Sun ad campaign to buff 'sharing' image

Sun Microsystems set to begin multimillion-dollar rebranding effort that spotlights its new emphasis on open source and the like. Photo: McNealy, Ballmer and Sun's new swoop

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Stephen Shankland
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As part of its effort to move out of the shadows of technology discussions, Sun Microsystems will begin a multimillion-dollar rebranding effort Wednesday that spotlights its new emphasis on sharing.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company will spend tens of millions of dollars on an advertising campaign focusing on the sharing idea, likely doubling its advertising budget, said Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, Sun's vice president of brand experience and community marketing. As reported earlier, the sharing campaign features a swooping S-curve design that already appears on Sun's Web site and promotional material.

"When people think about our brand, we want them to think about us in a positive way and a more forward-looking way," Van Den Hoogen said. "We're in 2005, and we need a new campaign that signals something different is happening at Sun."

Ballmer and McNealy What is different is a major push toward open-source software, which has included making Sun's centerpiece Solaris operating system open source, to compete chiefly with Linux but also with other versions of Unix and with Windows. Sun also launched the OpenOffice.org rival to Microsoft Office, plans to release open-source server software, has hinted at an open-source database called SunDB, and lets hundreds of other companies have a say in development of its Java software.

Software is at the forefront of Sun's push to restore the status and relevance it lost with the collapse of the dot-com frenzy. Its Unix server products have suffered at the hands of resurgent IBM, increasingly powerful Dell, and their alliance with Linux seller Red Hat.

New ads and a better image are necessary for Sun, though they're only a first step in actually recovering in the market, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "The marketing campaigns can do a better job of getting them into deals," but then sales and product teams must follow up with products that beat out those from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and others, he said.

Sun also has one of the most aggressive blogging efforts in the business, led by its president, Jonathan Schwartz. The blogs are designed to inject Sun into computing conversations happening in the outside world.

The company is making some progress in adapting to a fast-changing information technology industry, said Robert Frances Group analyst Stacey Quandt.

"Sun, through Jonathan Schwartz and Solaris, is on the path toward changing long-held perceptions about the company," Quandt said. "The blurring of the lines between open standards and open source as well as collaborative models of source code development have changed the IT landscape forever. Sun, IBM and other IT vendors are responding to this trend."

One of the reasons Sun chose the sharing image is because the company hopes to capitalize on computing-industry growth beyond the first world--open-source programming and widespread use of mobile phone usage, for example, that the company says are emblematic of what it calls the Participation Age.

"Our cause at Sun will be about eliminating the digital divide," Van Den Hoogen said.

But for Sun, the indication of success for the campaign is much narrower than empowering the world's poorer billions. It boils down to one thing, Van Den Hoogen said: Higher scores for Sun when measuring whether people recommend the company's products.