If you live in a America and you have watched any television in the last couple weeks, you have likely seen some of IBM’s “help desk” commercials, the company’s attempt to, as Reuters phrases it, “put a human face on the services it offers.” In IBM’s whitewashed parallel cyber-universe, friendly, soft-spoken people sit behind desks waiting to help real people solve their real-people problems. “We wanted to show that we’re not just talking about technology for technology’s sake … but things that affect not only business but the world and society at large,” said Deirdre Bigley, IBM’s vice president of worldwide advertising.
Unfortunately, one of the ads — produced by Ogilvy & Mather — shows IBM to have a rather myopic view of the world at large, especially China. This is a common problem in corporate America, blinded by the supposed gold in them thar Chinese hills. The 30-second spot does not bode well for IBM’s future in the “world’s fastest-growing economy.” Nope, the “Big Blue” just doesn’t get China at all, it seems. Interesting for a company whose computer business was just taken over by Lenovo — a Chinese company.
Here is the transcript for the commercial in question:
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Is this the help desk? I need help.
Man Behind Desk: What kind of help?
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Dinosaurs and robots and outer space and why the sky is blue. Lots of stuff.
Man Behind Desk: (befuddled) Don’t you learn that in school?
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: I don’t go to school. It’s too far. I live on a farm in China.
Man Behind Desk: (concerned) I see.
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Is there room for me over there? (gesturing to a classroom of children off in the distance)
Man Behind Desk: (smiling proudly) We’re virtual. There’s always room.
Cute Chinese-Looking Girl: Yeah! (she excitedly runs off to study with her new classmates, who just happen to represent most bars on the cultural rainbow)
There we have it. Problem solved. If you live on a farm in rural China and there are no schools nearby, just log-on to the internet and study from your home. Simple. And easy. Because every farmer in China has a computer and internet access.
Oh wait … no they don’t.
But, really, why not? I mean, they’re part of the world’s fastest growing economy, right? What else are they going to spend their $999 annual income on? Food? Clothing?
Maybe IBM should make sure that all Chinese farmers have electricity before inviting them to virtual classrooms.
View the ad yourself: Go here. Choose “Education” from the pull-up menu. Click on the television set. Watch the clip. And then explain to me how this cute little Chinese farmgirl learned to speak such perfect English. It’s really amazing — no Chinese accent at all. Who needs school? Virtual or otherwise.