The IBM® thinkpad® ads

For the last year or so, IBM has been running a series of print advertisements for their thinkpad computers. Some of these are shown here.

These are clearly image ads, and have high production values. They feature a single, somewhat abstract image, centered in a mostly blank page. Supporting text is kept to a minimum, and the tag lines are metaphorical, if not cryptic.

Superficially, these ads relate the thinkpad to the accouterments and needs of businessmen. This makes sense, since businessmen are an important market for the thinkpad. However, if we look deeper—if we look at the practical or logical consequences of these pictures—a bizarre and perverse subtext emerges.
magazine ad showing a Thinkpad folded over a clothes hanger
thinkpad.power suit

Surface

Business men wear suits to work. The suit indicates status; for many it provides a measure of security or identity. The picture suggests that the businessman think of his thinkpad as part of his wardrobe. Something that he carries, if not actually wears, to convey status and identity.

Practical

The base of a laptop is quite a bit heavier than the screen. The weight of the base flips the screen open; the laptop slides off the hanger and crashes to the floor. A fall from the height of a typical hanger bar will probably cause serious damage to the machine.

Logical

Laptops close. This is intrinsic to their design: close the screen, hear the click, carry it away. The hanger bar in this image is something like 0.25 or 0.50 inches thick. If we close the laptop around the hanger, the bar will crack the hinge, and probably rend the wiring that runs through the hinge between the base and the screen.
magazine ad showning a Thinkpad bound in a 3-ring binder
thinkpad.take note

Surface

Business men take notes. They write notes on paper, and keep papers in ring binders. The picture suggests that the thinkpad can perform the same functions as paper and ring binders.

Practical

If we pick up the binder by the spine and carry it, the thinkpad will slip out of the rings and fall to the floor. The edges of the rings will gouge the case of the thinkpad as it slides through them.

Logical

Ring binders close. This is intrinsic to their design: open the rings, insert some papers, snap the rings shut. If we close this ring binder, we drive the rings through the thinkpad, punching holes through critical parts. Short circuits, sparks, and smoke will likely result.
magazine ad showing a Thinkpad clamped in the jaws of a crescent wrench
thinkpad.leverage

Surface

A wrench multiplies the force that a person can apply to an object. The picture suggests that the thinkpad multiplies the power that a businessman can bring to bear on a problem.

Practical

If we push down on the handle of the wrench, we can lever the entire thinkpad up into the air. However, the jaws of the wrench may mar the case.

Logical

A thinkpad is designed to be robust against the forces that a human hand can apply. If we actually use a wrench to multiply those forces, we can crack the case of the thinkpad.

Ads can work on many levels. The disturbing imagery of these ads may be intended: intended to get people's attention; to unsettle them; to make a visceral impression.

But I have to wonder if these ads weren't designed by—and targeted at—people who are blind to their subtext. People who simply have no mechanical intuition.


Notes

production values
These scans don't do justice to the originals
force
torque, actually

Steven W. McDougall / resume / swmcd@world.std.com / 2000 Jul 03