Enterprise Software

IBM's OS/2 campaign showed how marketing matters more than technology

Marketing really does matter. If you can't market your product, it doesn't matter how good it is. This OS/2 Warp ad from IBM proves the point. Check out the ad and then read on to see how and why it didn't work.

I've said it before: Good marketing beats better technology. The corollary of that is: Bad marketing dooms good technology. If you want proof of that, you need look no further than OS/2. IBM was widely criticized for its bad marketing of OS/2 and this ad shows why.

Reminiscent of the first Infiniti car ads where you saw rocks and trees, but never actually saw the car that was being sold, this ad touts all of the virtues of OS/2 without actually showing you the screen. All you see is that the actors are wowed by everything OS/2 can do. (And for only $80 - Wow!)

The ability to run a video, connect to the Internet, and send a fax may not be anything revolutionary now, but in comparison to Windows 3.1 at the time, it really was something. But IBM never got around to showing you exactly what was going on. All you could see was stunned amazement.

Because IBM never showed what was going on, it lead viewers to get a romanticized vision of how they expected it to be. Although OS/2's Workplace Shell was a technical marvel with its use of object orientation and all, it wasn't all THAT exciting. You were less than overwhelmed when you finally DID see it. Alternatively, because you never saw what the screen looked like, nothing caught your attention and you dismissed it completely.

OS/2 really was a "Better Windows than Windows". Compared to any version of Windows up to about Windows 2000 Professional, OS/2 Warp was more stable, multitasked more smoothly, and was easier to use. As I said in "5 of the best desktop operating systems you never used", IBM introduced many innovations in OS/2 that Microsoft couldn't replicate until Windows XP.

None of that mattered however. IBM's inability to properly tell OS/2's story when it first shipped and people were excited about the initial buzz helped doomed it. Microsoft's arrangement with computer manufacturers and the Win32 API were only more nails in the coffin.

IBM claims in the ad that it's a Warped World. What turned out to be really warped was the marketing campaign IBM used to get OS/2 some early mindshare and traction.

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