Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 106 / MARCH 1989 / PAGE 4

 editorial licence


 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 desk.
    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 Shack TRS-80.
    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 s-s-s-season.
    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.