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In its 1997 'Solutions for a small planet" campaign IBM created a series of commercials which gave evidence to the varied use of IBM technology in different cultures. This particular commercial is set somewhere in Africa. A men's singing group are practicing a song that just doesn't quite work. In the distance the sound of a keyboard is heard. The men investigate. A child is playing IBM kid riffs and has serendipitously played the perfect set of notes. Overjoyed the men now are able to complete the harmony. While academics argue about the relationship of culture to technology IBM presents the relationship as simple, complimentary, and fluid. IBM technology is so adaptable that it provides solutions for all cultures. In this case a musical problem is solved by an educational piece of software used by children. By setting the ad in Africa IBM suggests that its technology and software can be used universally.

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The child serves as the conduit between the traditional and the modern or should we say the postmodern. Here two radically different cultural forms are pasted together via IBM's technology. IBM debunks the myth of an organically rooted traditional culture. Culture forms are gleaned from multiple sources. Here, kid riff's does not replace a traditional cultural form, rather it allows it to develop.

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Common to technology commercials is the depiction of the child as the teacher of the adult. Here the child guides the man's hand on the mouse enabling him to play kid's riffs. Technology empowers the young changing the relationship of age to knowledge. Rather than seeing it as a threat to status associated with age the adult male gladly accepts his role of student.

African vocal harmonies is a commonly used signifier to represent community. Here IBM brings it to the foreground and even makes it possible. IBM takes on a totemic relationship to this African community.

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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey