Dell tries to advertise itself out of the doldrums

Dell’s decision to appoint ad agency Mother to drag it out of the doldrums hit the headlines this week. Another brand investing in the emotional sizzle of a new ad campaign, instead of sorting out their sausage/product.

Not long ago Dell were producing eye-popping profits, with a direct distribution model that was lauded as a superb supply chain innovation. But just when your think you’re hot, suddenly you’re not. In the year to January net income fell by 1/3. In response, Michael Dell returned as CEO, prompting comparisons with Steve Jobs’ return to save Apple in the late 1980’s.

So, what is Dell’s problem, and how to solve it? According to Marketing magazine "The company’s brand personality is in need of a shake-up." And wait for it…. "This is where Mother, famed for creating funky ads for Coca-Cola to Boots, fit in". The article goes on to describe how Futurebrand’s marketing director (take a deep breath) "Urges Dell to move beyond its functionality message towards a more aspirational position more in tune with today’s consumers, who are much more emotionally attached to their PCs". So, a few funky ads with lots of emotion is what the brand needs.

Dear, dear Dell.

The only thing a new ad campaign will do is create an image wrapper that tries to hide up product shortcomings. "Dell equals dull" is how Marketing’s editor aptly puts it, saying that his Dell PC "gets about as much emotional engagement was my toilet cistern".

Contrast this with Steve Jobs first big move, which was to focus all his energy on rejuvenating Apple’s product line. Jobs was of course lucky as hell to have the help of ace designer Jonathan Ive, the true hero of Apple’s revival. He’s the genius behind the delicious design of the iMac, iPod, MacBook and iPhone. Its these products that create such an emotional bond with the growing ranks of Apple enthusiasts, not the advertising. Indeed, Apple ads have one main job, and that’s to show off the product. This design is so good that the products effectively sell themselves.

Dell would surely be better off sorting out their product issues first. Should they stick to the low cost/high function model that made them famous, in which case they have a big job to regain an edge in the face of more competition from brands like Acer and HP? Or can they go for the more challenging goal of radically improving design, whilst still being affordable; the Zara or Top Shop of PCs?

Oh, screw it. That’s far too hard. Let’s make an ad….