Thanks to IBM you are as likely to see a blockchain commercial during the news or a sporting program as you would ads for cars and cold medicines.

A recent blockchain TV ad from IBM marked one of the first times a major technology company has moved its marketing to more mainstream channels to reach businesses as well as the general public. The ad comes as IBM continues to grow IBM Blockchain, a public cloud service customers can use to build secure blockchain networks. In the cloud computing market, IBM has worked to keep up with frontrunner Amazon Web Services, with competitors including Microsoft and Google also making strides in expanding their infrastructure.

IBM created the ad with importers and exporters in mind to tout its TradeLens blockchain-based platform.

“This is no ordinary coffee,” the IBM commercial intones as viewers see a barista handing a customer a beverage before moving to workers in a field picking coffee beans in the Kenyan Highlands. “But how do you really know that the beans journeyed to the port of Mombasa and across the Pacific? the voiceover continues.

The IBM Blockchain, the ad says, is “a smart way to track every step, ensuring this coffee did indeed come from 6,000 feet above sea level, and not a foot lower.” The spot launched during the Masters Tournament in April, and has run 10 times a week on channels including CNN, CNBC, the Golf Channel, ESPN, NBC and CBS, according to IBM. It also ran during the World Cup, the 2018 NBA Finals, the UEFA Champions League and the Stanley Cup.

Targeting Importers and Exporters

IBM created the TV spot with companies that import and export goods in mind, Todd Scott, vice president of Global Trade-Blockchain at IBM, tells ThirtyK. The ad is meant to draw attention to TradeLens, a blockchain-based platform IBM developed with Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company. IBM and Maersk released the platform last month. It’s designed to track critical data on each shipment in a supply chain in real time. More than 20 port and terminal operators globally are participating.

“We’re trying to appeal to people suffering challenges moving cargo over the waterways,” Scott says, adding that roughly 90 percent of all internationally traded goods are shipped by steamship liners, according to the World Economic Forum.

Costs for cargo owners and shippers can be high, Scott adds, given frequent holdups in customs and other delays along the supply chain. Knowing exactly where a shipping container is at a given point in time, and details like how long it typically takes a product to get to its final destination, can reduce excess inventory and lower costs, he says.

Digitizing the entire supply chain, having a platform where different actors can get updates and share documents makes [the process] far more efficient than it is today,” Scott says. “Having a single platform can transform the industry.”

Making Shipping More Efficient

Customs officials can benefit as well, adds Scott, as they better understand which companies are reliable and trusted, and which might require closer physical inspection. That increases efficiency, also helping drive down costs, he says.

IBM zeroed in on the issue of shipping inefficiencies and developed the TV ad after linking up with Maersk to form a joint venture. The goal? To make global trade more efficient by using blockchain technology. The World Economic Forum has said reducing supply chain barriers to trade could increase global GDP by nearly 5 percent.

Currently, more than 155 million shipping events, such as customs releases, vessel arrival times, and commercial invoices and bills of lading have been captured on the platform. Data is associated with almost 4 million shipping containers representing 6.5 million shipments, according to IBM. TradeLens is already in use by 94 companies. The hope is the TV commercial will increase its reach, and pique the interest of more shippers, eventually bringing them on board.

Educating the Public

Earlier this year, in March, South Korean internet-of-things (IoT) blockchain startup Hdac (Hyundai Digital Asset Company) took the crypto community by surprise by releasing a TV ad during coverage of the opening day of the World Cup.

For a general audience, it was a rare peek into the world of blockchain, which the IDC estimates worldwide spending on will reach $9.7 billion in 2021. The Hdac ad features a family, showing viewers how a modern, interconnected smart home will work. During the commercial, a father secures his house with blockchain technology. Later, the family virtually connects with grandparents for a birthday celebration.

Scott says there’s value in taking steps to educate the public about the benefits of blockchain solutions, and especially about TradeLens given its global implications. “Everyone can benefit from knowing that this is being done,” he says. “At the end of the day, consumers are the ones that are paying prices that might be potentially inflated because of the inefficiencies that are going on.”

While last year was marked by industry participants investigating blockchain, Scott adds, 2018 has been about companies figuring out how blockchain solutions can truly benefit their business. “We expect [blockchain technologies] to be transformative over the coming years,” he says.

Deborah Lynn Blumberg is a Houston-based freelance writer specializing in business, finance and health and wellness. Her work has appeared in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday. Previously, she was a reporter at Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal.