Dec 3, 2007

Dell and The Real Digital Revolution

So the ad world is, predictably, all aflutter about Dell’s decision to award their $4.5 billion account to WPP, with the understanding that WPP will create a brand new global agency whose sole purpose is to service Dell.

Many have pointed out why having a one-client agency is folly, so I won’t go there, because in my view, it’s really irrelevant.

What’s going to be relevant, in the wake of The Real Digital Revolution, is how good Dell’s computers actually are. Specifically how good they are in relation to their competitors similarly-priced computers.

Because no matter how good the new Dell ads are, consumers are going to go online first before they buy one. And if CNET tells them that the HP machine is the better one, then that’s the one they’re going to get.

Dell is a perfect foil for The Real Digital Revolution because they’ve built their business by having the best machine at the lowest price, relying heavily on bulk corporate sales for profit. Corporate sales guys being far more influenced by facts and figures than by clever advertising.

In consumer land, they’ve only had one memorable campaign, the unintentionally brilliant “Dude, You’re Getting A Dell” series that lasted from 2000 to 2003. And I say “unintentionally brilliant” because I get the distinct sense that the casting of Ben Curtis as Steven, the “Dell Dude” was a happy accident. At a time (2000) when millions of tech unsavvy parents were going out to buy their children a computer, the Dell Dude promised them that their kid wouldn’t get stuck with the dorky machine, even if it was the cheap one.

But back to the new agency: the most they can hope to do is to maintain brand consistency. As McCann’s efforts for Microsoft have shown, there’s not much you can do when everyone thinks your product is crap. Apple’s ads work because their products do: people really like iMacs and iPods and the like. So the product lives up to the promise.

The ball is now in Dell’s court. If they want their advertising to be great, they need to ensure their products are great too.


HighJive said...

so what you're say is that dell shouldn't have spent the past seven months looking for an agency, but rather, improving their product. this, sadly, is what every advertiser should be doing. after all, if dell really sought great advertising, they never would have chosen wpp. and ipg would not have been in the running either. the finalists actually say a lot about the advertiser. but instead of looking in the mirror, they'll look into marketing for solving the insolvable.

Anonymous said...

And with Apple, (or any brand that has a great product), the purpose of the advertising becomes less about minimizing what you think sucks about it and more about enhancing the great experience you’ll have.

Anonymous said...

the ironic part is that Dell used to pooh-pooh the notion of image advertising. and with some justification. their no-frills direct model was white hot for years.

and then apple goes and introduces fashion to computing. and people like it. now getting a dell feels like getting Soviet Bloc government issue by comparison. do you WANT a Dell? nobody does.

i used to work at a Dell agency. didn't work on it but the term for those who did was Dell Hell. they were painful.

you're right HJ, they're just hiring somebody to shoot spinning computers with price points and features (Stand by, Psyop and Brand New School!).
did you see the work Mother did for them. not very Mother was it?

their problem, IMHO, is that their hardwired direct DNA will get in the way of them ever "making it" in the cool image world. it's simply not in them culturally. so they should just take it in house. save them a lot of money and everyone else a lot of pain.

Anonymous said...

is dell only distributed directly...without dealers or middlemen?
pardon me for the elementary question, but it seems key to
what they need and/or expect from their advertising...
i.e., advertising is far more important to them than to anybody else in the field....

Unknown said...

Appreciate the comments. What we are doing is very straightforward. We are investing more in design of our products. Our design team has tripled in size and we recently hired Ed Boyd from Nike to join us. And, in the marketing and communications world, we are streamlining how we work so our agency can spend 100% of their time focused on what will work for our customers, rather than pitching, presenting and repitching, etc. We all know the drill which simply wastes far too much of anyone's time. Meanwhile, I would say that we are coming out with some cool product. Below is a link to our new XPS One and I have included a link for our new commercials.

Again, appreciate the conversation. We read it all. All the best, Bob Pearson, Dell,2704,2218273,00.asp

Alan Wolk said...

@Bob: Thanks so much for commenting - I really appreciate your joining the conversation here and sharing your insights.

That's great news that Dell is investing in design and realizing the value that adds for consumers.

And if the agency and marketing departments are empowered vis a vis "The Armies of 'No'" you'll have a great thing going.

Good luck.


Anonymous said...

wow. it almost sounds like dell gets it now. almost makes me feel bad for my earlier comment. almost. well, they know what techorati is, at least.

follow through bob pearson! prove us all wrong. shower toad with your newly wonderful dell products.

Anonymous said...

went to the site, thanks for the link, bob, ... sorry ... it still looks like you might be plying catch-up instead of leading, to me anyway.

apple broke ground with the iMacs, the XP1 looks like your version of it. nice try but not exactly ground-breaking or, compared to some of your competitors offerings, head-turning. apple is a different kettle of fish entirely.

don't get me wrong, nothing with wrong with nice solid computers, but for my money, it has to have a lot more sizzle to stand out.

at the end of the day, they are all big etch-a-sketches that sit on our desks that do pretty much the same thing. so it might come down to a more lust inspired design to get the consumers attention? i want a computer on my desk that makes want to turn it on cause it works and is good looking, i harken back to the comment about too many computers looking like "soviet bloc" issue...

George Parker said...

A couple of points on this Dell thread.
Dell never had the cheapest box on the market. You could always buy a cheaper PC. In the old days of “Computer Buyer” a telephone sized all ads periodical, there were ads for Taiwanese and Korean clones at half the price of a Dell
What Dell had was the best service in the business. Not price.
Dell had great advertising long before “The Dude.” I know ‘cos I did a lot of it in the eighties for Chiat and GMO in San Francisco.
Some of the ads are on my Web site This is also the advertising that built Dell into a multi billion dollar company… And remember, in direct… If the ads don’t work, you don’t sell product and the agency gets fired.
Apple freaks love Apple stuff ,cos it’s “Cool” The fact that when the original iPod batteries died after a year, and Apple answer was “Buy another iPod!” didn’t put off the freaks, cos the stuff is still “Cool!” Check out some of the recent comments on AdScam for disappointed Apple users.
Finally, Dell is now making a concerted effort in the “Channel.” This is geek speak for resellers… Middle men who sell Dell products and services as part of their “Solution Sales.” Something IBM, HP and most of the other computer companies have done for years. They are also moving into retail at Wal-Mart and Best Buy. Their major problem will be to build and develop these two new areas of opportunity without jeopardizing their huge direct model.
Michael Dell is one of the smartest guys I have ever worked with… But the commoditization of the business is accelerating. The trick will be creating the perception in the markets mind that they have some added value or difference from all the others out there. Not easy… Perhaps impossible with a DaVinci/Grey/WPP one-client agency model.
Even though I have written about how the regular agency model is broken on both AdScam and in MadScam, I would disagree with Bob Pearson’s comments about the new agency model not having to constant pitch and present… It’s not just that that is a waste of time money and resources, it means that the people working on your account are not living only in the “Dell Bubble” but experiencing other markets, products and services. The last thing you want, particularly on the creative side, are people who do nothing but Dell ads. This is why all car advertising is the same, even though it is produced through an agency, they are virtually in-house divisions of the auto makers.
Variety is the spice of life… As someone once said.
Oh, and on a final note, you mention McCann’s poor efforts on Microsoft when everyone thinks your product is crap…. Bit of a stretch there Toad… They wouldn’t own such huge market share if everyone thought that… On the other hand McCann’s MS advertising is crap… Just as it is for Intel.
Mmmm… What makes me think you work on a Mac?

Anonymous said...

speaking of which, george, hasn't dell always been perceived as a "regular" company with good service? say what you will about apple, but their image is of the "you know you want one" variety and everyone does ..

i have AE's telling everyday that they're begging IT to get them a Mac because it works better than what they have, military issue IBM's, or Lenovos, pardon me very much, and they are cooler looking.

if you have to tote around some 6 lb. box of wires and boards, it may as well be the better looking one, no?

as for horror stories? EVERY manufactured EVERYTHING has someone with the "never buy that thing" tale, no news there. if someone wants to be the first on the block to own what will be, essentially, a hockey puck in 6 months? go for it.

i have no horror tales to tell about apple and i am a loyal customer. i used to work on the PC side and hated it.

remember when windows actually wiped out your hard drive to install a new version? that's a horror story, paying too much for a cell phone? small change.

i hope that dell can actually turn their boat around, it's good for the industry to have solid competition, maybe a joint venture with apple on co-compatible Unix machines wouldn't be a bad idea....

Anonymous said...

GP-Mac dude here through and through.

Any PC maker, (Dell or otherwise), is ultimately going to be handcuffed by the one thing they have no control over: the PITA operating system that is Windows. I’ve wasted more of my life trying to troubleshoot that damn thing on a PC for even the most basic of problems than I ever have on a Mac.

A Mac works not because of its refined/clean design, simple ads or non-stroke causing tech support, but it works better because its OS is far more intuitive than anything Gates has managed to come up with. But hey, if you like a two steps forward/one back user experience, Bill’s your guy.

All’s I’m saying is put Windows XP it in all the cool cases you want, wrap it up in amazing service at an inexpensive price, but at the end of the day, it's the weak link in the chain. Put the Mac OS on a Dell? I think you'd have a different experience completely.

(For the record, I have one Dell laptop for previewing web work on a PC.)

Anonymous said...

Rather a bit of ancient history, those Dell ads of yours, George.

Few of the youngsters buying computers today were alive when those ran. Thoroughly different era, thoroughly different audience.

Or were you miffed that Toad mentioned Stephen and not you?

I rather agree with him though that the advertising matters less and less these days. If Dell have better service, the internets will note that.

As for Macs, you do realize you are a distinct minority there.

Anonymous said...

of course Macs are in the minority... how many S500's do you see compared to how many Explorers? both have their problems but one is a better ride and costs more.

it's a niche product, no one has ever argued that, but one that growing. my sister just bought her first iMac and her thought was: "this is so freakin' easy, what was i thinking with all the PC's? i was up and running in 15 minutes!"

that's the sort of thing Dell needs to pay attention to. real consumer feedback, not piped in focus group results. what makes the Mac community so loyal and eager for new product?

yes, the sleek design is A factor, but the bigger winner is the OS that engages you in a personal level from start-up. and they really do work 15 minutes or less from the box. i was working within 10 on my iMac using CS3, going towards a monday afternoon deadline... not too shabby.

if Dell could get me ease and performance like that, there's a reason to think about them, if not, my nephews not getting a Dell for x-mas, dude. and smashing, exploding, destroying the "old" models is such a crappy metaphor for change. why not evolution as a metaphor? much more appropriate.

George Parker said...

Interesting comments on my comment… Let we answer in sequence…
LD: Makes sense with his observation that Dell has always been perceived as a “Regular” company, rather than the “Ahead of the curve” Apple image… But that is why “Corporate America,” which to me has signified the MBA, bean counter, number crunching people who have always inhabited 90% of those positions… Have undoubtably felt safer with Dell products (as they did for years with IBM) rather than the weirdo stuff from the wacky dudes in Apple Land. Also, to be fair about MS products, they no longer require you to type in DOS commands and esoteric failure messages… Well… Not as much as they used to!!!
MTLB: You make a good point about users being enslaved by their operating system, whether it be when working on a Dell or any other PC… However, if “GodJobs” was the true deliverer of the “Holy Grail of Operating systems.” Why has he now decided you can you now run Windows on a MAC??? Could it possibly have something to do with money, and where his next few billion is coming from?
Macman: I wasn’t tooting my own horn when referencing my Dell ads of the late eighties (Well, just a bit… I am an AdHo) No, I was merely trying to correct the calim that the “Dell Dude” was the first good advertising Dell had ever done. As for Stephen… Where the fuck is he now? Since being busted for buying weed in the Meat packing district… Before it got trendy… While wearing a fucking kilt at 3.00Am in the morning, he has disappeared from sight. I’m still here… And I have a fucking picture in the attic with snakes growing out of my head to prove it.
Bob Pearson: I truly hope that you have latched on to what it is that makes the Apple Freaks, the freaks that they are. I dispute all the people who claim it’s because they have better, more intuitive technology… They really don’t. Fucking Xerox had it before Steve ripped it off after his visit to PARC. They have also remorselessly ripped off their customer base for fucking years… No, what they have, and I will do this in Nigerian Scammer caps… Is…
THEY HAVE CREATED A COMMUNITY OF LOYAL USERS… NEY… FANATICS, WHO HAVE DRUNK THE KOOLAID. BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE JOBS IS THE DAVID KORESCH OF “COOLDOM.” Solve that conundrum… And I doubt “DaVinci/Grey/WPP will do that for you… And you will be on the right road. Here’s a hint… And this one is for free…
Think Jobs… Then think Michael… Jobs is a single minded complete wanker. Albeit with great taste and merciless drive. But still a wanker!
Michael is a really nice guy, who didn’t fuck over 90% of the people he’s ever been involved with, whether it be in his personal life, or in business.
That’s the key… Tell the “Poisoned Dwarf” it was your idea. Just send me a case of Chateaux Lafitte.

Alan Wolk said...

Go away for a day and all hell breaks loose ;)

Interesting take on things, but I see the whole marketing landscape moving in a different direction.

The Real Digital Revolution means that everyone- from beancounters to soccer moms- can research any purchase (especially a major one) online and get everything from expert reviews to digital WOM. So they're no longer relying on the advertising.

Good design is critical in this new world because it's one way to tell customers that you're putting their needs first. It's part of an overall customer experience - including good service and in-store experience- and it's what companies need to do to set themselves apart these days.

Does Apple have superior technology? It doesn't matter. People believe they do. The same way they believe Starbucks coffee tastes better and apples from Whole Foods are just fresher and flights on Virgin are more fun. It's because of an all-encompassing sense of "we're doing something different and better here and you'll see it in everything from our sales receipts to our ads."

If it's just the ads that are taking this route (e.g. JC Penney) you're going to be found out pretty quickly. But it looks like Dell might be taking some initial steps in the right direction. That doesn't mean they need to be weird and trippy. Just focused and aware that people will be noticing and talking.

As for specifics... "Stephen" is the campaign people associate with Dell. You say Dell, people spit that back. It's not a bad thing to have them spit back, because it says that someone is going to be pretty excited to be getting a Dell. Which means that at some point Dell wasn't a commodity item.

Someone took issue with my comment about MIcrosoft: they may be popular, but nothing they make is particularly sexy. A number of their new products (Zune) have gotten middling reviews. They've come off as the antithesis of customer-centric for decades. And that makes their agency's job that much tougher.

Thanks to all for joining in on this. George- your knowledge of the tech business is encyclopedic and your insights are always welcome here.

Anonymous said...


three things.

one, have some respect for people with experience. they might be right.

two, macs are in the minority? not for long. the iPod was the trojan horse that showed the world how easy and convenient technology could be. and they like it. cue massive defections to apple. the momentum is with apple because most people simply don't care about technology. they just want it to work in an intuitive way.

three, don't be a snot. nobody likes that.

Anonymous said...

GP-Horse. Cart. Horse. Cart? ;-p

I agree: iGod speaks and his followers listen, BUT, they aren't listening if he doesn't first have a system that is easy to use which they can in turn evangelize. (Look at me with all the religion talk n stuff.)

I was going to mention that the only reason Gates and Jobs are even the only two real players here is that they both stole from Xerox on their little walk-through.

The difference is what each has done with their ‘liberated’ information since. Gates went for quantity, Jobs chose quality.

Clip from Pirates of Silicon Valley sums up their differences, but also the current mindset Toad mentions where soccer moms can get whatever they need online in two secs:

(Clip here. Most telling line is at the end.)

As for GP and his work, well, it won awards and it moved the needle for the client. Shit, what else are we working for if it ain't that? Seems a little like saying Henry Aaron's record don't matter because Bonds broke it, no?


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