The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Did IBM Play It’s Best Move In A Game Of Chess?
February 4, 2008, 7:30 am
Filed under: Comment


I’ve just watched an amazing documentary about a chess match that was played between Grand master Garry Kasparov and a computer built by IBM, called Deep Blue.

I know you probably think that sounds like watching paint dry – but it was really good.

Without going into all the conspiracy theories that the film uncovers/discusses … the upshot is the computer won and it positively impacted IBM’s share price by about 40%.



No wonder IBM said ‘no’ to a rematch – despite Kasparov allowing it when he beat the computer the previous year.

Anyway, what I love is that IBM didn’t create this computer just because they like chess – they did it as part of their core brand marketing strategy.

Rather than just continuing with the tried and tested option [ironically one of the strengths of the IBM company, best exemplified with their famous “NO ONE EVER GOT FIRED FOR BUYING IBM” campaign] they set themselves a challenge … something that would really test them … something that aimed as high as you could get … something that was tangible for people outside the computer industry to understand … something that could see them failing in the most public of ways.

Sure it cost them a fortune, sure it meant creating a one-off super computer just to play a game of championship chess, sure it was potentially a huge risk [though they continued with their traditional advertising while this was all going on] … but given they ended up having an ‘event’ that captivated millions of people all around the World [the final match was watched by an estimated 200-300 million people] and saw their share price experience massive growth, you have to say it was a pretty brilliant move.

Richard Branson

This goes back to my view that the brands that society adores the most are the ones who make things happen, rather than put all its eggs in the ‘one-dimensional advertising’ basket.

[see here, here, here and here for some shamelessly good examples]

The sad thing is that when a brand does some sort of innovative marketing – the idea tends to originate from the brand owner, not the agency – which is why if advertising is to have any sort of future, then I believe the powers-that-be need to stop talking glibbly about being ‘media neutral’ and start ordering it to happen.

But then we come to a chicken and egg situation.

Agencies will find it hard to prove their ‘media neutral problem-solving abilities’ unless clients give them the opportunity and clients won’t give them the opportunity unless agencies stop always coming up with ads as a solution.

As Lee wrote on my blog a couple of weeks ago …

More agencies need to understand that modern communication requires them to go above and beyond just ads and start finding ways that fundamentally addresses the key issue of the client.

I understand that clients hold the key in allowing this to happen, but after years of being told an “ad will solve all”, you can’t blame us for being slightly mistrusting of your claims, especially when you use words like “through the line” which indicates you still will favour a more traditional advertising solution over something maybe more creatively pragmatic.

It’s not about advertising, it’s about identifying an idea that can solve this terrible situation regardless of channel or discipline.

Multinationals still think putting all their departments into one bottom line represents media neutrality. Clients don’t want media neutrality, we want idea neutrality.


Idea neutrality – god I love that phrase – and while I am not suggesting television, print, outdoor and the like are dead as advertising channels, I do believe companies who use these mediums as the starting point for solving clients business problems are short-sighted, misguided and unprofessional.

Of course I know coming up with ideas like the one IBM did is difficult … then there’s the whole issue of how to sell it and charge for it … and I appreciate if you get it wrong, there are potentially huge ramifications [though it didn’t hurt IBM in their first play-off with Kasparov and certainly hasn’t affected brands like Apple and Virgin with their public displays of product failings] however I believe that with intelligence, knowledge, understanding and collaboration, you can develop an idea that doesn’t just solve your clients business problems, but helps develop their brand in a way that is more creative, engaging, interesting and rewarding [both to the people who developed the idea and the people exposed to it] than 90% of the TVC’s we churn out.

Some of you might read this and think I’m talking a crock of shit [no surprise there then] but if you get what I’m talking about then I encourage you to make it happen because if you just sit there and wait, you’re going to be in for a very frustrating time.

14 Comments so far
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trying to counteract negative pr about your beadle post are we campbell? and managing to creep to a client all at the same time. youre a genius campbell but so was sir clive sinclair and look where it got him.

for a planner post, i quite like this, not as much as george will, but i like it.

of course its lee’s comment that makes it rise above the usual dross you churn out 🙂

fuck ive complimented you again. and about some bollocks about chess. i need to get past this holiday hangover and quick.

slightly above average catching up with you, speak later.

Comment by andy@cynic

Comments like “Sir Clive Sinclair” almost make me happy to have Andy back 🙂
One thing I definitely agree with him on is this post is good and George will love it. Once again you are pushing planning and advertising to develop and sell ideas that make things happen rather than just concentrate on the creation of one dimensional advertising because it helps prove our worth and can lead you into amazing creative avenues.
Who knows if what IBM did was a true strategic move or just a case of wanting to test their technology, but I would hasten to guess it had more impact on their value than a whole year of ad campaigns.
This sort of thinking should be coming from us, it’s just a shame that many advertising holding companies want to extract money from the industry rather than invest in it and keep it relevant for years ahead.

Comment by Pete

Knight to F7.

Comment by John

Will wonders never cease? Andy in polite about ‘planning bollocks post SHOCK!’

Have you forgotten to take your pills mate?

I know what you’re saying Pete, advertising holding companies are treating their agencies like ATM machines where the only action is ‘financial extraction’ but they can’t go on like this forever because they’ll have no agencies left to rape in the end.

Unless they keep buying up the small independents who have some pride and values in what they do.

And John, that’s the most insightful comment you’ve ever made. At least it makes sense 🙂

Comment by Rob

Inbetween your immature posts you do write some very interesting things I say that without the influence of my “quotes” starring role.

It is very easy for a company to post rationalise any successful action as part of their overall strategy, however with IBM I do believe they took this decision because they saw R&D and marketing benefits for the organisation.

Bugatti is another example of this approach. From what I believe, the Veyron started off purely as a journey of engineering discovery but along the way they saw how it could reignite the awareness and appeal of the Bugatti brand so started to treat the project with a marketing appreciation. Of course they are losing millions on each car sold, but as far as I am concerned, that’s an accountant issue. Lol.

I appreciate you acknowledge most “brand proof” ideas originate from the client rather than the agency. I accept most of these concepts didn’t get instigated from within a marketing department however they are the people who tend to see the bigger opportunity and leverage it. (If people say this is because agencies haven’t the access to the departments who are charged with these sorts of tasks, I would remind them that they should be asking what is going on “behind the scenes” and not take anything for granted)

I believe marketing is declining at a slower rate than communication and while the finger of blame can be pointed at clients, equal “credit” should be awarded to those advertising agencies who can’t think of an idea without the aid of a storyboard or double page spread. Present company excluded of course.

Comment by Lee Hill

This issue really gets your goat doesn’t it Lee 🙂

Comment by Rob

You are so insightful Robert. Is that what planners do?

Comment by Lee Hill

That depends on which agency you deal with, ha!

Now stop pissing about on my blog and do some work will you 🙂

Comment by Rob

That was the beauty of the chess idea. Because even if they lost it was to the best, and no one else was getting close.

The Bugatti not only brought back an extinct brand, it raised the profile of all the VW brands attached to it.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Exactly Mr M … it just shocks me how few other companies even look at this concept to drive their brands growth/development

Comment by Rob

It is surprising sometimes how few seem to try it.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

One of the most coherent and inspiring posts for considering a career in brands yet. Thank you Rob.

Comment by charles

that comments sicker than a sicko eating some sick from another sickos sick. are you ok charles?

Comment by andy@cynic

Well thank you Charles, but I am inclined to agree with Andy – are you OK????

Comment by Robert

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