Is Oracle CEO Larry Ellison really IronMan? Ellison, already established as one of the most flamboyant billionaires of our age, has now chosen to closely associate himself and Oracle with a comic book hero whose fictional life parallels his own.
Last weekend I was gloriously wallowing in the comic book silliness of the new IronMan 2 film when suddenly Ellison appeared in it playing himself. It is hard to convey briefly how cool this was, but I will try. The film is about Tony Stark, a brilliant, eccentric, wildly excessive billionaire and CEO of a high tech defense contractor. He has invented a metal suit that makes him into a formidable weapon. At the start of this second movie in a series, Stark / IronMan has used the suit to finally achieve world peace.
The film opens with IronMan making a grand entrance at Stark Expo, a giant over-the-top trade show where Oracle is one of the corporate sponsors. Ellison is portrayed as just one of thousands of people who fawn over the Tony Stark character played by Robert Downey, Jr. This very brief moment works so well because Ellison is the closest thing to Tony Stark the real world has to offer.
The Ellison film cameo openly invites this comparison. Downey’s character even looks a little like Ellison (IronMan) including roughly the same face hair. The Tony Stark character is complex, volatile, egotistical, smarter than everyone else, and supremely confident. Ellison has associated himself with a character that takes his own excesses and exaggerates them to extreme levels.
I believe that he did this both to show us he can laugh at himself and because the Downey character comes across as very likable in spite of his obvious flaws. In the film, Stark acknowledges his own arrogance and narcissism in a witty and charming way – by participating in the film Ellison does the same thing. Could this be the start of an effort to let us see the softer (and more likable) side of Ellison?
Oracle’s connection with the film goes way beyond Ellison’s cameo. The appearance is the first element of a joint advertising campaign with IronMan (www.oracle.com/us/ironman2/index.html) and an alliance with Marvel Comics. The next is an elaborate advertisement for Oracle, AMR and HP products in the form of a cartoon featuring Marvel characters. It is a little hokey but still well worth seeing. The three-part animation takes around 20 minutes to watch and can be found on the Oracle web site at www.oracle.com/marvel/index.html.
Past postings of mine have commented on Ellison’s aversion to spending on advertising. Suddenly we find him spending serious money on a highly innovative campaign. It is not yet clear how effective it will be, but I love the fact that it is unique and risky.
Because it is impossible to separate Oracle from Ellison, many of my postings have focused on trying to figure him out. His personality and behavior strongly shape the business we heavily depend upon so they matter a great deal to Oracle customers. In the film, IronMan strives for world peace through technology Stark invents. Ellison as the real-life Stark currently aspires to make the world a little more efficient through the invention of highly integrated hardware and software. Perhaps by comparing himself to Tony Stark Ellison is trying to tell us that conquering the IT market is just a stepping stone towards a much grander set of goals.