Oracle's Delusional Hardware Marketing Isn't Fooling Anyone

Despite repeated reprimands from the National Adverting Review Board, Oracle continues to run ads making questionable claims that its Sun hardware outperforms the competition. This isn't surprising--perception often trumps reality in advertising, after all--but will Oracle ever be able to back up its claims?

By Rob Enderle
Fri, March 29, 2013

CIO — Oracle has made yet another questionable marketing claim against IBM. This makes me wonder why, after getting its hand slapped repeatedly, Oracle continues to do this. The answer is actually simple: The company doesn't really have a choice.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison served on Apple's board of directors and learned at Steve Jobs' knee a lesson I've pointed out for years: Perception trumps reality. Jobs and IBM's Gerstner, who clearly also understood this, changed the perception that Apple and IBM were, respectively, failing long before reality supported their conclusion.

In both cases, beneath Jobs' and Gerstner's statements was actual improvement that would eventually prove them to be true. Oracle's problem is that it needs to rebuild Sun to make this work, and Mark Hurd, who's running the Sun unit, is a cutter and not a builder. In effect, Oracle has an expert on extreme diets trying to help an already-thin company.

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It's likely that Ellison, who's spending tons of money on sailing races and Hawaiian Islands, doesn't want to spend the money needed to bring Sun back. I have to wonder if it isn't the Oracle customers who are being fooled but, rather, Ellison himself.

Perception Trumps Reality, Until the Buyer Catches On

We live in a world of questionable claims. You'd think we'd be more skeptical, but we tend to want to believe what someone tells us, particularly if it represents a reality we wish for. That's how so many scams work: You want to win a million dollars, a car, or meet the man or woman of your dreams, and you're inclined to believe a call or email that tells you your dream has been fulfilled.

The Nigerian 419 scam, which has been extensively analyzed, apparently works best when the targets are folks with lots of money who really should know better but don't look closely at things that they want to be true. One of my favorite books, True Enough: Living in a Post Fact Society, speaks to how easily we are fooled by political and religious leaders who know how to spin the story we want to believe. If there's one book everyone should read today, this is it.

Most advertising, too, appears to be based on questionable claims. Did you know cigarettes were once advertised as a health aid? We now know, of course, that this is far removed from the scary truth.

This has a lasting effect, though, often leading people to conclude that advertising and lying are identical. While they can be, they shouldn't be. If buyers figure it out—and eventually they do—then they don't trust you. You can lead with a perception that's far better than reality, but you'd better make it real. Otherwise, the buyer eventually stops listening.

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