The Dot-cominator

If you're going to dot-com yourself, Sun wants to help. That's just what its new ads are trying to say.

Topics: Advertising,

It looks like an old “Jaws” movie poster, with a swimmer at the surface and
a humongous, menacing — wait, that’s not a shark, it’s a big dot lurking
below. “The Dot”
with the teaser “Just when your competition thought it was safe to do
business” — is one of 10 new Sun Microsystems movie-poster spoofing ads,
whose recent appearance in publications like the New Yorker, the Wall
Street Journal and the New York Times is supposed to prime us for a $100
million-plus ad blitz starting in February.

There is also the Java programming “Ubkrcoder: The Man Who Can Build Anything.” “That’s right,” reads the poster’s fine print, “the ubkrcoder can build anything to run anywhere on any device, because the ubkrcoder has the power of the dot in .com.” And then there’s E10000: Bigger and Badder, featuring a Sun server looming like the Terminator — “It’s back, and it still means business.” E10000: Bigger and Badder — “a dot in dot-com production” is a big meanie: It “devours terabytes like appetizers, and your competition like the main course” and is rated “HC: For hard core capitalists only — some material may not be suitable for squeamish bourgeoisie.” (“The Dot is rated LB — “lame business people strongly cautioned.”)

This is the second major ad campaign built around Sun’s slogan, “We’re the dot in .com.” The first was distinctly less memorable and featured round objects like flowers — get it, dots? This time, the dot will be on TV, billboards, online and in print, letting the whole world know that Sun is “the dot in”

But wait a minute. Isn’t that about like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet? Besides, most people I know haven’t the slightest idea what “the dot in .com” is anyway — unless you’re talking about a period.

As I find out, “the dot in .com” story has its roots in the age-old problem of techies trying to make themselves understood to non-techies. “Way back when we were concepting the campaign, Ed [Zander, president and COO of Sun] was trying to articulate what Sun was about for the agency, and he came up with the phrase,” says Karen Becker, Sun’s group manager for worldwide advertising.

The agency loved it, according to Howard Portrate, executive vice president and group account director for Lowe Lintas & Partners, who is producing the movie theme campaign. “It’s an absolutely brilliant encapsulation of what Sun stands for within the industry,” he says.

Huh? Maybe you had to be there. Or maybe the agency was just as baffled by what Sun does as most people are by what the dot in .com is. (You can kind of picture the ad people nodding at Zander blankly and then thinking, “Damn, we’ve been here all day and don’t have a clue how to represent the importance of server technology to everyday joes, let’s just take the next idea he gives us.”)

But Sun has clearly absorbed the identity of the dot. “If you are going to dot-com yourself, we are the dot that enables you to be a dot-com company,” says Becker, an early adopter of dot-speak. “We have the technology that will get you to dot-com,” she continues. “Analysts feel that the dot is a very believable and understandable position for us to own. Do we own the nomenclature, the dot in dot-com, dot-org and dot-net? Of course not. But it helps people understand our role.”

Well, if you say so. Indeed, Sun may be smiling when we look back on this time and call it the dot-com era. But it’s the advertising world that will have the last laugh, remembering this as a time when it got paid vast sums to create funny ads that tried to make boxy servers and business software seem sexy.

Lydia Lee is a San Francisco writer

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