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Becoming a Demo-God

Word of my complex presentation had spread at Apple, so I was asked to give my presentation last. As I waited, I couldn't see into the presentation room (no peeking at competitors!) but during breaks, I could see that there were only eight judges, as expected.

Then it was my turn. I rolled in with my cart of gear, and immediately ran into a roadblock. They would not let me hook up my Mac. I had to use their Mac II, a slower machine than mine, and no special video card. I could not put my LaserDisc videos onto the projector, I would have to show them on a separate monitor. The seamless transitions between my presentation and the videos made for one of my best effects, but I would have to do without.

As I set up, I distributed my materials to the judges, and noticed the room was now filled to capacity. I recognized some of the audience as senior Apple and ComputerLand corporate executives. There is a video camera recording me - it wasn't there for the other presentations. This will have to be my best demo ever.

I launch the demo. The ComputerLand logo slides down onto the screen, and for a little extra pizzazz, I had an animation that made the Apple logo spin once. But I immediately notice a problem, the animations are running slower than expected. Oh no, I realised - this is a Mac II. It is slower than my IIx. My presentation timing is all ruined.

Nothing I can do about it. I run through all my points, and the audience is amazed at the concept of a consistent corporate image across different media. Better yet, they are seeing it live, as the Apple and ComputerLand logos appear on videos, on the projection screen, on laser printed documents, and professionally printed brochures, as I present the Apple technologies used to produce all these items.

I am deconstructing my presentation, at the same time I am presenting it. It is a presentation about how I produced this presentation. The audience is blown away. But I am about to be blown away.

My 20 minutes are up, and I still have two minutes left to go, my grand finale. I apologize for running long and bash forward. Finale, fade out to classical music on CD, big applause, hooray it is a huge success. Unfortunately, one of the judges comes up to inform me that technically I have been disqualified for running over 20 minutes, but my presentation was so impressive that they will try to give me a break.

An Apple executive comes over and asks me how I got the Apple logo to spin. I explained the technical details, and he says, "That was amazing. Now don't you EVER do that again. You just DON'T mess with the logo!"

Another Apple exec asks me if I created all this presentation myself. I said I did the animations, the brochure design, everything by myself except for four minutes of video produced by Apple. Then he asked, "You even did the music?" Oh, maybe not.

"No, that was a CD of a Vivaldi string quartet, but I think I could play the cello part." He laughed.

Two weeks later, I received a telegram (yes, telegram!) announcing the winners. I was awarded a Honorable Mention and $500. I guess those two extra minutes cost me dearly.

Later in the day, my Apple rep comes in to congratulate me and say how happy everyone was with my presentation, and how she'd fought to keep me from being totally disqualified but the Honorable Mention was the best she could do. I was not in the mood to hear this from her of all people. I told her I'd spent more than $500 on a new suit for this presentation. She cheerily said, "well then, you got a new suit out of this!"

But my presentation would live on. Apple asked me to give the presentation to a national customer, RR Donnelly, the Yellow Pages company, the largest producer of printed material in the world. It was trying to decide on outfitting its entire corporate print production on Macs over the next two years, an investment of millions of dollars.

I first met with them to discuss their proposed purchases, outlined some pricing, then gave my presentation. Afterwards, they were quite certain they could justify their Mac purchases. I tried to close the deal, asking when I could expect their first order. The response stunned me, "oh we do all our orders through ComputerLand of Houston." That was our arch-rival, the second largest computer store in the world.

My presentation continued to live on, on and on.

A few months later, I received my quarterly packet of new marketing materials. It contained store displays for a totally new campaign, "Apple Desktop Media." Apple paid an advertising agency to produce a national ad campaign in print, on video, even radio.

Apple would send out thousands of promotional videotapes to drive customers to our stores. We would show them an elaborate Macromind Director presentation on CD-ROM, accompanied by materials from a book with illustrations, color sample brochures, and even 35mm slides, all demonstrating a consistent image through all the different media, on screen, print, and video. This is my presentation, but modified beyond all recognition by an expensive ad agency. This would become Apple's most notorious campaign, known as the "Helocar."

Here is the videotape that Apple mailed to customers. It begins with an extended version of the TV commercial that ran nationwide for weeks.

Helocar

I can understand the reasoning for the Helocar; Apple had to pick an obviously nonexistent product. It couldn't let a real product interfere with its message. I was even amused that my spinning red Apple logo had become a spinning red Helocar. But the Helocar overpowered the message. People did not understand what they were watching on the commercial - some thought it was an advertisement for a real helocar. Nobody seemed to understand it was an Apple ad.

The rest of the video was even more confusing. Corporate clients that received the videotape didn't understand what it was selling. Apple was marketing some of its most nebulous products, like HyperCard.

There is a long segment showing a storyboard for a TV commercial with Wilford Brimley, produced in HyperCard. TV producers came in to my store asking for this storyboard software, and I had to explain it was a do-it-yourself project in HyperCard. I showed them how to do it, and they would just not understand, and walk out of the store in confusion, wondering why didn't I have this magic storyboard software. I hesitate to think of what would have happened if they had tried to market Macromind Director, one of the most complex applications I had ever used.

Goodbye, Helocar

After seeing my presentation turned into a marketing disaster, it was becoming obvious I was wasting my time in computer sales. Apple was unable to clearly define and market its own advantages. I helped shape the market and entrench the Mac in the largest corporate accounts in America. But the era of full-service computer stores was coming to an end. ComputerLand faced increased pressure from competitors like BusinessLand, just as Apple faced increasing competition from Microsoft. It was getting harder to make a living selling computers, and ComputerLand merged with another company and I was made redundant, merged out of a job. I changed careers and went to work in one of LA's best graphics service bureaus. It was where I really belonged. By the time Apple straightened out its multimedia marketing in the early 1990s, I had returned to Art School, where every student wanted to become a computer artist - except me. ®

Charles Eicher is an artist and multimedia producer in the American Midwest. He has a special interest in intellectual property rights in the Arts and Humanities. He writes at the Disinfotainment weblog.

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