Why IBM Won’t Be Ad Tech’s Sleeping Giant for Much Longer

Agency purchases have caught marketing world's attention

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For the past few years, IBM has been quietly ramping up its ad tech play, but a recent shopping spree really had digital marketers take notice. Big Blue last week picked up European interactive agencies Aperto and ecx.io—right on the heels of buying creative shop Resource/Ammirati and closing a deal for The Weather Company's data-rich digital properties. Those four acquisitions represent a panoply of online marketing capabilities—from customer experience to ad targeting.

"The one-plus-one will certainly equal more than two," said Matt Candy, vp of the European division of IBM Interactive Experience, noting the units will work cohesively for his company's clients, which include Jaguar, Citi and Staples. "The synergies can be executed globally."

Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser referred to IBM is a "sleeping giant" in brand marketing services. His point was underscored by a recent Kia promotion, which tapped IBM Watson to select social influencers for the carmaker's Super Bowl campaign.

"Because IBM is so big and has so many resources, they can move into this space more aggressively," Wieser said. "That's why you always have to be mindful of what they are doing."

Anjali Yakkundi, senior analyst at Forrester Research, added, "IBM is making a serious play here, but the market is quickly transitioning and customer expectations are rising faster than vendors can keep up."

Candy acknowledged that reality, but remains confident that IBM will meet the rapid pace of change head-on. Will Big Blue continue its marketing/tech buying spree? "We will continue to look at opportunities as we see them," he answered, coyly.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 8 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.