Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 09/83 item 02 - scanned

HYPE NOW WHILE STOCKS LAST (column)

Did you know that some pop-star's fan clubs tell their members which record shops to buy from in order to push new releases high in the charts? Some managers have even been known to traipse round buying enough records to ensure chart success. Once there, the records sell simply because they are in the hit parade whereupon they become genuine best sellers. It's good for business but it doesn't seem fair does it?

No doubt you could rig the charts of hardware and software sales in a similar way. It might cost you a bob or two but, if you do the job properly, you should more than recoup your investment. Of course, this is pure speculation and was inspired by reading a biography of the Beatles recently. Brian Epstein actually undertook to buy 10,000 copies of one of their early recordings simply to ensure that the record company went into production. It would seem that early manifestations of 'Beatlemania' were manufactured although it subsequently became very real. According to the biography, when the Beatles were flying to America the promoter of their tour bought several advertising slots on local radio to exhort listeners to go to the airport where they would receive a dollar bill and a tee shirt. The ploy worked, the Beatles got an enormous reception which ensured massive press coverage all over the world. No doubt the press had been warned to expect something to happen.

The reason for mentioning all this is because I feel it is the way our industry is moving. We all have the choice of whether to hype our wares or play it straight. Although it irritates me to have to say this, I think that most hypers will do extremely well in the short term if not permanently. We've already seen one or two examples of this in action.

Scotty Bambury made us all sit up and listen when he started his hype for The Last One. With well-publicised plans for a million dollars' worth of advertising, a product launch worthy of a well established company (TLO cigarettes and matches for example) Mr Bambury certainly pushed the boat out in style. He revelled in controversy and regularly stirred it up with his public utterances. He even (rightly) threw the odd injunction at companies who went too far in their criticisms of the product. This approach made The Last One one of the best known products after VisiCalc.

Adam Osborne had been deliberately provoking controversy in his role as an author, journalist, public speaker and general guru of the microcomputer industry. He chose a deliberately arrogant style of communication which was both irritating and impressive. It was impressive because he was saying many things which were right and which needed to be said about questionable practices in the industry. It was irritating because he acted as if he were the sole arbiter of right and wrong. His annual White Elephant awards were presented at the West Coast Computer Faire for products and companies which he felt were making a significant contribution to the industry. CP/M and VisiCalc received awards long before many people had even heard of them. In this way and through his influential 'From the Fountainhead' column, first in Interface Age and later in InfoWorld. Adam established himself as the scourge of the industry. When he then decided to move into hardware and software production he had to call the company 'Osborne' in order to cash in on the self-promotion.

Another man who uses his name in this way is Clive Sinclair. I think there are more Sinclair computers in existence than any other. There was a time when Sinclair was always at the centre of some controversy or another. Delivery has been a continuing nightmare and his earlier position of being ignored by the establishment served to keep the Sinclair name prominent. He was prepared to commit to a BBC machine but was rebuffed in favour of Acorn. I can't remember the exact details but there was an awful lot of steam generated by the BBC's behaviour. Then there was the 'Micro in Schools' business which Clive decided to underwrite by giving discounts prior to official approval to his products.

These people, whether they wanted to or not, became controversial and in doing so became the focus of a lot of media attention. Add to this the fact that each company spent an arm and a leg on advertising and you can see why they are household names these days. I honestly don't believe that the advertising alone would have achieved this. If this theory is right then we haven't got much time. We're going to have to hype while the activity is sufficiently unusual to grab attention. Once everyone is doing it then the only people who will get noticed are those that can out-hype all their competitors. And that needs money. Lots and lots of it. The sort of money that large companies would be prepared to spend to secure a grip on our market. The sort of money that says that most small under-capitalised hardware and software manufacturers will disappear within a few years. With luck they'll be bought up, without it they'll simply die through the inability to compete for attention.