Peloton: Dare to be different

I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing lame ads in oil industry trade magazines that I almost fell out of my chair recently when I saw one from a computer software firm in the January issue of American Oil & Gas Reporter. The visual was a full-page, bleed photo of a geeky-looking guy standing in front of a bank of mainframe computers with a black bar blocking out his eyes.

The headline, which was in quotes, was, “I’m the only guy here who can customize the drilling system. That makes me the man. Management will not switch to WellView, not on my watch.”

The logotype in the lower right corner was “I.T. Workers Against WellView” surrounding a worker’s fist holding a tangled section of computer cable. The call to action was to visit and see how Peloton’s WellView data management system is “keeping us down.”

The short copy at the bottom of the ad urged IT workers to join together to stop the proliferation of this powerful well data management tool. “Rise up, brothers and sisters, and put an end to the slow but sure obliteration of our livelihoods.”

And when you actually went to the advertised Web site, the prank was continued with a sinister black-looking home page, with four bulleted points warning about empowerment of the end-user and describing how customizable reports will make us obsolete. Another point ridiculed “17-hour live technical support,” hoping instead to keep 9-to-5 alive.<

There’s even a box inviting visitors to join now for WellView updates in order to stay informed. Only when you click through the home page does the real Web site sponsor, Calgary-based Peloton Computer Enterprises Ltd., become evident.

My first thought was that Peloton had been stymied by obstinate information technology nerds whorefused to recommend software that was obviously easy to use. They must be desperate to try something so edgy.

So I called Cara Riccetti, marketing communications manager for Peloton, to get the inside story. Turns out Peloton has done unconventional ads like this almost from the company’s founding in 1991.

This isn’t even the only ad in the I.T. Workers Against WellView series–there are two others. One shows a high-tech female (again with eyes blacked out) saying, “I saw a demo last year, and it scared me bad. If WellView comes in, they’ll toss me out. I’ll do whatever I can to see that doesn’t happen.”

The third one is a burly, skinhead guy with tattoos on both arms. The headline quote is, “People say I have a God complex. All I know is that these people can’t do their jobs without me … unless they discover WellView.”

Pretty powerful stuff.

“There was some concern we might offend customers with these ads,” Riccetti says. “So we tested them with a few people whose opinions we trust. They laughed their heads off.” The reality is that WellView doesn’t cause anybody to lose his or her job. It simply frees them up to do other things. Because the software is intuitive and easy-to-use, drilling engineers and superintendents can create customized reports on their own with minimal training.

“Many leading oil producers had already converted to WellView,” says Todd Sloan, principal and creative director at TAG Advertising, Peloton’s agency in Calgary. “It’s not like our backs were against the wall or anything like that. We were going after that second tier of users who tend to stay with the status quo longer than you’d like.”

Peloton’s “worker revolution” ad series also gets at a subliminal emotion that many older middle managers have but don’t like to discuss: “Fear of IT.” It’s a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability that comes from not knowing how computer stuff works or what to do when things go wrong.

“WellView is so easy to use, even an ad agency creative guy can be taught to customize it,” says Russ Bugera, associate creative director at TAG. “That’s really what led us in the direction of poking fun at IT specialists.” Bugera says they decided against taking a straightforward, “our product is great” approach because people naturally resist that hyperbole, especially in the oil patch where change happens very slowly.

In the final analysis, however, it really wasn’t that risky. Because the flip side of teaching noncomputer people to make software do what it’s supposed to do is that IT people get to spend more time doing the real value-added tasks they truly enjoy. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned. So what’s the reward for taking an unconventional approach like this? For one thing, you get more attention. Peloton ads consistently generate readership scores at the top of their category.

You get an edgy, outside-the-box brand image, which is not a bad place for a software company to be.

You also create that much sought-after buzz that marketers crave. Hundreds of people have visited the phony “I.T. Workers Against WellView” Web site. And many have actually signed up to receive product updates via e-mail.

But most importantly, you get new customers. Although Peloton declined to provide specifics, they can trace several new accounts directly to the ad program.

If I was to take the Peloton approach in summing up their story, it might sound like this: “Sales managers of the world unite! Certain advertising subversives are using creativity and edgy concepts to undermine the importance of technical sales reps everywhere. We have to head them off before they actually start taking credit for closing sales.”

Will it happen on your watch?