Lessons from history for (disruptive) Tech Marketers

By August 26, 2015Our industry
Retro_Technology_Marketing_Advertising

Take a look back at the early days of technology marketing and you’ll discover a rich seam of material for amusement. However, what might have passed for legal, decent and truthful may have been guilty of committing other crimes.

In the early 80s, print advertising was still a dominant media. So, imagine the scene when the geeks from the computer company met the creatives from the advertising agency. With the Account Director acting as referee, they would wrestle with the challenge of translating the client’s enthusiasm for bits and bytes into features and benefits that would spark ideas from the creative team.

Compared to today’s multi-media, multi-format, multi-message marketing, the classic format of advertising headline, image, copy and call-to-action seems limited. But with a team which included an Art Director, Writer, Photographer, Typesetter and Artworker, the agency would craft single or double page ads and billboard posters for the technology that would eventually disrupt the advertising industry itself.

By enabling and merging creative skills and processes, the all-conquering Apple Macintosh computer was the Trojan Horse welcomed into the confines of the creative industry to disgorge a cargo that created both threat and opportunity.

The early 80s saw the first ripening of Apple, primarily as a Technology Transformer and later, it could be said, as a Social Shaper. As an early mover, Apple was also an early victim of crimes perpetrated by the advertising industry. The evidence includes this press ad:

Retro Apple Computer Advert

Let’s start with the positioning. Side-stepping the headline (which borders on discriminatory) the copy is striking an uncomfortable balance between personal and business use and between independent entrepreneurialism and corporate captivity.

The marketing strategy seems to be based on convincing an individual, rather than a decision making group, to be persuaded to spend a ‘downright affordable’ $2500 on a personal computer rather than suffer the delays and ‘uncreative drudgery’ of using a big mainframe. This is slightly at odds with the subsequent suggestion that Apple makes things easy with three (count them) programming languages that ‘let you be your own software expert’. Not exactly the most compelling proposition for someone who was just beginning to warm to the idea of uncomplicating their life.

As the Internet was only a twinkle in Tim Berners Lee’s eye, the call to action had to rely on a toll free telephone number with an address (should the prospect prefer to put pen to paper) and the third option of a request for information via the magazine publisher. With a response mechanism like that, the agency must have had a few sleepless nights, waiting to count those inbound responses.

That’s the words, what about the pictures?- a Benjamin Franklin character in full period costume? Looks like agency creatives suffered from the same affliction that drove 80s music video directors to plunder ideas from the nearest theatrical dressing-up box. It’s also interesting to see actual ‘product’ juxtaposed against the period furniture as if to say ‘here at last is that bright white shiny future we were promised by technology’. Today, it begs the question: when was the last time you actually saw a router or blade server in a marketing campaign?

Finally, it’s nice to see the copywriter couldn’t resist the line: ‘Apple is a real computer, right to the core’ though hardly surprising it didn’t make it to strapline status (probably over-ridden by SJ himself).

With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight it’s easy to criticise this early foray into tech marketing but we can also learn some lessons from it. Whether you’re a Market Maker, Technology Transformer or Social Shaper, it pays to understand where you are on your marketing roadmap , where you need to be and what needs to be said and to whom in order to get you there. Above and beyond the advantages of innovations such as digital media, the Internet and social strategies, we can employ the advantages of messaging and content that’s segmented for business and technical decision makers; realistically set against a clear adoption curve and single-minded in its proposition.

To paraphrase the ad, you may not have to be a wise man/person to own an Apple pc or any other technology for that matter, but it helps if you want to convince people to buy.

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