Building a custom product, and brand, to connect with a new audience.

Launching a new brand

Case Study

IBM partnered with Centerline to help successfully position and launch a new system: IBM LinuxOne.

Within two weeks, IBM was counting more than

33 million media impressions

Shortly after launch, Linux Without Limits video on YouTube had 60,000+ views

It nearly tripled the expected number of leads, garnering

417 qualified leads

The Linux operating system is the most widely used software in the world. The ethos behind Linux is simple: The more you share, the more you benefit. To reach the passionate audience of Linux-loyalists—and to show its own commitment to furthering the open, collaborative Linux community—IBM developed IBM LinuxONE, a Linux-only mainframe that combines hardware, software and services solutions. IBM partnered with Centerline to help successfully position and launch the new systems, the IBM LinuxONE brand and associated offerings.

What is LinuxONE?

LinuxONE is a portfolio of hardware, software and services solutions for an enterprise-grade Linux environment.

It’s a new mainframe, a technology that basically runs the world, designed to run more transactions, faster, with more security and reliability specifically for the open community. It’s combining the best of Linux and open technology with the most secure and powerful server in the industry.


But this wasn’t just about launching a new mainframe (or in this case, two versions – the Rockhopper, an entry-level version, and the Emperor, the big kahuna).

It was about fully embracing open source-based technology, representing the very significant expansion of mainframe strategy, and demonstrating IBM’s ongoing commitment to the open-source community.

LinuxOne conference image

One event, three audiences.

IBM needed to reach three distinct audiences: Developers who use (and love) Linux/open-source software, application development managers that are under budget pressure but need to innovate to meet the needs of the business; and CIOs and CTOs looking to deliver new value from their IT infrastructures.


IBM decided to launch IBM LinuxONE during LinuxCon North America, an event dedicated to furthering the Linux platform…and one that would have all of its target audiences in attendance.

The launch of IBM LinuxONE needed to feel different from previous IBM z Systems launches in terms of messaging, branding and marketing.

It needed to truly—honestly and authentically—speak the language of Linux to connect with the developer audience.

It needed to display the entire ecosystem of open-source options available on LinuxONE—plus show how Linux on LinuxONE is the same, but the infrastructure choice enables additional benefits—to reach the application developer manager audience.

It needed to show the value to CTO’s in leveraging a system that is the most reliable and most secure Linux server on the planet, to redefine client engagements and capture new revenue opportunities.

And finally, it needed to clearly differentiate from IBM z Systems, while still paying homage to the history, security and reliability associated with the mainframe.

Simple, clear messaging.

Over the past year, the Centerline team had been deeply ingrained in working with IBM on its buyer cohorts—defining audiences based on buying patterns and the messages they consider important—which helped define and craft the targeted messaging needed to reach these three distinct audiences.

That being said, the campaign needed some overarching value propositions:

Linux Your Way:

Choose your distribution, runtime, hypervisor, database, analytics and cloud management tools. It’s the Linux you know and love with the openness, flexibility and agility you need for your business.

Linux Squares
Linux Squares 2

Linux Without Limits:

Differentiate yourself in a world of standards with lightning fast response times and virtually unlimited scale that gives your apps the premium Linux experience they deserve.

Linux Without Risk:

Ensure data and services are fully protected and available when and where your clients need them with the industry’s most secure and reliable Linux platform.

All of this needed to engage and resonate with a passionate Linux audience, ones that may not have a previous relationship with IBM, or worse, didn’t have a favorable impression of the company’s relationship to open source.

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Creating a brand identity

Logo Development

IBM LinuxONE needed to stand out in every way, which included creating a new brand identity to separate it from IBM z Systems.

The logo needed to represent the freedom of open source paired with the reliability and security of the mainframe technology.

Centerline presented many options to the IBM team:

LinuxOne logo options

The team decided on one primary logo, inspired by the open principles of Linux and the structure benefits of the IBM mainframe.

LinuxOne Logo

The design embodies three core principles:

  1. Open within a defined structure
  2. Simplicity and clarity
  3. The core being free

The identity was expanded beyond the logo through an open-cell pattern, inspired by the unique nature of the open community, and how the contributors are all organic components that work together as one system.

LinuxOne Design options

Developing the brand characters

Tux the penguin is the official mascot of the Linux kernel, and is widely seen as the symbol of Linux. In establishing the new LinuxONE brand, it was universally agreed that characters should be created to drive brand engagement and interaction.

LinuxONE brand characters

It was important that the character be immediately recognizable in the developer world. So with the tip of a proverbial hat to Tux, the first phase of character development started with a penguin. Centerline created countless sketches, 3D designs and all types of drafted penguin characters, but nothing seemed quite right.

LinuxOne Brand

But based on feedback, the team started exploring low-poly design, a nod to the style’s popularity amongst the developer/gaming world. With angular shapes that represent the doors of the mainframe, the end result has modern mechanical nature to it while still having a personality.

The characters helped define the IBM LinuxONE brand, representing both the openness of Linux and the reliability of the IBM mainframe.

Pulling it all together: The Expression Guide

IBM LinuxONE is a big, ongoing effort – one that spans multiple geographies, IBM divisions, and involves many, many agency partners. So, it was incredibly important that all content creators speak the same design language to ensure brand consistency. To accomplish this, Centerline created an in-depth expression guide. The final document provided guidance for thousands of folks across the world, with a comprehensive set of rules for everything from fonts and colors to messaging and value proposition explanations. By explaining the reasoning and system behind each guideline, the book provides other creators with a certain amount of freedom in their designs, while still helping them create more consistent work.

LinxOne Server

For example, the LinuxONE pattern is able to move, overlap and shape around objects. The guidelines were set so that even just a glimpse of the pattern brings LinuxONE to mind, but it could still look very different in different situations, as necessary.

Ultimately, the expression for IBM LinuxONE set a distinct visual tone for the campaign, complemented (yet was different enough from) the z Systems brand, and created cohesiveness and consistency across all launch and ensuing communications.

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Bringing it to life

Centerline concepted and created a number of assets to drive awareness of and interest in the IBM LinuxONE launch at LinuxCon North America 2015.

Overview video

Centerline proposed an overarching video, “Linux Without Limits,” focused on the overall business value of the solution. The video was crafted to appeal to the developer audience attending LinuxCon; knowing that this audience tends to be suspicious of too-hyped, overblown marketing claims. With that in mind, Centerline proposed a simple animation-style, with playful and engaging visuals. The authentic voiceover expresses a young man’s skepticism of the new systems’ power, but as the video’s text (which consists of vetted product facts) answers his many questions, he becomes a believer.

The “Linux Without Limits” video was shown on mainstage at LinuxCon, and broadcasted to a worldwide audience via livestream.

Announcement Video

For IBM General Manager Ross Mauri’s presentation at LinuxCon, where he formally announced LinuxONE, Centerline created a 60-second video to showcase the new solutions. The story followed a few of our Emperor and Rockhoppers on their way to work inside LinuxONE, where the magic of Linux and the mainframe working together.

The video is a dynamic mix of live action and 3D-animated penguins, illustrating how the LinuxONE penguins live and work among us. Voiced as a friendly and proud discussion moment, the video focused on IBM’s commitment to the open opportunities of running Linux on IBM z and the exciting new opportunities that will be available as a result.

Additional Assets & Distribution

LinuxOne Shirt

Speaker presentations (including one for the aforementioned Ross Mauri), social tiles, infographics and posters were all created to support the launch, both at LinuxCon and after the event. And to give out at LinuxCon, Centerline designed t-shirts, water bottles, paperweights and stress balls, all marked with the new logo and characters. These assets introduced the world to the LinuxONE, helping viewers understand key characteristics and differentiators.

LinuxOne Bottle

Assets were thoughtfully distributed on various social channels by the IBM social team, as well as shared with IBM sales and performance marketing and PR teams for use in prospective email campaigns and media pitching.

LinuxOne Box

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“There’s not a single thing that could have been done any better. Well done Centerline!”

Deon Newman

Deon Newman

Vice President, Marketing,
IBM z Systems/IBM LinuxONE

“LinuxONE is a full press effort by IBM and likely one of the most significant moves by the company this decade.”

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

Enderle Group,
in Pund-IT Weekly Newsletter

The launch of IBM LinuxONE provided the opportunity for IBM to talk with audiences that have traditionally been turned off by the word “mainframe.”

The thoughtful and authentic approach worked for the Linux audience, positioning IBM as modern but also provocative, a company that always has an eye to the future. The brand work ensured there was consistency between all LinuxONE messaging, both leading up to LinuxCon and following the announcement.


More than 1,500 people attended Ross Mauri’s LinuxCon keynote presentation, and more than 2,100 watched the live video stream. Within the two days following the announcement, more than 170 articles were written by media around the globe, including The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, Forbes and InformationWeek, among many, many others. And within two weeks, IBM was counting more than 33 million media impressions.

The IBM team projected the campaign would bring in 150 leads.

It nearly tripled that, bringing in 417 qualified leads.

Just one week after the launch:

  1. 60,000+ views

    Linux Without Limits video on YouTube

  2. 6,309 views

    Announcement video on YouTube

  3. 81.7M estimated impressions

    on Twitter

  4. 17,400 Twitter mentions

    by 11,300 users

  5. 20,400 total mentions

    with 1,800 from news, 248 forums and 481 blogposts

And roughly five months after the launch:

  1. 1.2M views

    Linux Without Limits video on YouTube

  2. 12,860 views

    Announcement video on YouTube

  3. 136M estimated impressions

    on Twitter

  4. 31,300 Twitter mentions

    by 19,100 users

  5. 38,400+ total mentions

    with 4,000 from news, 844 forms and 2,600 blogposts

  6. 350+ full media articles

    including The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, Forbes, InformationWeek