Faces That Can
Sell a Thousand Computers
Everyone wants to
sell you a personal computer.
Computer makers exist not to make computers, but to
sell them. The machines don't do anyone any good stuck in a warehouse,
so computer companies use every stratagem, every clever sales
technique, to get their products out of those warehouses and onto your
That's especially true at this time of year. I'm
writing this just days before the end of 1988, during the traditional
season of the hard sell. To make themselves heard and seen above the
crowd, computer sellers pull out the stops with lower prices, special
offers, and easy credit during the holidays.
One way that computer manufacturers sell their wares
is to prop up a celebrity before the camera. This famous person then
extols the benefits of owning (and thus buying) a particular computer.
Years ago, when the home computer industry was younger and a bit more
unpredictable, such spokesmen (they were always men) were common. Alan
Alda was a huckster for Atari. William Shatner, formerly a starship
captain, piped up for Commodore's PET computer. Dick Cavet, talk show
talker, talked about the great things Apple II computers could do. The
ghost of Charlie Chaplin, as personified by his character the Little
Tramp, strutted and twirled for the IBM PC. Isaac Asimov, prolific
science and science fiction writer, showed up in ads for the Radio
What do we have today? The aging crew of "M*A*S*H"
shills for IBM's PS/2 line. John Dvorak, a columnist who regular ly
vents his spleen in PC and Macintosh magazines, stands on a ladder for
Everex. Nameless business sharks inhabit Macintosh ads and took for the
edge that will let them lead the next corporate takeover.
Slim pickings for those of us who grew up with
television and watched Dustin Hoffman peddle Volkswagens, Willard Scott
push McDonald hamburgers, and Bill Cosby promote Jello pudding. The
personal computer industry needs a human touch to make its selling less
serious, less threatening, and less mechanical. Every computer maker
should go out and find itself a spokesperson.
I'd like to help out. No, not by staring into the
camera and professing my love for a computer. I'd like to throw a few
names into the ring-names appropriate to each computer maker.
I've got two for the Macintosh spot. What about
Robin Leach, host of the ever popular, ever-pandering "Life Styles of
the Rich and Famous?" Since September, when Apple hiked its Macintosh
prices by as much as 20 percent, it seems that only the rich can afford
a new Mac. Or how about Donald Trump? He's put his name on everything
from airlines to hotels. Why not a computer? But if Trump sells
computers, will the Mac then become simply the T?
Another easy pick is Max Headroom for the Amiga. Max
has been out of circulation since ABC pulled his plug last year, and I
haven't seen him on Coke commercials lately, so he should be eager for
work. The Amiga is a dynamite desktop video production machine, which,
after all, is what Max is all about. Besides, if the scuttleb-b-b-butt
was true, Max was getting some help from an Amiga during his second
IBM is, as we all know, the giant of the personal
computer industry. Give them a mouthpiece as big as their business:
Make Andre the Giant the official celebrity for the PS/2 line.
Wrestling precedent was set, of course, when King Kong Bundy
represented Vendex, a PC-compatible manufacturer, so it's not like this
is way out in left field. Anyway, if they let Andre speak in rhyme, as
his character did all the time (in The Princess Bride), he might
convince me to see that MCA is here to stay.
I'd suggest that Commodore look up William Shatner
again. Put him in his "Star Trek" costume on the bridge of the Enter
prise, with a Commodore 64 in his lap. The camera should pan from the
64 to Shatner's face. He should look into the camera and say,
"Yesterday's technology tomorrow. The computer of the twenty-third
century. The Commodore 64." A nice 30-second spot.
Jack Tramiel should be his company's own
spokesperson. The Atari ST isn't doing all that well here in the U.S.,
and putting an earnest company head in front of the camera might be
just the ticket. Computer companies have a lot to learn from car (think
Lee Iacocca) and razor (Victor Kiam) makers.
The Apple II? It's the machine of choice for school
kids, right? Animate Calvin, from the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes,"
and put him in front of an Apple II. If the computer survives, teachers
will believe it can stand up to classroom punishment.
Those are my recommendations. Keep your eyes glued
to your TV set-maybe you'll see one of these celebrities soon. Or maybe
you'll see me pitching computers from a ladder.