In 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.”
No 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.
Microcomputer 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).
1. 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 market.
2. 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 advertising.
3. 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, businesspeople (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.
4. 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 directplayed on the insecurities of businesspeople and professionals. Later ads showed two businessment, 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.
5. IBM PC: The message of the earliest IBM PC ads was 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 market.
6. 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.
According to the description of an auction listing on eBay, at least two of the Apple 1′s traded in for Apple II’s escaped destruction. An Apple employee snagged them from Steve Wozniak’s office. Here’s an excerpt from the listing:
“Cliff dropped into Steve Jobs’ office one day and couldn’t help but notice the huge pile of Apple 1 boards – those that had been traded-in for the Apple II. “What are you going to do with those?”, Cliff asked. Steve told him that they were to be destroyed. “Mind if I take one… Oh! And one for my brother?”, Cliff asked. Steve reached into the pile and pulled out two boards and handed them to Cliff. Many people around Apple were amused and asked, “Why would you want one of those?” “It’s history,” was the reply, “just history.”‘
Starting bid is $30,000. With three days left at this writing, no one has bid.
The seller goes by “earlyapple,” and has a number of interesting Apple historical artifacts for sale, including an Apple Mouse prototype, an Apple Newton BIC prototype, and a pair of Apple logo sunglasses made for Steve Wozniak.
While going through my bookshelves recently, I came across a book called Contemporary Art of 79 Countries. What makes the book relevant to this blog is that it was produced by IBM, and it essentially is a catalog of the art collection Tom Watson put together for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. IBM commissioned one work of art for each country it operated in at the time.
After the fair, IBM displayed the collection in its headquarters and continued to add to it. When IBM hit the skids in 1995, it auctioned off the collection, which by then totaled about 300 pieces.
For the art aficionados, here is a list of the works in the book along with the countries represented. I was surprised by some of the countries where IBM had a presence in 1939. The Azores?:
Algeria: Paysage de Sidi-bou-Said, by Lucien Mainssieux
Australia: A Bathing Party, Sydney Harbor, by Fred Leist
Azores: Prayers, by Domingos Rebelo
Bahamas: St. Ames Church, Nassau, by Helena Stutevant
Belgian Congo: The Market of Matadi, by Alfred Bastien
Belgium: Blast Furnaces at Charleroi, by Pierre Paulus
Bermuda: Flowers in Color, by May Middleton
Bolivia: Indian Dance, by Victor Cuevas Pabon
Brazil: Pontao da Bandeira, by Funchal Garcia
British India: Village Kali Puja by P. Karmokar
British Malaya: Malayan Chieftain in the Jungle, by Franciscus Hermanus van Haelen
Bulgaria: Tirnovo, by Boris Deneff
Canada: Canada’s Regional Northland, by Alexander Young Jackson
Ceylon: Portrait of the Poet Tagore, by Mudaliyar A.C.G.S. Amarasekara
Chile: Sunset in the Cajon de Maipo, by Luis Strozzi
China: Flowers, by Shang Sheng-Po
Colombia: El Poeta Del Campo, by Ignacio Gomez Jaramillo
Costa Rica: Coffee Picker, by Esmeralda Lorin de Povedano
Cuba: Summer Squall, by Antonio Rodriguez Morey
Czechoslovakia: Prague in the Spring, by Vincenc Benes
Denmark: Autumn Morning, by Niels Bjerre
Dominican Republic: At the Market, by Jorge O. Morel
Ecuador: The Funeral, by Antonio Bellolio
Egypt: Happy Life of the Egyptian Peasant, by H. Banani
England: The White Cliffs of Dover, by Frank Graham Bell
Estonia: Estonian Landscape, by Alexander Kulkoff
Finland: Cutter’s Hat, by Tyko K. Sallinen
France: Church of St. Aigman at Chartres, by Maurice Utrillo
French Indo-China: The Tonkinese Delta, by Joseph Marie Inguimberty
Germany: Thuringian Glass Blower, by Rudolf G. Werner
Greece: Peasant Woman, by Demetre Vitsoris
Guatemala: Projections of a Hunt, by Carlos Merida
Haiti: Market on the Hill, by Petion Savain
Hawaii: Island of Oahu, Hawaii, by Henry Bernard Christian
Honduras: Quincho, by Maximiliano Euceda
Hungary: Harvest, by Istvan Szonyi
Ireland: A Flower Girl in Dublin, by Jack Butler Yeats
Italy: Romanticism, by Guiseppe Amisani
Jamaica: A Landscape, by John Dunkley
Japan: Twilight, by Shunzan Yagioka
Kenya: In Kikuyu, by Carrie Solomon
Latvia: Landscape in Latvia, by Ary Skride
Libya: Tomb of the Caramanlis, by Domenico de Bernardi
Luxemburg: Castle of Clervaux, by Joseph Kutter
Mexico: Spring Begins, by Doctor Atl
Morocco: Ben Djeloud Gate, Fez, by Emile Bouneau
Netherland India, Javanese Landscape, by Ernest Dezentje
Netherlands: Winter Landscape, by Hendrik Chabot
Netherlands West Indies: Hooiberg Aruba, by J.C. Pietersz
Newfoundland: Drying Cod, by Robert W. Pilot
New Zealand: On the Shores of Kawhia Harbour, by Edith M. Collier
Nigeria: Umu Ahia College Dining Hall, by B.C. Enwonwu
Northern Ireland: Irish Horse Parade, by William Conor
Norway: Summer Scene off the Oslofjord, by Per Deberitz
Palestine: In the Midst of Jerusalem, by Joseph Budko
Panama: Anayansi’s Dance of Love, by Roberto Lewis
Peru: The Flute Player, by Julia Codesido
Philippine Islands: After the Day’s Toil, by Vicente Alvarez Dizon
Poland: Fete of St. John, by Sophie Stryjenska
Portugal: View of Lisbon, by Carlos Botelho
Puerto Rico: Man of the Mountain, by Miguel Pou
Rumania: Carpet Seller, by Francis Sirato
Scotland: Isobel, by Robert Sivell
Siam: Siamese Women Preparing Flowers Before Worship, by Georges Barriere
Southern Rhodesia: The Crocodile Zareba, by Colonel A. Essex Capell
Spain: Enigmatic Elements in Landscape, by Salvador Dali
Sweden: Spring Day at Orretorp, by Rolf Mellstrom
Switzerland: Sunshine on the Swiss Alps, by Paul Emil Wyss
Trinidad: The Moulder and His Patterns, by Alice Pashley
Turkey: Return from the Market, by Mehmet Seref Akdik
Union of South Africa: Portrait of the Right Reverend Bishop Henneman of Capetown, by Edward Roworth
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: At the Horse Pond, by Alexander Grigorievitch Tyshler
United States of America: Central Park, by Robert Philipp
Uruguay: Typical Uruguayan Landscape, by Cesar A. Pesce Castro
Venezuela: Vista del Avila, by Manuel Cabre
Wales: Welsh Coast and Hills, by Morland Lewis
Yugoslavia: Scene Near Belgrade, by Milo Milunovic
The barn where Claude Kagan founded RESISTORS, one of the first computer clubs, in the 1970s burned to the ground the morning of Dec. 3, 2009. The barn housed a number of vintage computers including a Symbolics 3670, a number of AT&T 3B2s, and most significantly, a Burroughs B-205 mainframe. According to posts on the Classic Computing mail list, everything is a total loss.
At 85, Claude is one of the few remaining pioneers of the early mainframe era. He created the SAM76 programming language. He was unhurt in the blaze, and his house was untouched.
The 9-ton Burroughs debuted in 1956 and was tube-based.