Amazon Web Services ramps up advertising to provide ‘air cover’ for developers

An Amazon Web Services ad at SeaTac airport in the Seattle area (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

LAS VEGAS — For the first decade of its existence, Amazon Web Services flew a bit under the radar of the national media, preferring a word-of-mouth marketing strategy coupled with outreach to the chief information officers of the world. In 2017, that changed.

AWS has embarked on a much more aggressive and broad advertising strategy this year, as it has continued to lead the cloud computing market and deliver billions in operating profit to its parent company. Baseball nerds such as myself have been seeing AWS ads on Major League Baseball’s streaming service for some time, but Ariel Kelman, chief marketing officer of AWS, said in an interview this week that AWS kicked off its “first large-scale experiment” with brand advertising in August.

Ariel Kelman
Ariel Kelman, AWS chief marketing officer(LinkedIn Photo)

“We don’t feel like we need to do it. We feel like it’s something that’s useful,” Kelman said on the sidelines of AWS re:Invent 2017 in Las Vegas this week. The experiment includes billboards, television advertising, and other media centered around the idea that AWS users are “builders,” creators of the future and The Next Big Thing.

For most of its first decade, the marketing challenge for AWS was existential: evangelizing this newfangled way of enterprise computing that required companies to hand over control of their data to a bookseller. Developers and startups quickly understood how important this shift was, and their enthusiasm paved the way for AWS to become a force in this market.

But the bosses at companies outside the tech industry have been slower to pick up on this trend. There’s an inherent conservatism inside the tech operations of large non-tech companies, which produced the old maxim that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

It’s these people that Kelman is trying to reach.

Even if AWS didn’t feel like it needed to advertise, developers began telling AWS that they needed “air cover” when pitching the bosses on moving their tech operations to the cloud. A lot of those people simply didn’t know what the cloud and AWS were all about, he said.

“Tech decisions in a big company are being made by lots of people,” he said, The self-service nature of cloud computing (minimal experimental usage is free for a lot of services) allows developers to try things out and understand how they can best take advantage of the cloud, but the money people don’t always understand why developers are spending money on the cloud, which led to that whole “rogue IT” thing a few years ago.

That sentiment was also echoed by an advisory council of CIOs that AWS — like most tech companies — convenes every so often to discuss emerging tech and business trends. And brand advertising also helps AWS partners, like systems integrators and consultants, build businesses around cloud services, Kelman said.

Amazon doesn’t disclose its external advertising budget, but AWS provides more than enough financial cover for a large-scale campaign, with net sales of $12.3 billion and operating profit of nearly $3 billion in the first nine months of this year alone. The goal now is to keep that financial engine humming in the years ahead.