Explores Our Dreams

Lo these many years after college, I still sometimes dream that I have a French test in the morning and have totally forgotten to go to class—ever. So this latest IBM e-business campaign, which focuses on a few familiar themes in anxiety dreams—sinking in water, falling from the sky, being chased—really resonates with me.

It picks up where the previous campaign with the contraptions—pixie dust or a universal business adapter—left off. The spots offer the same clever writing and inspired casting but now drag Sigmund Freud into the post-bubble age of corporate cutbacks and lagging servers. In so doing, the work shows that you don’t have to be even slightly neurotic, given the reality of business these days, to feel awash in anxiety and worry or that you might just be sunk.

Take Beth. A hard-driving executive in an appropriate dark suit, she paces her shrink’s office, describing a dream. “I’m floating in water,” she says. She recounts the details, and we see the dream, as interpreted visually by Joe Pytka. The vision of her unconscious is universal and dead-on. She sits at a polished-wood conference table, surrounded by her buttoned-up colleagues, in what seems like an endless lake, and they’re barely treading water. It’s dynamic and also hilarious: Among all the bobbers, we see a dedicated secretary floating on her own in the background, next to a ficus tree.

“Liquidity issues?” asks the shrink with the obvious business bent. He, by the way, is the one who lies on the couch.

“No!” she says. “We’re at sea, we’re rudderless. We need help!” With that, she’s shown blurting out the same stuff in the dream. One of her confreres turns to her and says, “This is Bob’s meeting, Beth.”

The sea-level joke is smart on a few levels: Not only does this IBM campaign manage to talk e-business with all the “C-level” executives it needs to reach (CIOs, CFOs, CEOs), it also manages to make fun of corporately correct speech and procedures, no doubt learned at ’90s-style touchy-feely, walking-on-coals, being-blindfolded-to-learn-to-trust bonding retreats.

“So what does it mean?” she asks the shrink. His sage interpretation: “That you’re lost, adrift and need help.” This is followed by the familiar blue and white letterbox graphic and “Call IBM business consulting.”

In other words, sometimes a rudderless ship is just a rudderless ship. All of the spots connect in an enjoyable way, and underline the fundamental shift from fixed ideas to the flexibility required in running a tech business these days—options supplied by IBM consultants.

There’s no overt sexual interpretation, as with Freud, but the commercials do make the solving of abstruse business problems like outsourcing and e-business on demand a little sexier, smarter and more fun. For the CIO with big troubles, the spots show that stodgy old IBM is feelin’ ya, dawg.

The spot called “Balloon” opens on an H.G. Wells-ish, Baron von Munchausen-style version of an elaborate 19th-century hot air balloon, a loaded symbol if there ever was one. “So you’re in a balloon,” the e-shrink says. “It’s a corporate outing.”

“No, we’re falling to our doom,” the patient says calmly. When the business therapist finds out that the guy refused to lighten his load and get rid of everything, he tells his client he has a “fixed-cost fixation.” The one weak spot in the commercial is that the joke centers on the one thing the guy can’t get rid of: his brother-in-law, Phil.

The pacing and timing of “Mob” is pretty perfect. A miserable guy describes his dream, that he’s running away from a mob: “They’re tough customers, very demanding.” We see him in a gothic hallway setting, pursued by an eerie band in black robes and white Venetian masks. “I can’t get away,” he says. “What does it mean?”

“That you’re too slow, you can’t respond, and you’re in denial,” the shrink replies. “I am not!” says the outraged dreamer. “See?” the therapist asks with a wave of his hand.

So in these tricky times, forget about buying from some ex-dot-com operator who can’t get himself arrested—go to the old guys who will do it comprehensively (but expensively) and correctly, so you can stay nimble and responsive. You might get a better night’s sleep in the bargain, and even manage to make it your meeting.