The Informix and Oracle Billboard Wars
Excerpt from The Real Story of Informix Software
and Phil White
In late 1994, in a sneak attack, Informix had rented a billboard on Highway 101, the major freeway directly in front of Oracle’s headquarters (Informix’s worldwide headquarters was a fifteen-minute drive south on the highway). The first billboard message was an announcement for an Informix user conference. Following the conference, another ad was placed that touted Informix as “The best database on 101.” Oracle employees would have had to drive to work with their eyes closed not to see it. At the time, there was much backslapping in the hallways of Informix that we had one-upped Larry Ellison and fired a warning shot across Oracle’s bow. Now that Sybase had been conquered, the billboards became even more confrontational.
The “billboard wars,” as they were known in Silicon Valley, would continue for three years until Informix’s collapse in 1997. They were a frequent topic of media coverage in the local newspapers and industry magazines. It seemed the press was more interested in our billboards than our products, as reflected in a BusinessWeek article. “Phillip E. White, Informix' feisty CEO, says he's paying only $10,000 a month to tell 30 million drivers passing by Oracle each year that Informix has ‘snuck up Oracle's technical tailpipe.’ Plus, thanks to heavy traffic near Oracle headquarters and his sign, ‘Oracle employees get a chance to sit and look at our little jabs,’ he says.”
The press reported that the signs infuriated Ellison. Ellison even called Phil White to complain directly. One billboard showed the inside of a car with the word "Oracle" in the rearview mirror and several dinosaurs walking toward Oracle’s headquarters. The caption underneath read, "Warning: Dinosaurs crossing." The billboards also attacked Larry Ellison personally. In a reference to his affinity for the Japanese samurai culture, one billboard showed a samurai sword broken in two. On one half of the sword was written “Oracle.” On the other half, “Late,” in reference to the Oracle 8 database, which was way behind its promised release date. The caption read, “Maybe the warrior needs a new blade.”
The battle soon escalated into each company’s advertising, and Oracle even parked a mobile billboard in front of Informix's headquarters. Its billboard read, "Informix: The best database company on Highway 101? ... As seen in snail systems." This was a reference to a prominent Oracle advertising campaign that used snails to show the TPC benchmark results of Informix. By now, many at Informix wished the billboard wars had never started. It seemed we had awakened the eight-hundred pound gorilla and it was coming directly at us.