If you live in the US, you may have seen an IBM advert recently which has been raising a few eyebrows. People are saying things like “the company implies that virtual worlds are a fad and, as a result, a waste of both time and money” and even “The ad is an obvious dig at Second Life“.
I’m not sure. I can see why it looks like that, but I’m not prepared to be annoyed with IBM for damaging its influential position in virtual worlds just yet.
Before I go any further, I should make it clear that I had nothing to do with the making of this ad (if it’s not perfectly clear already, I don’t get asked about things like this <grin>). Additionally, I have not even seen the ad yet, I’ve only read transcripts, so I may be missing some subtle undertones here.
Since I have not watched it, let me allow someone who has watched it to describe it for us…
The commercial starts with an employee showing off his avatar to someone else, presumably a boss. The employee is all pumped about how he can conduct business in this virtual world and how he owns an island there. The boss asks if he can make money. The employee responds with something like, “Virtual money or real money?” This sets up the boss’s response that “The point of innovation is to make actual money.”
I’m not sure what to think. Who is the fool here? Is the boss even right? Isn’t innovation about far more than just making money? (Would training and rehearsal count? What about collaboration, recruitment, developer relations, …)
Based on the transcript (tell me if I’m wrong), I think there’s another way of looking at it. What about that ambiguous question: “virtual money or real money”? The implication is that the ’employee’ character can’t use the virtual world to make real money, but everyone who reads Business Week knows that there is real money to be made in virtual worlds. What if the boss actually “gets it” and (unlike the hesitant employee?) knows that real money can be made in virtual worlds, and is pointing this out to him, and us? Suddenly the ad takes on a new perspective.
I’m not at all sure it justifies my broadminded interpretation though, and I’m as annoyed as anyone that the ad might be interpreted as “look. aren’t virtual worlds silly” and perhaps risk undermining IBM’s amazing position in this area. What do you think?