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Lenovo’s David Roman Steps Down

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Around the beginning of June, I got a sad note that David Roman would be retiring from Lenovo. He had one of the deepest pedigrees of any chief marketing officer (CMO) I’ve ever worked with (and a lot of success at Lenovo). He was one of the early Apple marketing execs and then moved to NVIDIA and HP, where he ran one of the most powerful marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen “The Computer Is Personal Again.” He finally ended up at Lenovo and helped turn a brand no one had heard of into a near household name. ExecRank ranked him 15th among marketing executives across all industries.

This week, I’ve been thinking about marketing and the lack of real creativity in technology marketing of late. Apple seems to just rehash the same old stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty good, but it's well off the mark that Steve Jobs set when he was alive.

I’d like to revisit some of the more interesting things I watched David do over the years in the hope that someone else can learn from this and restore some of the magic to marketing in tech.

The PC Marketing Problem

One of the big problems with the technology market is that the way it is structured. Intel and Microsoft tend to get most of the margin. This leaves it up to them to drive demand into the market. Unlike Apple, which keeps the margin to itself, the WinTel (which is fast becoming WinAMD) OEMs don’t have the funding to do the marketing needed to keep funds flowing into this segment.

So they need to come up with creative ways to do a lot with a little.

The Computer Is Personal Again

This was one of the most brilliant, if not the most brilliant, marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen. What Dave and his team at HP did was to take HP’s philanthropic budget and use it strategically to get high-profile advocacy. With “The Computer Is Personal Again,” he went to celebrities. In exchange for those celebrities getting to choose which charity received HP’s money, they advocated HP’s products on the air. Celebrities of the caliber that HP got typically cost in the millions for endorsements, and David Roman got them to do it pretty much for free. This saved HP millions that Roman didn’t have in his budget in the first place.

HP was going to spend the philanthropy money anyway, and each celebrity had their own favorite charity. So HP not only promoted its products, but HP’s spend on this largely went to charities and not celebrities. It not only moved products — it also made the world a better place.

The Flying ThinkPad

One of the viral videos that Roman’s team created once he went over to Lenovo was of a flying laptop. This was part of a series of videos talking about Lenovo development and innovation. It was done as a joke (no flying laptops were hurt during the filming), but it was incredibly well executed. The video caught a lot of air. Incredibly realistic, the video was shot over a decade ago and still gives me a smile today.

Another amazing commercial was the this commercial that some think is one of the funniest ever made. And who could forget the time Lenovo took on Apple’s foolishly thin MacBook Air. This was a time when Apple was openly making fun of Windows and taking some pretty personal shots at Bill Gates. A lot of us applauded Roman fighting back.

The Shot at Dell

One of the most famous ads Roman ever did was never shown outside of Lenovo, thanks to its legal team. It came at a time when Dell was running a campaign with Steve the Dell Dude.

Now ThinkPad, when it was part of IBM, actually had some incredibly powerful (and funny) ads. Roman needed something that would stand up to this IBM quality, and he wanted to stick it to Dell.

The ad had some folks sitting at the bar talking about how reliable their laptops are. The guy with the ThinkPad drops his on the floor from shoulder height, but the laptop was unbroken. Another guy comes back from the bathroom and asks what they are talking about. A third guy says, "Watch this!" and drops a different laptop. You can hear what sounds like a break and parts going all over the place. The guy whose owned the laptop says something like “Dude, that wasn’t a ThinkPad” with clear reference to Steve the Dell Dude. I understand the Lenovo sales force gave David and his team a standing ovation for that one.

The End of an Era

It is kind of sad watching David step down from Lenovo, but he has been running hard. I did exchange email with him after he left. He wanted to spend time with his young grandkids before they grew up, and his job wasn’t allowing him the freedom to do that. I expect he’ll be back in the ranks shortly (grandkids are often a ton more fun in small doses), and I couldn’t recommend him more highly.

I’ll miss seeing him regularly and wish the guy the best of luck. There are so few marketing folks that are willing to take risks these days. It was sad to lose one of the best, but I do expect Dave to come back. I can hardly wait!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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