1923, Ned Jordan created an advertisement that changed
the way cars were sold. Jordan's company sold a sporty
roadster called the Playboy. "Somewhere west
of Laramie there's a bronco-busting, steer-roping
girl who knows what I'm talking about," the ad
began. "She can tell what a sassy pony that's
a cross between greased lightning and the place where
it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel
and action when he's going high, wide and handsome.
The truth is -- the Playboy was built for her."
mention was made of horsepower, type of engine, or
other technical details. Jordan's ad was a pure emotional
sell, and it set the tone for automotive advertising
to this day.
advertising has its defining moments, too, although
none as influential as Jordan's "Somewhere West
of Laramie" ad. What follows is my list of the
six most important moments in microcomputer advertising
(in chronological order).
Sphere 1: Only a true electronics hobbyist would bother
to read the earliest microcomputer ads. They used
small type that provided technical information in
excruciating detail. Sphere was one of the first companies
that tried to expand the market beyond the hobbyists.
Its ads in the fall of 1975 emphasized the competitive
advantages that the Sphere 1 would provide a business
or professional. The ads were still text-based and
crude by today's standards, but they signaled the
beginning of the marketing of computers to the mass
MITS Altair 8800: Within a few months of the Sphere
ads, MITS ran a series of ads that relied more on
images than text. One had a photo of a billiards hall
with a pool shark leaning on on an Altair. The only
text on the page read, "The MITS Altair 8800
(It's showing up in some of the most unusual places.)
Another showed a photo of Napoleon, and read, "If
Napoleon had owned an Altair, things might have turned
out differently." These ads were more professionally
produced and made a more emotional appeal than the
Sphere ads. Again, the bar was raised for microcomputer
Apple II: In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Apple
realized that it first had to sell the public on the
concept of owning a microcomputer. Ads that ran in
the summer of 1977 began "You've just run out
of excuses for not owning a personal computer."
Later ads would feature scientists, business people
(including Bill Gates), historical figures, and regular
folks extolling the virtues of owning a personal computer.
Tandy (Radio Shack) and Commodore took a similar approach,
but Apple's ads were by far more effective and professional.
Osborne 1: Osborne also had a new concept to sell-a
ready-to-use computer with bundled software in a portable
system. Its early ads in 1981 took an "it's about
time" approach, claiming that this was the computer
that businesses had been waiting for, and played directly
on the insecurities of business people and professionals.
Later ads showed two businessmen, one with a briefcase
and the other with an Osborne. The copy began, "The
guy on the left doesn't stand a chance." The
message: Get an Osborne before your competition does.
IBM PC: The message of the earliest IBM PC ads were
basically: "We're IBM. Buy our computer."
The more influential campaign began when IBM started
using Charlie Chaplin as its icon for the PC. This
provided a humanizing effect, taking the edge off
the intimidating aspects of owning a computer and
softening IBM's image as a big, uncaring corporate
giant. This was key for IBM to capture the small business
Macintosh: Apple's famous "1984" TV commercial,
aired during halftime at the 1984 Super Bowl, is one
of the most talked about ads of all time. The ad immediately
set the Mac apart from the IBM PC and its many clones
and helped to establish a strong emotional bond among
the user base that remains to this day. However, not
many companies copied Apple's approach, because by
1984 the microcomputer market was well on its way
to becoming commoditized. With few exceptions, computer
companies were focused on promoting their systems
as better, cheaper, faster PCs.
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