February 5, 2010

Getting the Linux Advertising Game Face On



One of the fascinating things about the Super Bowl is not about football at all: It's about the commercials. Advertisers go all out to try to achieve 30 or 60 seconds of greatness that will create a buzz that lasts long after the Super Bowl is over. It was Apple's famed 1984 Super Bowl ad that established the company's reputation as a master of advertising and showed that a company could get far more traction out of an ad than the immediate impact.

This weekend, people will gather around the TV, some to obsess over the "big game," and some to catch the surrounding entertainment (and The Who at halftime) — but Monday morning, just as many people will be talking about the commercials as will be talking about the game itself. Unfortunately, you probably won't be seeing any Linux ads during the Super Bowl, but the Linux Foundation would love to see what a Linux ad would look like if you did. The Linux Foundation is running its second video contest, and asking Linux users to produce their own Super Bowl ad (for Linux, of course).

And with the media landscape - advertising, publishing, marketing - changing so rapidly, one could argue that online "ads" or videos can be even more effective than traditional TV spots. Who doesn't have a favorite viral video from the past year? Surprised kitten, anyone?

Note that the contest videos don't have to follow the Super Bowl theme. The suggested theme last year was the Apple "I'm a Mac" ads, and a couple of good videos came in along those lines — but the winner avoided that theme entirely and did something unique.

I had the opportunity to help judge that contest, and I have to say that the creativity and results of the contest were really impressive. OK, not all of the videos. It did produce a few stinkers, I have to admit, but most of the videos I reviewed were creative and fun, and showed just how much some people love Linux.

The winner and runners-up were actually very good for amateur efforts, both in terms of production quality and message. While they didn't reach as many people as the Super Bowl ads, the entries last year garnered more than 1 million combined views. It also got people thinking about what we need to be doing in terms of advertising Linux, which is also important. Astute observers will see that both contests are somewhat informed by ads from Apple.

In as much as anything, Apple owes its current success to marketing as much as any technical improvements the company has made with its operating system and hardware. Having excellent code and a strong community is important, but we need to find a way to tell the "story" of Linux a bit more efficiently and rapidly.

Not only can you help Linux succeed, but if you win you can snag some nice prizes while you're at it. The contest winner will receive a Linux laptop and a free trip to LinuxCon this fall in Boston. This time around, the contest will be judged by some heavy hitters in the Linux community. Andrew Morton, lead kernel maintainer, Stephen O'Grady of Red Monk, Stormy Peters of the GNOME Foundation, kernel developer Brandon Phillips, IBM's Bob Sutor, and the always opinionated Steven Vaughan-Nichols.

Entries should be 30 to 60 seconds long, has to be original and family friendly, and contestants can enter as many unique submissions as they like. The full details are available on the video contest site.




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