TECHNOLOGY MARKETING;HEY, NOBODY'S PERFECT, NOT EVEN TECH-AD MAKERS;CAMPAIGNS THAT THEIR CREATORS--AND CLIENTS-- WOULD SIMPLY JUST FORGET

By Published on .

"Lemmings" was one incredible commercial.

In 60 seconds, Apple Computer managed to alienate traditional business computer buyers, promise what the company could not deliver and set Chiat/Day on the path to lose the account.

MISSED THE MARK

The 1985 Super Bowl spot-followup to the previous year's revered "1984"-is the epitome of a tech ad that missed the mark.

The elaborate commercial showed a line of executives marching off a cliff-until one halted with the revelation that maybe there was an alternative.

The spot introduced "Macintosh Office," a line of business products built around the Mac.

Problem No. 1: Computer department managers didn't particularly like the lemming analogy, and for years after they saw Apple as more foe than friend.

Problem No. 2: Macintosh Office wasn't ready. Apple had the Mac and a laser printer, but not the array of applications and networking products needed to complete the package.

"Lemmings" almost didn't run, but in the end Mac marketing director Mike Murray made the call. The spot was controversial before it ran and more controversial afterward.

CHANGES FOLLOWED

Apple in 1985 reported its first quarterly loss and went through a wrenching reorganization. Co-founder Steve Jobs resigned. Mr. Murray left to pursue other interests. "Lemmings," of course, only gets partial credit for Apple's difficulties that year, but the startling spot in a way marked a turning point.

"Apple Computer grew up in 1985," said then-Chairman John Sculley in the annual report's letter to shareholders. Apple went into review in 1986 and moved from brash Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, to blue chip BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles. After the epic "1984" and "Lemmings," Apple hasn't been on the Super Bowl since.

Many ads and spots, of course, fail to deliver, and some PC publications still carry some schlocky looking ads. (One lesson of tech advertising: Homemade creative often sells the goods better than pretty ads. Many buyers presumably care more about price and specs than about arresting creative.)

But "Lemmings" belongs to an elite group of ads remembered in tech land for grandly missing the mark. A few other fabled fumbles:

n"How're you gonna do it? You're gonna PS/2 it!"

IBM Corp.'s first major campaign from new agency Lintas, New York, in 1989 tried a packaged goods jingle to sell business computers.

"You can do things with Micro Channel/that other computers just can't handle," said the bad rap that from the start got a bad rap.

One PC publication editorialized against the campaign, asking: "They really paid for that jingle?"

How far IBM had fallen: It and now-defunct Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein in New York were at the top of the ad craft in 1981 with the Chaplin-themed "Little Tramp" campaign. (The campaign managed to survive early skepticism at headquarters, where then-chairman Frank Cary reportedly said, "Why do we need a spokesman who can't speak?").

After IBM's ill-conceived decision to scrap the equity in "IBM Personal Computer" in favor of PS/2 in 1987, Lord, Geller responded with a campaign, featuring the cast of "M*A*S*H," that paled next to the "Little Tramp." But the Lintas jingle took IBM PC advertising to what many in the industry consider a new low.

"That was a shocking outrage for a great brand," said Steve Hayden, president of worldwide brand services on IBM at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, in an interview last year. "It's almost like they took somebody off of selling frozen peas, put them on the IBM account, and said, `Go do a jingle.' "

Mr. Hayden wrote "1984" and "Lemmings" at Chiat/Day, went on to run Apple at BBDO Worldwide and joined Ogilvy after it took the consolidated IBM account from Lintas and other agencies in 1994.

nLibrex.

The little computer operation of Japan's Nippon Steel in 1990 launched Librex Systems to tackle the U.S. notebook PC market. Librex promptly hired a hot consumer agency, Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein, San Francisco, to sell its business computer. That November, Librex unveiled a print and TV campaign it proclaimed would emphasize " `lifestyle' over bits and bites."

"In creating the Librex campaign, our goal was to distinguish the company and its products from conventional computer advertising that focuses on technical aspects," VP-sales and marketing Eric Horter explained at the time. "We wanted to create a mood, using visually arresting photography and psychologically appealing copy, that shows an evolution in work and lifestyles toward greater individual freedom and creativity."

One ad was the PC equivalent of Infiniti's derided "rocks and trees" launch effort: The ad showed rocks and trees and a Librex. "286/386sx notebook computers" is as close as the ad got to offering tech specs.

Customers didn't buy that. Librex went out of business in 1992.

Librex's problem wasn't that ads sold image. It's that ads didn't sell the product. "It was advertising without substance," said Scott Briggs, president of the consumer division of Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. "It was just an image thing in a market that absolutely demands substance."

Melanie Branon, who worked on Librex trade advertising at Carlick Advertising in Mountain View, Calif., said the Librex and Goodby experience "taught everyone in the industry a lesson."

"[Advertising] didn't work just because it was pretty," said Ms. Branon, now account director on startup Fujitsu PC Corp. at CKS Partners, Cupertino, Calif. "Pretty pictures are not going to sell these products alone."

Goodby is again in the tech category, but with a blue chip client: Its first campaign for Hewlett-Packard printers breaks this fall.

nMomenta

'We're either going to crash and create a big crater or we're going to grow fast," Momenta International VP Marketing John Rizzo pronounced at Comdex/Fall '91. "There's no room in between."

Momenta crashed.

In October '91, the company introduced the Momenta, a portable computer that used a special pen as an input device. "Pen-based computing" was that season's hype. "I think pen computing is the next $50 billion market," proclaimed industry pundit Portia Isaacson. For a brief moment, Momenta was the center of the hype.

Momenta's problems: The gizmo cost too much ($4,995), was buggy and couldn't match the hype.

Momenta got what it paid for: It went to a celebrated consumer agency, Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco, to create a handsome campaign to establish company and product. "We chose to place our investment in educating the agency about technology, not the consumers," Mr. Rizzo said at the time. Most traditional tech advertising, he added, was "pathetic."

Riney's launch campaign was gorgeous: Crisp, b&w, short on copy, long on image. Slick ads, though, didn't persuade consumers to plunk down money for the device.

Like neighbor agency Goodby, Riney got back into tech: It's the new agency for Acer America. But the former client lasted just a few moments. In August, 1992, after plowing through $40 million in venture capital, Momenta shut down.

In this article:
Most Popular