When Novell tapped David Bowie's ch-ch-changes for an ad campaign

When Novell tapped David Bowie's ch-ch-changes for an ad campaign
Credit: Reuters/David W. Cerny

Networking and computing vendors have a long history of using famous songs to help market their offerings, and also have a tradition of reinventing themselves over and over. So it's no surprise that David Bowie's Changes would wind up in at least one major ad campaign.

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The music and fashion icon's death on Sunday at the age of 69 reminded me of that $60 million Novell "The Power to Change" marketing campaign that debuted on Monday Night Football back in the year 2000.

A powerhouse in the 1980s and early 1990s, Novell had been forced to change quite a bit in later years, as Microsoft amped up the competition and as the need for Novell technology lessened with the bundling of network capabilities into PC operating systems. Many of Novell's changes came by way of acquisitions, such as of WordPerfect, Cambridge Technology Partners and Linux company SuSE.

Network World contributor Linda Musthaler wrote back in February of 2000 that "few IT companies have demonstrated prowess at changing in order to survive quite the way Novell has. This constant need to change has been precipitated largely by Novell's lack of vision of what it wants to be when it grows up."

MORE: Novell throughout the years

The company's Bowie-backed marketing campaign -- featuring fish freeing themselves from lonely fishbowls -- was less about changes at Novell and more about changes that it would help disconnected business make. The ad (see video below) promoted Novell's Net Services Software as a way to hook up intranets, extranets and the Internet. 

While the name of the company's NetWare software lives on as a legendary piece of network history, I'm guessing most of you don't have any recollection of Net Services Software. 

And perhaps you've even lost track of the ultimate fate of Novell: 10 years after the Changes ad ran, Novell succumbed to a $2.2 billion buyout by Attachmate, which in 2014 was gobbled up itself by Micro Focus. GroupWise, ZENworks and other Novell products live on.

Now there are some changes for you.

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