Anatomy of the buy: IBM’s Smart Shift starts conversations

IBM Canada's Jo Ann Ely explains the history of the company's dual-media CSR campaign, and how it brought the Financial Post and CBC together for the first time.

When IBM brought the Smarter Planet initiative to Canada in 2009, it faced a significant marketing challenge: how do you communicate the complexities of technology and its impact on the well-being of the planet in a compelling, yet comprehensive, format?

The launch of the CSR initiative, which started in 2008 and is an effort by the company to show how common problems (such as traffic or food shortages) can be tackled using technology, called for a demanding media plan, Jo Ann Ely, manager, brand systems, IBM Canada, tells MiC.

With Mindshare and Ogilvy Canada helming the RFP, the company settled on a dual media-company strategy combining the broadcast and online capabilities of the CBC and the Financial Post called ‘Smart Shift: Conversations for Change.’ (It was the first time the two had partnered, although they’ve gone on to other partnerships in the year since.) The program officially launched Sept. 14, 2009 and after six months of success, it was decided to continue it into the first quarter of 2011, Ely says.

Targeting ‘C-level’ executives, the program stretches seamlessly across CBC broadcast, to complementary microsites on both the CBC and Financial Post platforms. The CBC broadcast plan – which recently arrived back on the air after a summer hiatus – is a combination of sponsorship and traditional buys. IBM Canada’s Smart Shift sponsors The Nature of Things and Peter Mansbridge One on One, both selected because they tackle the core social issues that are the foundation of IBM’s Smarter Planet. Building on the sponsorship are 30-second promo spots that feature quotes from both shows related directly to IBM’s platform. The Nature of Things host David Suzuki is even an active spokesperson for the campaign, appearing in the launch video outlining the goals of the program.

All on-air promos drive to the websites, which are the hubs of the campaign. Both the CBC and Financial Post Smart Shift microsites feature content streams from one another, as well as unique content from each mediaco. Both feature video and editorial content created for the site, as well as curated from the news sources of each respective organization, and feature IBM display advertising as well. It’s a combination that has proven highly effective for the brand, Ely says.

‘One of the things we know is that advertising with relevant editorial adjacency brings better results,’ Ely says of the project’s development. ‘What this allows us to do, which is different from traditional advertising, is get depth of message.’

One of the key differences of the program from a broadcast standpoint, Jamie Michaels, director of marketing, CBC, tells MiC, is that last year long-form vignettes were concocted to explain the program to viewers, but this year, the focus is to drive all conversations to the websites.

Since its launch, visits to the microsites have averaged nine minutes in length (combined) and the brand has seen an improvement of 12 points on its Brand Health Monitor metrics in the category of ‘wanting to do business’ and a whopping 31 points on the brand’s ‘favourable selling environment’ perception with consumers. Both are exceptional numbers, Ely says.

‘That’s a leading indicator for us that the program has been successful,’ she says of the Brand Health Monitor metrics. ‘It’s something we’re very proud of.’
Whether or not the program will continue past March 2011 is still undecided, Ely adds, but all told, the company is more than pleased with the media strategy.

‘It’s one of the most interesting campaigns I’ve ever worked on,’ she adds.