I'm watching a crude black-and-white animation of a boy and a bouncing ball made of dots. With its glockenspiel soundtrack, the vibe is very Czechoslovakia Film Board circa 1958. The thing is, though, the dots are single atoms, and the animation is achieved by IBMers moving these atoms around frame by frame.
Just writing that last sentence kind of blows my mind a little. When I first saw "A Boy And His Atom" back in April, a part of my brain simply wouldn't take in what I was seeing. "Trickery," it said. How hard would it be to mock up this sort of thing? Then I watched the "making of" video featuring a very jolly group of IBM boffins. "It's really true," my brain said, and I got a warm, fuzzy feeling. A sense that the future is now. Big Blue's marketing team had scored once again.
The short film melted my journalistic cynicism. In my case, this is quite an achievement. Did you know that media folk are nearly always excluded from market research? It's because we've seen too much of what goes on behind the curtain and we are considered to be too knowing.
Indeed, because I pride myself in not being manipulated by the beast that feeds me, I have often been caustic about IBM's bigger conceptual constructs. I laughed when the corporation mandated the use of a dumb-looking ampersat-style letter "e" across all its communications when "e-business" became its mantra at the turn of the century. Yet what did we end up calling this concept in the end?
"How contrived," I thought when IBM moved on to proclaiming the advent of an "on-demand" era. Yet, nowadays, I use numerous on-demand services as a matter of course and I'm happy to describe them as such. "Too non-specific and sounds a bit silly," I wrote when "smart" everything became the order of the day. Now I don't think twice about using this decidedly American-English adjective.
All of this is an extremely long-winded way of saying that IBM is very good at marketing. It might not seem that way to those of us who have endured obscurist naming conventions, eccentric rebrands, and the occasional dash of corporate doublethink. But, when it comes to the bigger picture, IBM is extremely adept at somehow taking ownership of the big ideas in business IT.
No other tech giant seems able to achieve this in quite the same way. Not Microsoft, certainly not Oracle, and not really even Apple, which knows a thing or two about provoking a quasi-mystical consumer response. The Google-machine, of course, doesn't need old-fashioned mind-share—it just needs us all to continually act as its operator-drones.
So, to take up on the theme I left off in my last column, "Feedback Loop," I simply don't buy the theory that Big Blue's lack of marketing acumen can excuse the questionable fortunes of the Power i. Admittedly, its insistence that there is no such thing as a Power i, only the cross-platform Power System, does rather put the kibosh on things. But if the top brass in New York wanted to run a huge "IBM i: The best business system in the world" campaign, they would. They wouldn't even have to append a Heineken-like "probably."
As it happens, at least one node within the corporation's hive-mind cares about what is, after all, its most eponymous offering. Even a hard-bitten cynic like me can see there are loads of warm, fuzzy feelings to be had from IBM's 25th birthday celebrations for the box that, just occasionally, still dares to speak its name. I can't say I was too impressed by the Facebook page, especially because the combined membership of just two of the i-related groups on LinkedIn is over 20,000, but some of the other activity is great.
Who can fail to get a glow when they watch Soltis, Jarman, Will, et al talk about a subject they so clearly love in the IBMi25 films issued on YouTube? Or be pleasantly surprised at what looks like a good deal on special anniversary-branded iron? Or wholeheartedly approve of some of the more sensible elements of the latest product announcements (direct attachment to the Storwize V7000 and V3700, for example)?
It's all good stuff—good stuff that allows the i to shine away from the shadow cast by the collective Power System proposition. It would be nice to think that Armonk's strategists might be considering the use of all this positive buzz to jump-start their channel in preparation for a big IBM i renaissance. Especially when Oracle is talking up the benefits of controlling the total stack from the processor up to the middleware, the database, and the app. It would be very nice indeed.
However, in this case, at least, I have the feeling that Big Blue might leave my default stance of grizzled media cynicism to go, sadly, unchallenged.
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