Larry Ellison Can't Be Bothered With the FactsS

Here's how Oracle hypes its business software: Write an ad claiming it's exponentially better than the competition. Then, mold the facts to fit the hype. CEO Larry Ellison's done this for decades; today he got caught. Click through for evidence.

Attached is the ad Oracle ran in the lower right corner of today's Wall Street Journal. An early edition posted to the newspaper's website illustrates how Ellison likes to operate. Check out the highlighted bit — Oracle never bothered to fill in the data to support its certain conclusion. The attitude: "Definitely say we're way 'faster' on hardware from Sun, which we now own, than on IBM, which makes a competing database; we'll find some numbers later to prove it."

Larry Ellison Can't Be Bothered With the Facts

All tech moguls, to some extent, play this marketing game, but Ellison has historically been an especially egregious example; his brazenness, in fact, helps explain why Oracle, through a series of mergers, has come to utterly dominate the market for the most complex types of large corporate software.

An example: Ellison in the late 1980s commissioned an ad to tout a hugely complex clustering feature for Oracle database software — and did so before one line of code had been written to support that feature. This according to Mike Wilson's biography of Ellison:

About 1987 word got out that the Ingres database would soon have a sexy new function: It would be able to do distributed queries... Ellison told [Oracle ad man Rick] Bennett to prepare an advertisement announcing Oracle's distributed capability. Then he assigned an engineer to whip up a distribtued feature so the company would actually have something to sell when the ad appeared. Ten days later Bennett's advertisement hit the trade press: "Oracle Announced SQL*Star," it said. "The First Distribtued Relational DBMS..."

"The fact of the matter was Oracle didn't have anything," said George Schussel, the trade show promoter who had followed Oracle from the beginning. "But that was the way they worked. Everything was marketing, everything was image. You simply announced the product and then figured out later how to deal with it from a technological point of view."

Another time, Wilson writes, Oracle took out an ad implying, outlandishly, it had ported a competing database to the PC from mainframes — "IBM SQL/DS AND DB2 DBMS NOW ON PC," read the ad headline. Ellison "exploded" when an engineer challenged the ad, Oracle vet Kirk Bradley told Wilson:

"He said, 'All companies do this. It's standard stuff. You don't know anything about business.'"

Larry Ellison Can't Be Bothered With the Facts

It's somehow comforting to know that, while hot companies like Twitter, Google and Netscape may come and go, some longtime CEOs basically haven't changed for decades. Larry Ellison will always be a shameless truth-bender. Just like some of his closest friends.

UPDATE: One commenter supposes, quite plausibly, "They're going to announce the results at OpenWorld on Oct 14 and we're all supposed to tune in then to find out what XX equals." So maybe Oracle is doing the same fill-in-the-blanks thing it's always done, just in a very open and shameless way. Transparency. People do change!

UPDATE 2: Oracle has been fined over this ad, since Oracle did not possess any TPC benchmarks to back up the ads claim. Oracle was, again, hoping the facts would fit the claim, when said facts came into existence, which at the time of this ad they had not.