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iSeries image campaigns prove ineffective

Despite its efforts, IBM has been unable to shake the midrange platform's outdated image. However, a new branding campaign is in the works.

TORONTO -- Despite several campaigns to improve the image of the iSeries, the platform is still viewed as outdated while sales continue to plummet -- and IBM has yet to figure out how to change that.

The television ads didn't prove to be all that effective.
Cecelia Marresse
vice president of iSeries marketingIBM

Users at this week's COMMON iSeries user group conference voiced frustration that the platform was still largely dismissed among upper management and pleaded with IBM to do something.

"My boss doesn't want to hear it from me, because he's not hearing it from you," one desperate customer told IBM.

Unfortunately, IBM has been doing something, but those programs have been largely ineffective. In fact, third-quarter earnings reports released Tuesday showed a 26% drop in iSeries revenue. This is the third consecutive quarterly loss for the platform.

Big Blue hasn't admitted defeat, however, and it's not giving up. It plans to launch a new image campaign early next year, executives said.

"We haven't done as good as a job as we should have," said Mike Borman, IBM's recently appointed iSeries general manager, speaking at his first COMMON. "We've lost luster on our star and we have to improve that."

Borman conceded that there were several weak areas in IBM's efforts to move the platform forward and pledged to make changes.

The AS/400 has undergone much transformation since its inception 16 years ago. After name changes and several technological updates, the platform is still viewed by many in the industry as a solution-based system that can't get out of the 1980s. Although most experts consider it to be the most secure and powerful platform this side of the mainframe, years of lax marketing efforts on IBM's part have made a lackluster image difficult to overcome.

The mood has changed dramatically since the last COMMON conference in May, when IBM launched a promotion that played off the devotion iSeries users have for the platform. The "iSeries mySeries" campaign held much promise, but so far has failed to produce any noticeable results.

TV ads test marketed in St. Louis and Kansas City also fell flat.

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"The television ads didn't prove to be all that effective, said Cecelia Marresse, outgoing vice president of iSeries marketing. "They failed to make an impression."

But Marresse said print and radio promotions appear to be having much more impact and IBM will continue to run them.

Users are understandably frustrated -- probably more so now that attempts to promote the product have fizzled.

"I like what they're doing, but it doesn't seem to have much effect," said Rick Baird, a senior program analyst for Steak 'n Shake Co., a restaurant chain based in Indianapolis.

The problem, he said, is that IBM's iSeries message continues to target the wrong people.

An IT manager for a Florida-based grocery supply chain, who did not want to use his name, said the platform appears to be dying. He's viewed as sort of an enigma in the industry. He's worked on the platform for 14 years.

"When I tell them I work on an AS/400, they look at me like I'm the guy that got stuck with the ugly girl," he said.

Trevor Perry, an iSeries consultant with Clear Technologies, in Coppell, Texas, pleaded with IBM to help them get the message out.

"Don't preach to us," he said. "Give us the tools and let us go preach it. Make us go out there."

Noting that IBM had tools to help them do it, Marresse admitted "that part of the campaign hasn't gotten across."

Marresse, however, will not have to worry about it much longer. As of Nov. 1, Marresse will assume a new role as vice president of marketing, distribution channel and channel management, Americas Group. She held the position of vice president iSeries marketing for two years. Peter Bingaman, an executive with the software group, will replace Marresse.

However, IBM is working on a new image campaign, one that Marresse said will be launched sometime before the next COMMON conference in March. She was sketchy with details but said it would focus on the platform's business value.

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