How IBM’s campaign to turn developers into heroes won back the confidence of its audience | B2B Marketing

Learn how IBM’s campaign to get coders to solve problems for emergency responders attracted two million coders to its platform – and made the brand cool again


IBM had a problem. Research showed it was losing the confidence of developers. Humanity had a bigger problem: Natural disasters of apocalyptic proportion are occurring at a more rapid rate than ever before. More than $7 trillion economic damage and eight million deaths were caused by natural disasters since the start of the 20th century.

What if we handed over our code patterns and unleashed the creativity of developers from around the world to take on humanity’s greatest challenge: the wrath of Mother Nature. Hosting the biggest hackathon in the world, would put our technology in the hands of new audiences and help IBM’s pioneering capabilities and ethos shine through.

We had the opportunity to celebrate their creativity, compassion and inherent need to solve problems by highlighting them and their work in a way that put them front and center as the world’s new hero.

We shared their stories throughout the campaign and we filmed a full-length, cinema-worthy documentary featuring select participants. The movie title went on to name a movement, Code and Response – IBM’s new $25m, four-year deployment initiative to build, fortify, test, and implement solutions including those at coding challenges such as Call for Code.

Code & Response The Movie

About IBM

IBM is a US multinational IT company headquartered in New York, with operations in over 170 countries. The company began in 1911 as the ComputingTabulating-Recording Company (CTR) and was renamed International Business Machines in 1924.

IBM has a large and diverse portfolio of products and services. Using technologies like AI, cloud, blockchain, IoT and Quantum, IBM is helping clients transform their industries, while keeping trust and security front and center. IBM is also a major research organisation, holding the record for most US patents generated by a business (as of 2019) for 26 consecutive years.


IBM had a problem. Research showed it was losing the confidence of developers. They were consistently ranking it in the bottom 10, if at all, behind our competitors in:

  • Innovation
  • Open source support
  • Community advocacy
  • Technical prowess

Simply put, it was not seen as relevant, pioneering, exciting or cool.

Objectives of the campaign

Hosting the biggest hackathon in the world would put technology in the hands of new audiences and decisionmakers and help IBM’s pioneering and ethos shine through.

The target audience

The best way to connect with the audience of 18-34-year-old coders was to give them our code and a problem they cared about to solve. It also knew that the majority of them blocks ads and distrust marketing efforts. They are also overwhelmed with offers to participate in hackathons – but they were passionate about coding for ‘good’.

Code And Response Case Study

Media, channels or techniques used

In a world where first responders are over-run by mother nature, IBM opened up its code and access to its technologies and empowered developers to do what they love – solve problems that matter.

It partnered with clients and universities to join us in our fight to combat natural disasters and host hackathons to get even more coders involved. In the true nature of response, it organised hackathons that addressed specific local problems such as Hurricane Florence in South Carolina, fires in Northern California, and floods in Kerala, India.

These Call for Code events brought the coders who we wanted to inspire together with government officials, first responders and others from the area, creating a greater opportunity for press and word of mouth.

To amplify efforts, it identified key moments to leverage celebrity and influencer social power to get out the message, on World Humanitarian Day IBM reached millions of people. This helped galvanize its community by reaching new audiences.

Throughout the hackathons it used its social channels to ask for and share developer stories. This was a competition, but it was also a community endeavor and it wanted to make sure it put that front and center. The more personal and genuine stories it shared, the more coders would want to be involved in the effort.

It also used the submissions and hackathons as a way to cast a full-length documentary which was intended to be used to introduce developers to audiences in a new way.

Timescales of the campaign

May 2018

: Our CEO announced the initiative in her Keynote at VivaTech. Given the negative stories around Facebook at the time, we really stood out in the press and with the public.


IBM hosted 400 local hackathons and education sessions at universities and towns impacted by disasters. We partnered with The Clinton Foundation, David Clark Cause, American Red Cross and the United Nations to scale the initiative.

As solutions were developed, IBM worked with media (i.e.


) to showcase the coders/solutions and keep the momentum building. It used paid and owned to amplify the best media stories. It used influencers in the IT space and content marketing to amplify the call to join the movement and it went viral on World Humanitarian Day.

The hackathons were used to source stories for our digital and social channels and to cast a feature-length documentary that was screened for over 300 IT professionals at its largest annual event. The movie, Code and Response, is now being seen at festivals across the US and inspired the name of IBM’s four-year initiative to build, fortify, test, and implement solutions including those at coding challenges such as Call for Code.


IBM reached more than 908 million people during World Humanitarian Day. Content and communications approach had 1.1 billion social engagements. The target audience loved our documentary storytelling and rated it 4.9 out of five when we screened the films at its largest event. And more than 100,000 coders from 156 nations joined the movement.

Through focusing on the long-term, IBM will thrive another 100 years. That said, we grew from 700,000 to over two million coders on our platform and IBM returned to growth for the first time in years with exponential growth in revenue from developers.

We were named World-Changing Company of the Year by

Fast Company

magazine and Code and Response, the Movie, has been accepted into film festivals around the country, with distribution forthcoming. We screened the documentary, Code & Response, at Think, IBM’s premiere event to resoundingly positive reviews and a 4.9 out of 5 score for the session.

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