When Marketing Becomes Pointless

EMC taunted NetApp by parking these cars at their HQ. What was the point?

When I was 19, I presented a paper at a conference alongside former (and present) California Governor, Jerry Brown. Being a radical punk, I wore a Dead Kennedys shirt while chatting with him. Somewhere I have a picture. But Jerry didn’t “get” the message I was sending, and I’m not sure why I did it anyway. I actually respected what he said at the event about urban renewal, and his politics were much more to my liking at the time than those of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

I was reminded of this pointless stunt this week on hearing that EMC parked branded cars and power-washed their logo in front of rival NetApp’s headquarters. Aside from the glee of the EMC crew and annoyance from my NetApp contacts, I came away asking “what’s the point?” Was this stunt an effective way of messaging their new products? Would it demoralize the NetApp employees? Would it energize the EMC staff? Would it garner publicity and coverage? Or was it merely a silly and pointless stunt?

What’s the Point?

Marketers should always ask themselves this question when considering new initiatives. Creativity knows no bounds, and Internet and guerilla marketing tactics often turn to tactics ripped from the obnoxious MTV shows, Jackass and Punk’d. But even well-intentioned campaigns can go awry: It is common for technology companies to focus on communicating cool features instead of usability.

Do customers need “record-breaking” performance or easier systems management? EMC themed their entire January 18 announcement on the former, including claims that their new products were 2x, 3x, or even 7x faster than the competition. But, to me, the highlight of this product rollout was “Unisphere”, the simplified management application for their low-end systems. I believe that Unisphere and reseller support will sell more VNXe storage arrays than Xeon multi-core processors or 6 Gb SAS. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the technical references in that last sentence: The intended audience for these products don’t know or care about all that, either.

Making a Splash

“Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s what makes it candy.” – Charlie Bucket’s explanation of Willy Wonka

But not all marketing efforts are designed to make a point directly. Many are intended to make a splash, in hopes of attracting attention. Entertaining marketing is much more common and rewarding than dry, factual statements. This explains EMC’s world-record motorcycle jump, Mini Cooper stuffing, and (literal) record breaking on the 18th: They wanted to grab attention.

EMC's "record breaking" stunts raised visibility for a new line of storage products

It worked. EMC drew the attention of the entire industry; even those that refused to participate joined in! This is my second writeup resulting from the event, and will not be my last. And EMC’s share prices rose to a 10-year high in the run-up to the announcement. Clearly much of the effort was executed correctly.

Weigh the Benefits

Although it is easier to count the cost, it is wise to weigh the potential benefits of marketing efforts:

  • Will it increase visibility of my company or product?
  • Will it spread the word about a valuable feature or benefit?
  • Will it cause customers to consider buying from my in the future?
  • Will it reassure current customers that they made the correct choice?
  • Will it help my employees, vendors, and investors to feel motivated and positive?
  • Will it cause my competitors to make a mistake?

If few or none of these outcomes are likely, perhaps it’s time to consider a more-effective strategy.


  1. says

    I got distinctly uncomfortable watching the EMC event. I still have the impression that all the entertainment was trying to hide something. Why have a flashy, showy, trashy display of wealth ? Why not present your vision, show the value and engage.

    I think it demonstrates EMC lack of comprehension for, and fear of, entering the low end market. They may be fearful of losing the position as a premium vendor and thus losing their substantial profit margins.

    Overdone and quite tasteless.

  2. says

    Do I, as an IT buyer, find value in what EMC did yesterday? No. It was a show, and the whole “let’s go harrass NetApp” thing was outright unprofessional. It’s something you would see in a Sonic Drive-In ad, not something a large enterprise IT vendor should be doing. HP and Dell don’t stoop to this level in consumer systems where someone might buy it, I don’t see why EMC would think it was a good idea in enterprise IT where buyers are focused on other things (the tech, costs) than showmanship.

    That said, as an EMC shareholder, it drove the price up (this is the company who’s VMware stock was so worthy at various points in time EMC’s market cap was less than VMware holdings+cash – it probably needed to go up). The thing is can Tucci and EMC make that price hold over time? Investors understand flashy shows much more than the IT departments EMC’s marketing should be focused to.

  3. Greg Knieriemen says

    Lighten up guys… EMC made a big splash and they did a great job of provoking NetApp to talk about EMC’s launch (which was the goal of the stunts). NetApp couldn’t resist responding to EMC. The smarter thing for NetApp to do would have been to ignore EMC’s bait.

    • says

      There is nothing to admire in puerile baiting of a competitor. I would prefer to do business with grownups, not children playing at school.

      And yes, NetApp should also have acted like grownups. Maybe the storage industry has some attitude problems.