When you think of IBM, the American multinational computer, technology and IT consulting corporation, never would you consider their brand image tied closely with Fidel Castro and Global Communist Solidarity movements. Yet, it was to my surprise when I saw the new advertisement campaign for IBM provided by Ogilvy called “IBM: Smarter Planet.”
The new campaign presents ads in a form nearly identical to the style of Cuban Poster Art, a form used to convey Communist propaganda of the 1960’s. The use of simple images to convey complex and abstract concepts was a powerful visual tool used many groups, especially the Havana based OSPAAAL (Organization in Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia, and Latin America).
During the ideological class struggles of the 1960’s through 1980’s, this art form pioneered by Cuban graphic artists spread ideas visually across the world.
Similar to Cuban Poster Art style, the “IBM: Smarter Planet” ads stay away from photographs and rely on illustration and graphics that are of the “flat color” look. This convention was popular among Cuban graphic artists partly due to the limitation of “hand-cut silk-screened stencils.”
Overt satire is another similarity between IBM’s campaign and Cuban Poster Art. The graphics portray a “subtle wit of imagery” where in one IBM ad, the binoculars are also the wheels to an automobile; in a Cuban art poster the barrel of a rifle is also the eye of a Palestinian.
It’s an ironic take on advertising the IBM brand if you consider the place and role in history this art form has played on the global stage. It’s interesting to note though that this style of art has a global recognition that for decades was targeted for audiences in Latin America, Asia, and Africa and could bridge IBM messages more natively in those regions.
To read more about Cuban Poster Art, and the main resource for this post, check out Revolucion: Cuban Poster Art by Lincoln Cushing
Update: Lincoln Cushing, author of “Revolucion: Cuban Poster Art”, provided his thoughts on this post:
Interesting suggested link between the two “campaigns”, I think it’s got merit. The driver/binoculars ad also uses highway divider dashes as part of the design element. Capitalism and its appendages (such as advertising agencies) certainly are smart enough to appropriate any genres that have an impact.