New gadgets succeed as much on their image as their usefulness. Robert
Dwek asks three PRs how they would introduce BT’s prototype
Until very recently, people knew what ‘high-tech’ meant - intriguing
innovations enthusiastically promoted by bizarre boffins, usually on
Tomorrow’s World. It was unfamiliar, but unthreatening.
It was diverting, fascinating, exciting - but it was still ‘high-tech’.
And that meant you didn’t hold your breath for it to become an everyday
reality, you knew it would be years before it had any meaningful impact
on your life - if ever.
After all, much of it was gimmicky or downright silly. It didn’t mean
business, it meant show business. But in what must be a micro-nanosecond
of human history, all that has changed.
High-tech is no longer something separate and distinguishable from
everyday life. Indeed, the very phrase high-tech is beginning to seem
stale and old-fashioned. Today’s world is one of breathless change,
where tomorrow’s world is more likely to have a literal rather than a
figurative meaning. Nowhere is this more apparent than in communications
US statisticians have calculated that the total pool of global knowledge
doubled between 1870 and 1950. It doubled again between 1950 and 1970
and doubled once more over the next decade. This rate of 100% growth is
now said to happen every eight- and-a-half years. And much of the
explanation for this staggering statistic boils down to improved
communications technology, allowing ideas to spread at a rate undreamed
of even 50 years ago.
So what does this all mean for the public relations industry? Well, for
one thing, PRs are going to have to get to grips very rapidly with
technological advances. They will have to help their clients develop a
new language that can communicate the immediacy and relevance of today’s
communications technology without turning off the non-technical
consumer. It isn’t an easy process. But the ones who do will have an
enormous advantage over the laggards - and the test of tomorrow’s PR
companies will be how adaptable they are to technology.
Marketing decided to put a few PRs to the test. We came up with a
theoretical product - based on something BT is working on - with the
following features: it is worn on the arm, although for obvious reasons
is larger than a watch; it contains a sophisticated computer, VDU and
generous storage capacity; and it has a fax, e-mail, Internet and
telephone facility. Priced at pounds 1,200, this imaginary product is
scheduled for launch in three months.
Two themes to emerge from these different strategies were the importance
of the ‘early adopter’ market and the overriding need to humanise such a
high-tech, high-spec product. Do you agree?
Ian Grayson account manager at Hill & Knowlton High-tech clients include
3Com, EDS and Motorola
H&K would target ‘affluent young professionals working in finance,
sales, IT and early adopters of new technology’. The campaign would be
designed to generate coverage in quality national newspapers and
business titles, plus key lifestyle magazines.
This would be followed by a series of exclusive events designed to
‘facilitate data capture of quality leads and begin development of a
‘club culture’ for users’.
Grayson has two proposals for the launch, depending on budget. One is a
James Bond theme, held on the set of a Bond movie at Pinewood Studios.
The event would be introduced by ‘Q’ and part of the presentation would
be communicated through the products that the assembled journalists
would have been given to wear.
The second launch idea is a Thunderbirds theme, which would be conducted
on a small island off Spain. It would mean recreating the original set
and using original puppets and voices in the presentation. Journalists
could use the devices to file copy back to their offices and communicate
with each other while on the island.
Post-launch work would include customer events held in London hotels,
using ‘impressive’ AV shows to demonstrate the product’s features and
include footage of the launch event. ‘This would provide a good
opportunity for data capture.’
The feeling of exclusivity would be heightened by targeted direct mail,
Internet or 0800 numbers and invitations to attend on particular
A series of celebrity ‘road tests’ would be arranged - such as Will
Carling, Ian Wright and Rob Andrew - and journalists at titles such as
the Sunday Times, GQ and FHM would be given the product for a month.
Finally, another fashion show idea. Grayson suggests staging an event
themed as Fashion in 2050, where young designers would be briefed to
design clothes for that far-distant year. The only proviso would be that
the clothes must be designed to allow use of the product.
Annabel Abbs, client services director at Firefly Communications
High-tech clients include Compaq, Reuters, Sequent, CRT Group, Colt,
Octel and Siemens
‘Our first stage would be to request a full brief and undertake lots of
research, including a spell of wearing the product. But my gut feel
about approaching the launch without doing this is as follows:
* Strategy - use cult figures, a high-profile launch and careful
positioning to create the ‘most wanted item of the 90s’.
* Target market - the product is so radical that it will need to be
marketed at early adopters in the first instance. This audience will
probably fall into two camps - PC enthusiasts and gizmo lovers. Both
groups are likely to be young and many will be male. Careful selection
of early adopters will ensure the right image for the product and
subsequently make it a success in the mainstream consumer market.
* Positioning - it is crucial the product is painted from the outset as
highly desirable, sexy, cool and hip. To prevent it being seen as an
‘anorak’ gadget, icons of style should be approached and persuaded to
wear the product in public, figures such as Quentin Tarantino, Will
Self, Keanu Reaves, Kate Moss, Damien Hirst, Barry Humphries, Paula
Yates, Marco Pierre White, Julia Carling, the editor of Loaded and so
* Design - to make the product really desirable, someone like Vivienne
Westwood or Jean Paul Gaultier could be commissioned to design the
exterior - the product could then carry their signature, a real stamp of
‘cool’ - and this idea might be extended into a full-blown clothes
competition, sponsored by the product and with the winning outfits also
being worn by the aforementioned style kings and queens.
* The product’s name - it should be catchy and appealing, perhaps ‘Surf
Zone’ or ‘Zipper’. Product demonstrations could be held in trendy night
clubs, cinema foyers and bars, all emphasising the product’s sociable
side: e-mailing friends and making new ones on-line; finding out where
the most happening clubs are; being directly telephoned instead of paged
and so on.
* Gearing - the launch should be heavily geared towards the consumer,
because the trade and PC press will cover it regardless. Competitions to
win the product could be run with selected magazines or TV programmes.
David Millar senior account manager at Text 100
High-tech clients include Microsoft, Rank Xerox, Bull, EDS, Gateway 2000
Millar and his colleagues came up with the name ‘WEBwatch’ to stress the
product’s Internet facility. He sees it as a ‘portable office’ and maps
out a less fashion-focused campaign.
He would, however, also launch initially to key, influential audiences
and media and, like Abbs, create an aspirational aura that would ‘lay
the groundwork for a future move into the mass-market’.
Millar would also stress the product’s advantage over a pager and would
focus on its size. But he would be wary of promising too much. ‘It is
essential that all claims are realistic and no false promises are made.’
The launch itself would be ambitiously international, in keeping with
the product’s global nature. Individuals from around the world would
e-mail endorsements. This might be a businessman in the departure lounge
at Beijing airport, the technicians who developed the product talking
from their lab, a reporter on the ground in Bosnia, a member of the
English cricket team in Pakistan, a cosmonaut on the MIR space station
and so on.
Post-launch PR would promote the product as the ultimate communications
device, using strong case studies to show it is ‘worth its weight in
Media coverage could be enhanced by showing the product’s benefits
rather than stating them. For example, it could give all paramedics and
GPs on-line access to the National Poisons Register. It would also be ‘a
great way for newspaper correspondents to file their copy’.
A 24-hour support service for all reviewers of the product would be
essential to help them discover its full benefits. And links to - or
partnerships with - other Internet services will be the only way to
demonstrate quickly the value of this facility. For example, joint
promotions with British Midland, Sharelink, the Electronic Telegraph,
CNN or on-line games. Finally, like Abbs, Millar suggests running a
Jonathan Simnett client service director at A Plus Group
High-tech clients include IBM, Novell, Compuserve and Electronic Arts
‘This product can’t afford to be seen as a gimmick,’ states Simnett, who
would think hard about its positioning as a business tool.
‘Business people are used to dealing with high-tech, but more crucially,
they are highly mobile. They already have most of the features in this
product, although in separate technologies.’
But this audience would not be appropriate at launch. ‘They’d probably
have to wait 18 months or so before buying because they would be locked
into other contracts.’ So, once again, the launch would concentrate on
making the product a ‘style essential, a defining cultural icon’. He’d
go for the 14- to 28-year-old, technically literate brigade. The price,
he thinks, wouldn’t be prohibitive: ‘They’d spend that much on a decent
And like Firefly, the A Plus group strategy would target trendy clubs
and pubs, working with, for example, the O Bar and The Edge in London’s
Soho, the Hacienda in Manchester, Cream in Liverpool and with lifestyle
magazines such as i-D, GQ, Arena and Loaded - ‘an article on how well
the product stood up to a hard-living weekend’.
Exquisitely trendy DJs such as Paul Okensold, Jeremy Healey, Pete Tong
and Junior Asquez and club bands such as The Orb and Orbital would be
recruited. Radio 5’s The Big Byte and MTV’s The End and The Pulse would
The pink pound would be sought because ‘that’s a very affluent, stylish
and influential market’.
Joint promotions with computer games manufacturers would also be a good
idea, as would point-of-sale demonstrations at major transport terminals
such as Heathrow and Frankfurt airports.
The product would not be suitable for mass-market targeting for about
two years. ‘The important thing is to get critical mass as early as
possible. History is replete with examples of products that bombed
because they didn’t make the transition from the early adopter phase to
the early majority phase.’
Moreover, he has serious doubts about the viability of such a product
now. ‘At the moment, launching one of these technologies would be
suicide. The market isn’t ready for it.’
* If you would like to learn more about marketing technology to the
domestic consumer, Marketing magazine is running a one-day conference,
called The Electronic Home, in London on May 23. Call 0171 413 4116 for