IBM Latest to Shift Money From Ads

IBM is the latest advertiser to illustrate the ongoing shift from traditional advertising to other marketing approaches as the company moves money to fund its foray into the making of short films.

“We’re investing in this and there’s only one pot of money,” Deirdre Bigley, vp of worldwide advertising and interactive at IBM, told Adweek. Acknowledging that the result would be less spending on traditional ads, she noted, “There’s no way around it.”

As a result, Big Blue will spend less on advertising this year, though Bigley declined to quantify the shift. IBM last year spent about $250 million on measured media in the U.S., according to TNS Me-dia Intelligence.

The films were created by Ogilvy & Mather and a new arm of IBM’s marketing department, Branded Content and Entertainment Practice. Together they produced five films to start. Each tells a story of company executives helping clients achieve goals through IBM technology. Featured clients include the New York City Police Foundation, which funds a Real Time Crime Center database that detectives use to identify suspects, and National Geographic, for which IBM is helping to collect DNA samples for a five-year genographic project.

Two-minute versions will run during breaks in a new CNBC show, The Business of Innovation, which premiered Sunday night. IBM is the exclusive sponsor of the program, which is hosted by Maria Bartiromo.

Longer versions of up to seven minutes will be posted on IBM’s Web site and be seen as part of American Airlines’ in-flight entertainment. IBM also plans to distribute the content via Google, YouTube and iTunes.

IBM opted for a documentary format in part due to the storytelling limitations of a 30-second spot or a print ad. “There’s only so much you can do with body copy,” said group cd Jeff Curry, who partnered with group cd Aaron Griffiths to write treatments and questions for the films.

“A 30-second commercial can give you an idea of where we’re heading strategically,” added Bigley. “But it doesn’t give you the breadth of what we do.”

In addition, the approach increases not only the number of potential channels of distribution but also the applications. For example, IBM salesmen can use the films as case histories in a business development context and the featured clients are using the pieces to explain their missions online. The Web site for the police foundation, for one, includes a link to view the short that’s labeled, The NYPD Needs Your Help.

The films, for which Ogilvy tapped documentary directors such as Jeff Feuerzeig (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) and Barbara Kopple (Shut Up & Sing), cost considerably less than TV spots to produce. Bigley estimates that each film costs about a quarter of the industry average of $400,000 a spot. On average, each shoot lasted two to four days.

IBM also gravitated toward documentaries because it wanted to produce something that was “educational, smart and interesting,” said Bigley, with “real people in real situations. No actors. We were absolutely sure that we didn’t want this to look like an ad.”

The pieces combine testimonials with location shots, stock footage and a dash of screen copy. IBM plans to produce more films, perhaps as many as 15 by year’s end, said Bigley.

Inspiration for the project, which also involved Ogilvy’s Branded Content and Entertainment group led by Doug Scott, came from the popularity of text stories about the future of gaming, financial markets and other topics that IBM began posting on its Web site early last year. “We got an astronomical number of hits,” on the site after each story was posted, Bigley said, estimating it was 10 times more than the average. To date, IBM has posted some 30-40 such stories.