executives. Seems they created their own little Cosa Vostro.

Documents released by the S.E.C. show just how murky this operation was. Former chief executive Kevin Rollins boasted in 2004 that Dell can meet Wall Street expectations because of its “tightly controlled supply chain, highly efficient infrastructure and direct relationships with customers.” Somehow he confused that with “We’re getting a new shipment of cash from Intel.”

He fessed up in an email to Michael Dell, saying that Intel’s money was the only reason they’d made their numbers for three consecutive quarters. It’s “a bad way to run the railroad,” he said, adding “we are going to have to get off their drug…”

Rollins’ behavior was 100% despicable, but his assessment was 100% correct. They do have to get off this drug. All PC makers have to get off this drug — but they can’t. They became addicted ages ago, when PCs became commodities. Since they can’t make a profit on their products, they hungrily take payments from Intel, Microsoft and the software makers who bloat new PCs with dandy demos. According to The New York Times, some of the emails released by the S.E.C. showed Dell begging Intel for money to make their quarterly results.

All of this, of course, is in stark contrast to Apple — to whom Intel is an ingredient, not a paymaster.

Honestly, I don’t get why Michael Dell still runs his company. CEOs are routinely banished for failing to meet goals, and Michael hasn’t come close to restoring the company in the three years he’s been back. As CEO, he should be dumped even if he had nothing to do with the current mess — and in this case it’s obvious he had everything to do with this mess. Where are the angry villagers with their pitchforks and torches?

(Read The New York Times story here.)

Jun 10

Dell’s relentless pursuit of profit

There are two ways to make money in the technology business. You can obsess about making great things, and let profit flow as a result — or simply make profit your #1 priority and act accordingly.

My favorite examples of these two extremes, of course, are Apple and Dell. Apple lives or dies by its ability to innovate, while Dell lives or dies by its ability to generate more clicks every quarter. The companies were born for entirely different reasons — and Dell’s DNA is coming back to haunt them.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article about a lawsuit against Dell, and the documents that have come to light as a result. I’m not a fan of Dell, but even I felt icky reading this stuff.

Basically, Dell shipped 11.8 million computers between 2003 and 2005 with faulty electrical components that were leaking chemicals. Rather than own up to it, they stooped to the occasion by concealing the problem and putting customers’ businesses at risk. Astonishingly, Dell even tried to sell them more expensive computers to resolve the problem.

As the article states, “The documents chronicling the failure of the PCs also help explain the decline of one of America’s most celebrated and admired companies.” It will leave your head shaking. A few good quotes:

For the last seven years, the company has been plagued by serious problems, including misreading the desires of its customers, poor customer service, suspect product quality and improper accounting. [I continue to be stunned there hasn’t been a shareholder revolt.]

A study by Dell found that OptiPlex computers affected by the bad capacitors were expected to cause problems up to 97 percent of the time over a three-year period … Dell hired a contractor to investigate the situation … the contractor found that 10 times more computers were at risk of failing than Dell had estimated. Making problems worse, Dell replaced faulty motherboards with other faulty motherboards… [It’s a whole new kind of Ponzi scheme!]

Dell employees went out of their way to conceal these problems. In one e-mail exchange … a Dell worker states, “We need to avoid all language indicating the boards were bad or had ‘issues’ per our discussion this morning.” [Maybe “the boards were electronically challenged”?]

Dell salespeople were told, “Don’t bring this to customer’s attention proactively” and “Emphasize uncertainty.” [Hell yeah, that’ll work. People love uncertainty.]

… hundreds of Dell internal documents produced in the lawsuit show a company whose supply chain had collapsed as it failed to find working motherboards for its customers, including the firm representing Dell in the lawsuit, Alston & Bird. [Hey, what are friends for?]

Every company has a culture, and that culture is what guides employees’ thinking. This isn’t the behavior of an isolated few. It’s a group behavior born of an environment where nothing is more important than the numbers. Unfortunately for Dell, the only known cure for such a failure is leadership.

Jun 10

Dell exposes itself in public

In case anyone missed the news, Dell is entering the tablet market — sort of — with a mini-5-inch touchscreen device called the Streak.

The name is actually perfect. Just as “streakers” used to run through public places stark naked, the Streak does a darn good job of exposing the real Dell: a company that wishes it could innovate, but lacks a few essential ingredients.

Let’s back up a bit to fully appreciate this one. We’ve got phones and we’ve got laptops. Apple just shook things up by putting a brand new product — iPad — in that space between a phone and laptop.

Now Dell comes along and puts the Streak in some imagined space between a phone and an iPad. Might they next put a product between a phone and the Streak? With a little luck, this could go on forever.

The Streak is too big to be a good phone and too small to be a good tablet. It is truly the Dell version of innovation — a faint echo of someone else’s good idea.

Dell’s problem is that they’re not an innovator, they’re a money-making machine. And unfortunately, they’re a money-making machine that doesn’t make any money. The revolution they created — the direct sales model — has long since been bettered by others. With an almost invisible profit margin, they can only make money when they sell products by the zillion. And that’s not so easy these days.

“If only we could be seen as an innovator,” Dell thinks, “then people would be willing to pay more for our products.” Bingo. That’s Apple’s not-so-secret secret. But wishing you could be an innovator doesn’t make you one. Dell has been wishing for a few years now, and all we get are wild colors for our laptops, me-too smart phones and a super-thin computer that costs too much and impresses too little.

What Dell really needs is a product that will stand out from their current product line. By all appearances, the Streak is going to fit right in.

Mar 10

A brand about a millimeter thick

Great brands have depth. They stand for something. Their products are a good representation of their values. Their customers tend to remain loyal, even when things get a bit wobbly.

On the other hand, some companies have only a thin shell of a brand. It’s less genuine, more of a veneer than a true representation of what they believe. And the thinner the brand, the more temporary customers can be.

Case in point: Dell.

Dell has just announced that their Android-based Mini 3 smartphone will soon be coming to the US (it’s currently on sale in China). So far, so good. Welcome, Dell. You have to figure that if Dell makes it, they must believe in it, right?

Well, not so fast. A quick glance at the online Dell Store shows that Dell is doing a lot of believing these days. They’re pretty much hawking every smartphone brand under the sun. BlackBerry, Palm, Samsung? You bet. Motorola, LG? No prob. Droid, Pre, Bold, Exclaim, Backflip… Dell sells ’em all. HP, in comparison, sells its own smartphone — and nobody else’s.

The message is pretty clear. Dell is more concerned about making a few bucks than serving up the technology they really believe in. If they’re just as happy to sell me a Samsung Exclaim as they are a Mini 3, exactly what does the Dell brand stand for?

Then again, if you buy one of Dell’s competitors’ phones at the Dell Store (I feel silly even typing that), you probably stand a better chance of getting the most advanced software. Dell glosses over this little detail in their Mini 3 press release, but preliminary word is that their new baby will ship with Android 1.6, while Nexus One is running Android 2.1.

As my favorite philosopher Charlton Heston once screamed: “It’s a mad house!”