Michelle Kessler, USA TODAY, reports:

Dalai Lama’s image enlightens SalesForce.com publicity pitch

SAN FRANCISCO In a publicity pitch that approaches if not tops the most audacious of the dot-com boom, software maker SalesForce.com is enlisting no less than the Dalai Lama.

On a poster with the Tibetan leader in meditative pose, it says it’s celebrating SalesForce.com’s 100,000 “enlightened subscribers who have been freed from the boundaries of software.” The Dalai Lama sits below the headline: “There is no software on the path to enlightenment.”

SalesForce.com, perhaps the first successful Web services company to emerge from the dot-com crash, bought 500 tickets to a speech the Dalai Lama is giving in San Francisco. Afterward, it’s throwing a Tibet-themed party. Entertainment includes former Tibetan monk Robert Thurman the father of actress Uma Thurman and 1980s cover band Tainted Love.

(via TechDirt)

SalesForce.com sells low-profile but popular low-cost software to help businesses automate backend systems. But its marketing is anything but low-profile.

Arnold Schwarzenegger recently hosted a premiere of Terminator 3 for the company, in exchange for a donation to his after-school charity. SalesForce.com buys seats at a David Bowie benefit concert each year for Tibetan causes. The company donates 1% of its income to charity each year.

It’s unclear whether the Dalai Lama has ever used sales force automation software. SalesForce.com CEO Marc Benioff, a longtime donor to Tibetan charities, says he has not spoken to the Dalai Lama about the campaign. Tibet’s government gave him permission to use the photo, he says. SalesForce.com made a $100,000 donation to Tibetan charities in honor of the sales milestone.

Apple Computer used the Dalai Lama’s image in its “Think Different” campaign in the late ’90s. His face has also popped up in political ads in Australia and Brazilian ads for high-speed Internet access.

Benioff says the event will help garner attention as it tries to move to a new level. SalesForce.com expects to bring in $100 million in revenue this year nearly double that of 2002. A Web site to collect RSVPs from employees had to be taken down once the Web address was made public.

Such buzz can backfire, advertising executives say.

“There’s an unwritten rule not to use religious stuff in advertising. You stay away from it because it’s so controversial,” says David Crawford, a creative director at GSD&M advertising in Austin.

Yet Crawford recently did advertisements for a faucet company featuring a Hindu goddess, Adam and Eve and a priest, because religious icons can grab attention in an increasingly crowded market. “The envelope is being pushed every day,” he says.

During the tech boom, even an event featuring the Dalai Lama might not have attracted much notice. Lavish, celebrity-studded events took place nightly as dot-coms tried to stand out from the loud buzz.

“They were doing anything and everything they could to get attention,” says Manuel Ramirez, co-owner of Bay City Events, a San Jose, Calif., party-planning firm. Now, a sales milestone will be celebrated with a party in a hotel ballroom decorated with just balloons, Ramirez says.