Best Linux Marketing Campaigns

I have long held the opinion that one of the biggest problems holding back Linux-based systems from dominating (market-share-wise) in the desktop computing marketing. Our lack of attention-grabbing, hearts-and-minds-winning marketing is, in my oh-so-humble opinion, one of the most glaring weaknesses of the Free and Open Source Software world.

But, in a way, me saying that really isn't fair.

The reality is that we have had some truly fantastic marketing campaigns through the years. A few even managed to break outside our own Linux-loving community. Let's take a stroll through a few of my favorites.

From my vantage point, the best marketing has come from two places: IBM (which is purchasing Red Hat) and SUSE. Let's do this chronologically.

IBM's "Peace. Love. Linux."

Back in 2001, IBM made a major investment in Linux. To promote that investment, obviously, an ad campaign must be launched! Something iconic! Something catchy! Something...potentially illegal!

Boy, did they nail it.

"Peace. Love. Linux." Represented by simple symbols: a peace sign, a heart and a penguin, all in little circles next to each other. It was visually pleasing, and it promoted happiness (or, at least, peace and love). Brilliant!

IBM then paid to have more than 300 of these images spray-painted across sidewalks all over San Francisco. The paint was supposed to be biodegradable and wash away quickly. Unfortunately, that didn't happen—many of the stencils still were there months later.

And, according to the mayor, "Some were etched into the concrete, so, in those cases, they will never be removed."

The response from the city was...just as you'd expect.

After months of discussion, the City of San Francisco fined Big Blue $100,000, plus any additional cleanup costs, plus legal fees.

On the flip-side, the stories around it made for a heck of a lot of advertising!

IBM's "The Kid"

Remember the Linux Super Bowl ad from IBM? The one with the little boy sitting in a room of pure white light?

"He's learning. Absorbing. Getting smarter every day."

When that hit in 2004, it was like, whoa. Linux has made it. IBM made a Super Bowl ad about it!

"Does he have a name? His Linux."

That campaign included Penny Marshall and Muhammad Ali. That's right. Laverne from Laverne & Shirley has endorsed Linux in a Super Bowl ad. Let that sink in for a moment.

This was mind-blowing in 2004. Heck. It's kind of mind-blowing in 2018.

Novell's "PC, Mac & Linux"

Remember those "I'm a Mac" commercials from Apple? One guy ("Mac") poking fun at how boring another guy ("PC") is? Well, Novell—which, you might recall, had purchased Linux company SuSE (back when the "U" was lowercase) a few years earlier—added a nice lady named "Linux" to the mix in 2007.

And, the results were kind of adorable. The videos had a decidedly "homemade but really well" feel to them. Every Linux podcast, blog and magazine talked about those little videos for a solid month after they were released.

SUSE's Music Videos

In the past few years, SUSE started regularly making parody music videos, and some of them are absolutely fantastic.

(Full disclosure: I used to work for SUSE—specifically the marketing department of SUSE. More specific still, I wrote the lyrics to some of these songs. There's a slim possibility that I am mildly biased.)

SUSE's music video adventure really kicked off in 2013 with a parody of Ylvis' "What Does the Fox Say?"—the aptly titled "What Does the Chameleon Say?". It was simple, dorky, fun and charming.

(Note: the guy in the chameleon costume? He doesn't actually work for SUSE, but his dad is the video producer behind all of these videos, and he got roped in. You'll note that he plays the chameleon in a pretty large number of the music videos. Huzzah for consistency!)

The most popular of the SUSE music videos came as a parody of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk"—"Uptime Funk." Believed to be the first music video about live-patching a Linux kernel on a running server, that 2015 song brought in a lot of attention both within and outside of the Linux community.

Beyond being the most popular, that one is also my personal favorite. And, yeah. I wrote it. I'm biased.

There are, of course, more. More music videos. More fun print and video ads. But these are the ones that have stood out to me through the years. The ones that felt noteworthy, like a landmark has been reached in the continual quest of spreading the word about Linux to the masses.

Bryan Lunduke is a former Software Tester, former Programmer, former VP of Technology, former Linux Marketing Guy (tm), former openSUSE Board Member... and current Deputy Editor of Linux Journal, Marketing Director for Purism, as well as host of the popular Lunduke Show. More details:

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