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IBM on a Mission to Save the Planet

Smarter Planet ads coincide with a big run-up in the tech giant's shares
IBM Chief Executive Virginia Rometty
IBM Chief Executive Virginia RomettyPhotograph by Mauricio Ramirez

IBM has broadcast more than a dozen “Smarter Planet” television ads, most of which document some sort of life-altering technological marvel produced by Big Blue. In the ads, IBM sometimes fights the scourge of counterfeit medicine. Other times, it tackles global warming. The real stunner, though, may be the one in which IBM discloses that improvements to the Washington (D.C.) sewer system were “built off analytics that predict traffic in Singapore and helped prepare for flooding emergencies in Rio.” Beat that, Facebook.

Outside of Apple, it’s hard to think of another tech company that celebrates itself with as much skill as IBM. Just a few years ago, IBM peddled PCs, disk drives, and other basic building blocks of computing. Now it sells itself as a kind of tech visionary able to reshape cities in a single bound through analytics software and the brainiest consultants on the planet. On some level, the Smarter Planet pitch, unveiled in November 2008, appears to resonate with the public. IBM has an ethos that speaks to the future, while rivals such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Oracle often seem like they’re doing the same old, same old.