When I took a wee poke at Dell the other day I could not possibly have known that labeling something Hybrid and expecting us to meekly gobble it up was only the tip of what can only be described as an ill-conceived marketing strategy iceberg.
Courtesy of Hugh MacLeod, my sometimes marketing sparring partner (and otherwise brilliant cartoonist), I learned of this 'Cloud Computing' trademark application made by Dell. At the time I parked it, waiting to see if someone would pick it up and get the full legalese rundown. Information Week's J. Nicholas Hoover does a stunning job making sense for us less legally literate types, explaining that:
Dell's trademark filing is for computer and networking hardware design, customization and development as well as consulting services for "data centers and mega-scale computing environments." The filing, published in April 2007, is now in the "notice of allowance" stage, which means it has been approved but not yet formally registered.
Cripes! At the time I saw the filing it struck me that nobody had noticed. Nobody has objected and it is too late to do so. What is less clear is whether Dell will try make this particular marketing kite fly. Hoover adds that:
A Dell spokesman said the company will decide within these six months if it intends to press forward, but gives no indication which way the company leans.
If Hugh has his way then it certainly will fly. Right now his blog and Twitterstream are all over the 'cloud computing' meme, stirring up some interesting conversations. While not officially developing a marketing strategy for Dell, Hugh is wildly hand waving in that direction.
Quite frankly both he and the company must be within a cat's whisker of stretching marketing credulity to breaking point. I cannot see any way that Dell is going to make this schtik stick without coming in for a terrible lambasting by those who have been liberally using the meme for more years than I care to remember. It's already happened in comments to Hoover's post:
Are you seriously going to tell us that the use of cloud computing will now belong to one company ?? What A Joke your trademark office is down there.
Or as one of my Irregular colleagues said: "Remember NCR doing the same with 'Tower' and trying to make magazines insert TM every time they used the word? Dell's heading in the same direction." I cringe at the memories.
I can only assume this is the brainchild of the incredibly well remunerated CMO Mark Jarvis. At $15.5 million compensation, he's got to do something to earn his keep. But is this the best the company can come up with? I remember his days at Oracle: thoroughly engaging, long on PowerPoint, not always so long on deliverables. Perhaps the 'Keep Dell Weird' idea Hugh came up with (see image above) is designed to dovetail into the meme?
But then by hedging its bets and being coy about its plans on using the meme maybe Dell already has an inkling that this latest wheeze is not such a great idea after all. I should however say that at least one cloud computing company tells me that Dell's 24 hour server delivery capability is making them supplier of choice. Talk about THAT and I'd be a lot happier. In the meantime, I can't wait to see the company's next toe stubbing marketing maneuver.
UPDATE: It now seems the trademark application is undergoing all sorts of gyrations. One minute it is canceled, next, it's re-instated. This is getting weird.
UPDATE 2: The WSJ has done further analysis. Like others, it is getting feedback that says this is a bad idea and adds:
We couldn’t get any company involved with cloud computing to tell us what they thought of Dell’s trademark on the record. But people who insisted on anonymity called the trademark absurd and a joke. And considering that Dell isn’t at the top of most people’s lists of cloud-computing innovators, they also thought it was odd that Dell was the one trademarking the term.
There’s good news for Dell’s cloud rivals: It’s still possible to challenge the trademark. Kevin Kramer, an attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, tells us that if other tech companies can show that the term is in wide use they can get the PTO to reverse the patent. But they can only challenge it within the first five years that Dell uses the trademark. Otherwise you’ll start seeing companies refer to cloud computing TM.