Dell Tough Enough Case Study

- in CASE STUDIES, The Drum


Dell is very well known as a manufacturer of great value laptops and desktop computers.

However, half its business revenue comes from providing IT infrastructure products, such as servers and related expertise, to corporate IT departments.

In summer 2014, Dell Germany challenged its agency partner MediaCom Germany to get Dell’s corporate IT solutions on the consideration lists of the country’s IT Decision Makers (ITDMs). The overriding objective was to generate 12,000 leads within this hard-to-convince B2B audience.

The first problem was that B2B marketing to ITDMs is very different to B2C marketing to your typical consumer. Not only are B2B purchases based more on logic than emotion, but also – particularly when it comes to critical infrastructure such as IT – businesses tend to have a set-in-stone, preferred supplier purchasing process to streamline time and costs. New suppliers have a long furrow to plough, working extra hard to earn ITDMs’ trust just to get on the consideration list, let alone make a sale. The bottom line is that the key budget holder is highly risk averse, brand loyal and reluctant to change.

This led to the second problem: MediaCom’s research revealed that Dell wasn’t seen as a relevant or trusted brand, particularly among Germany’s important medium-sized businesses. The brand wasn’t even on the consideration list for the vast majority of ITDMs, lagging behind HP and IBM. Consideration levels for Dell were stuck at 27%, just above half the level of its main competitors who both scored 52%.

And the final problem was that Dell hadn’t ever spoken to this ITDM audience. The lack of dialogue had allowed prejudice to grow, and Dell was widely seen as an American company that didn’t understand the German market.


To help develop a campaign strategy, MediaCom spent hours talking and listening to ITDMs. This led to the earth-shattering discovery that ITDMs weren’t even the key target market!

Most ITDMs don’t actually know that much about IT – IT equipment is just one more thing to buy, alongside company cars and managing the facilities. ITDMs rely on an informal network of IT colleagues to advise them, with administrators being the critical link in the chain.

IT administrators are the savvy people who maintain IT infrastructure every day. They deal with error messages, tricky software updates, and – most challenging of all – the frustration of being surrounded by computer illiterates.

MediaCom realised that showing IT administrators that Dell understood their pain was crucial to building a better relationship and starting to get Dell more involved in the purchase decision-making journey.

From this insight came the inspiration to develop a branded content marketing campaign that would make Dell part of the IT administrators’ daily world in an engaging and entertaining way.

Dell would become the heartbeat of a new community where IT administrators could tell each other how they felt about the rest of the office, enabling them to let off steam.

MediaCom Beyond Advertising and their production partner Hogarth created a 16-webisode sitcom, telling the day-to-day stories and struggles that only IT administrators could truly understand. The campaign message was “Life is Tough Enough, Take IT easy”.


The sitcom was promoted through ads on Germany’s most popular IT websites, as well as tightly targeted Facebook video ads and blogger outreach.

These promotions connected people to a new Dell ‘Tough Enough’ Tumblr page created for the campaign, where IT administrators could create memes, contribute their stories of the ‘Dumbest Assumable User’ (DAU) in their companies, and use the bespoke DAU generator to turn their stories into gif images that could be shared.

Integrated with Facebook and Twitter, the highly visual campaign site was a magnet for the funniest stories that IT administrators could provide, ranging from users who couldn’t type in their passwords to those who didn’t know that home Wi-Fi wouldn’t work outside the home…

In addition, free merchandise, such as mugs and buzzers featuring the worst DAU stories, was offered to IT administrators who provided their contact details in return – fulfilling the aim of generating meaningful leads.

Finally, the Tumblr site was linked to Dell’s business website that ran interviews with IT administrators talking about the challenges they faced in their daily lives.

ITDMs weren’t completely forgotten: carefully targeted print and outdoor ads designed to reach them on business trips invited them to peek behind the IT door; and QR codes encouraged them to connect with the campaign content.


In only four months, the Dell ‘Tough Enough’ campaign resulted in:

  • New community of 213,000+ IT people, 20% returning regularly
  • 1.5 million video views of the sitcom, 50% earned
  • 650+ user-generated DAU-experiences
  • 220 user-generated memes
  • Earned media valued at 32% of the total budget
  • Dell B2B buzz up by 1,288%; 76% positive comments vs 10% industry benchmark
  • 15,000+ qualified business leads


The innovative Dell ‘Tough Enough’ campaign won a bevy of awards in 2015, including two gold awards at the Global Festival of Media Awards (for Best Targeted Campaign and Best Community Development), and a silver Cannes Media Lion. As we go to publication, it’s also the most shortlisted campaign overall at the M&M Global Awards.

It produced a whole host of positive benefits for the brand, even more laudable given the B2B category and the brand’s low starting point for consideration by IT administrators.

The first episode of the sitcom was the most successful Facebook IT category post ever. In one week, it generated more than 120,000 organic views, 3,000 shares and more than 1,000 comments.

The campaign merchandise became a must-have for IT administrators. It generated over 15,000 qualified business leads, saving Dell more than 50% on the normal cost per lead and beating the campaign target by 25%.

Within a very short space of time, thanks to this campaign, Dell has joined the IT conversation in Germany and is now a genuine contender the next time its target audience considers a new hardware purchase.

Dell and MediaCom are the throes of extending the campaign with a follow-up that’s due to go live as we go to publication in September 2015, making use of the same sitcom characters and involving the 213,000-strong IT community with a new sales twist.

 The Dell ‘Tough Enough’ campaign was so successful because, rather than talking to the target audience about servers or back-end infrastructure, we created branded content that entertained them while still enabling them to relate to the brand. We made them laugh and, most importantly, we also made it easy for them to share their own stories.

Normal Wagner, Managing Partner, MediaCom Beyond Advertising, Germany

This case study was originally published in the BOBCM DACH Region Edition (2015) co-edited by Sandra Freisinger-Heinl and Greta MacFarlane.


About the author

Justin Kirby is a consultant, educator and thought leader with a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judge industry awards, and advise brands and agencies.