The Pitch As part of its sprawling "Star Power" holiday campaign, Dell enlists MMA legend Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell for a tongue-in-cheek shill session. Diction isn't Liddell's forte, alas, so it's a bit tough to understand his entire spiel—especially his use of a money vs. happiness line chart toward the commercial's end. But the basic gist is simple enough: buy an XPS desktop, or the Iceman will pound you into submission. Note the look of terror in the mangled chart-holder's eyes—that young man seems to know Liddell's fury firsthand. Overall, a clever concept slightly marred by so-so execution. Would struggling Dell have been better served by spending its zillions elsewhere? Or shall mock scare tactics put the once-proud company on the comeback trail?

The Spin As previously noted in this space, Dell is in the midst of a lengthy rebranding campaign. In addition to veering away from the direct-sales model, the company is desperately trying to morph from budget purveyor to technological innovator—thus the recent hullabaloo over the iMac-wannabe XPS One. This ad, however, hawks Dell's more traditional XPS setup, with screen and guts separate. It's a little tough to tell, given the Iceman's subpar elocution, but the focus here still seems to be on value, Dell's old standby. Thankfully, the company has learned that the earnestness of its past value campaigns—yes, the ones featuring the irrationally exuberant kid you loved to hate—is antithetical to the new image it's trying to cultivate. And so the Iceman cometh!


Counterspin But why keep flogging the value pitch at all? It doesn't take a genius to realize that cheap desktop sales aren't going to save Dell—not with the revival of HP and the increasing market demand for laptops. (In the last quarter, according to iSuppli, laptop shipments increased by 33.5 percent versus the same period in 2006; the growth for desktops, by comparison, was an anemic 3.4 percent.) Dell would actually seem nicely poised to start touting its geek bona fides, given the raves that have been accorded its new laptop lineup. At the very least, you'd think they'd take a page from HP's playbook and talk about features—even budget-conscious consumers are pretty sophisticated nowadays. But aside from a marble-mouthed Iceman shout-out to the XPS desktop's ability to "manage your photos and music," there's little here to rehab Dell's increasingly shoddy image—an image harmed by several years of slipping quality. (Hands up everyone who had to order replacement hardware from Dell within the first year of owning an Inspiron.)

Mission Accomplished? Dell has been promising a radical overhaul since the beginning of 2007, when Lord Michael returned from his self-imposed exile to save the flailing company. In his absence, customer service had turned abysmal, bloatware had mushroomed and innovation had slowed—prior to the arrival of the XPS One, when was the last time you were really curious about a new Dell product? But what's needed now is a coherent strategy—does Dell want to battle HP in the value desktop market, or should it be shifting its attention to laptops and, perhaps, specialty machines (e.g. gaming PCs, its iMac me-too)? The Liddell ad, as well as the rest of the Star Power campaign, is really just more of the same—keeping the Dell brand in consumers' minds, no doubt, but not doing enough to change how that brand is perceived. The good news for Dell: Reinvention is a lot more attainable in the technology realm than in virtually any other industry on Earth. Just ask Apple—or even Lenovo.

Hype-O-Meter 5 (out of 10). Once you get past the small, discordant joy of seeing a notorious badass peddling PCs, there's surprisingly little substance. And Dell should have ponied up to get the Iceman some lessons with Professor Henry Higgins.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.


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