Why Oracle's Advertising Claims Are Strategically Stupid

Oracle had to pull advertisements this year after IBM complained that Oracle's performance claims were unfounded. Such behavior is risky, CIO.com columnist Rob Enderle says, as it suggests to customers that Oracle can't be trusted and puts IT careers in jeopardy.

By Rob Enderle
Wed, November 21, 2012

CIO — One of the more fascinating back stories this year has been the fight between Oracle and IBM. Oracle has been making claims it allegedly cannot support, and IBM has been going to the National Advertising Board (NAD) to get Oracle's ads pulled.

The latest action, described here, suggests Oracle can do this until NAD asks them to stop. (This incident involves Oracle's claim that its Exadata server is "5x Faster Than IBM…Or you win $10,000,000," among other things. Oracle pulled the Exadata ad after IBM complained, and NAD deemed this action "necessary and appropriate.")

Related: SAP's Sikka Fires Back Against Oracle's 'Falsehoods' About HANA

While this might seem like an interesting move because the ads get a lot of press coverage and the take-down order gets very little. However, there is a great deal of risk for Oracle on this path—it could be seen as fraud, and it certainly erodes trust.

Oracle's False Advertising Risk

Trust is at the core of an enterprise IT relationship. This marks the difference between an enterprise vendor and a pretender—you can trust an enterprise vendor. The reason trust is so important is because the cost for IT solutions is so high that, if a decision is unsound, it can cost everyone in the decision tree his job, since the mistake tends to be material in nature.

Making enterprise IT decisions isn't like buying a used car. It's buying a relationship. At the core of this trust is the realization that after the sale the vendor will be there, through thick and thin, and have the buyer's back. However, if the vendor lied about the potential for the system, and that lie is discovered, then the relationship is polluted and the decision makers are in a place of unacceptable risk.

A vendor that does this with intent, regardless of the reason, puts its customers at risk. This is one of the reasons why great care is given to advertising claims in the IT industry. It isn't to avoid problems like the one highlighted in the link, it's to avoid creating the perception that IT managers are cannon fodder or collateral damage.

IT managers have a tendency to talk to each other, change companies and, through this varied experience, view some vendor as unacceptably risky. Once a vendor gets a reputation for being unacceptably risky, though, it's done as an enterprise provider.

More from Enderle: Oracle Shows What Happens When Sales Runs the Show

That's why these moves by Oracle are strategically stupid. They create an increasing perception that Oracle represents too much risk. No IT buyer wants to buy from a vendor that considers customers expendable in the greater battle—particularly if the greater battle has nothing to do with them.

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