There are many barriers for adoption to Linux. Some are training, documentation, service, applications, games, and so on. These same barriers have been touted for several years. While these reasons have been held on to, Linux has matured and evolved far swifter than Windows and Mac OS. Commercial ventures that sell and support Linux solutions have become as robust and professional as the “big boys”.
The barriers to adoption cited in 1999 and in 2004 are still used today. These barriers are perception as opposed to the fact in many instances but there is one area in which Linux lacks creativity, energy, and innovation. This area, if addressed at all, is done in pale imitation of others and poorly executed. That area? Marketing.
IBM gave us the “Linux boy” ads. Like all IBM ads, they are convoluted and make little sense. Frankly, those ads would have been better suited for Wikipedia. A little boy swiftly absorbing the wisdom, advice, and information of the ages? Yeah, Wikipedia ad, but at the end of the ad, I would have no idea what Linux is.
Novell gave us the cute “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” farce that gets a few hits on Youtube. However, whereas Apple clearly tells us there are benefits to using a Mac in a cute manner that is easy to digest, the Novell ad is full of cute little inside jokes that make me giggle, but is lost on the general population. Worse is that we have a pale imitation as opposed to innovation. Novell could have easily created posters that say, “Think REALLY Different” and shown the same level of originality and said just as little about Linux.
My final video example is the new Dell Linux video floating around today. A poorly acted “news” spoof chock full of inside jokes about Linux delivered through tired puns and double meanings. It’s for us and not for the world and they seem to think our standard is low.
One of my favorite examples of bad marketing was an in-store GQ PC sold at Fry’s with Linspire pre-installed. Here we had a computer for under $250 that not only came with an OS, but it had games, an office suite, and many other things. Was that featured? No, but there was a handwritten sign that told me that this was not a Windows PC, it was not compatible with Windows software, and ISP’s did not support it. It was written in such a way that one would think it did not work on the Internet. Oddly, there was no such handwritten sign by the Apple computers. They may as well have written a sign that read, “Beware of the Leopard” and covered the Linspire GQ computer in barbed wire.
On a more positive note, I’ve also seen some decent magazine ads (pre-Novell SUSE), a clever web page or two (TAFUSION), and some slick brochures (Red Hat, Linspire and SCO–when they had Linux). These efforts have not been bad but when you are describing a disruptive technology these are not quite what we need to get the message out. Even on the rare occasion that they are well done they are not sustained long or introduced well enough to create real market penetration.
Dude, tell me what I am getting! I want to think different! And y’know what, I wanna tell you where I wanna go today! Linux has so many benefits that are being completely missed. I can understand and even excuse the hacker culture for not knowing how to come up with a clever slogan and execute it. Much of this rebel code is seeped in an idealistic counter culture that is sometime anti-corporate or just not marketing minded. There is nothing wrong with this. I would not want a sales rep to compile my kernel and I do not expect a programmer to deliver a sales pitch. However, companies like Novell and IBM have been in this game for decades. They have seen Microsoft market their way to #1 with an inferior product.
Now what about these smaller companies like Linspire, Tafusion, and others? Do we give them a pass for having smaller pockets or do we ask them to take on a more focused approach? Not sure there.
My local chiropractor uses simple guerrilla marketing tactics to get in the face of the community and the consumer. Proactive has turned zit prevention into a membership plan. Staples Inc. has us convinced there is a big red button that can make life easy.
Look, I am glad companies are trying to market and support Linux. But market adoption will not happen without good advertising. Every day we are surrounded by clever and quality marketing. Without thinking about it, many of our purchases are driven by marketing. Marketing is not closing the deal. Marketing is not clever Super Bowl ads in which people talk about the horses that play ball, but no on can quite remember the product. At the end of the day marketing is making people aware of your product and informing them why they need it. I believe that if the marketing is ever as solid as the Linux OS, all those other barriers to adoption cited for almost a decade will melt away.
Why? Because I will want it the same way I want two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, on a sesame seed bun.
Patrick Green is a Linux consultant living in the Chicago area.