I touched a PC, and I liked it !

I was going to blog today in anticipation of the Microsoft Vista ad campaign starting next Thursday featuring Jerry Seinfeld. I was prepared to note the irony of hiring an eye wateringly expensive shill, whose show remains a icon of the 90s, for Windows, a product that is in danger of remaining…an eye wateringly expensive icon of the 90s.

At least Beverly Hills 90210 is attempting a comeback.

But no.

A rumor that HP is reinventing its corporate branding led me to notice its campaign for its line of Touchscreen PCs. Not that ATMs, kiosks, cash registers, phones (and soon car dashboards ?) aren’t already on top of this game. But the HP Touchscreen PC is sleek, big, black, and, well, you may never go back. More importantly, its expensive. So I think the TV ads get it about right for something innovative, targeted at affluent people, or at least those who think they are.

But check out the Learning Videos. These are the product demos for Touchscreen PCs. If any of you have worked on a product and had to show it to an uninitiated crowd, you know that ads, marketing literature and 20 bullet point slideware aside, the demo is the single most important proof point to your audience of the value of your work. Its the elevator pitch, the turning point, the denouement, the inflexion point all in one pivotal moment. I remember feeling this most strongly having to demo a proof of concept website for online banking way back in early 1996 (the zenith of the Seinfeld era!) to a London bank’s great and glorious. The demo included an animated Java applet that showed a credit card gracefully flipping over as the user logged in. Ot at least that’s what it did 7 times out of 10. The other times it ungracefully hung the browser. Nailbiting times.

(By the way, even the worst behaved applets will no longer be able hang the browser, as I may have mentioned before.)

Great examples, for me, of online product demos include the iPhone product demos (simple and clear, though I do think the black turtleneck’s best work as garment-symbolizing-cutting-edge is behind it now). Also Microsoft’s excellent demo videos for its Surface technology (except for the moment at the end of the meal where the otherwise happy group of diners is able, using Surface Technology on the very table from which they ate, to split the bill down to the last penny (and in v2, beyond ?), based on exactly what each one ordered. Rather than, in my opinion, the more civilized non-technological approach of splitting the bill equally. Microsoft products could finally, I suppose, silence the age old cries of ‘But I only had the soup !’).

But back to HP and the TouchScreen PC demos.

Genre-wise, here, we are close to Home Shopping Network territory. The presenters are perky and fluid. The repartee, though inevitably forced at times, is continuous and engaging. But they battle with a panoply of low production values. No industrial or minimalist backdrops here, presenters and TouchScreen PC alike battle unsuccessfully for visual spectrum with a 50s diner cum aquarium backdrop themed with a range of shades of the new (?) corporate blue and an inexplicable red, both jacked up to persiprational levels of hue. Two cameras ought to be enough to allow the viewer to engage honestly with both the product and the presenter. This would require eye contact with the presenters and a clear shot of the product for a large proportion of the time. But sadly we get neither. Instead we cut away too quickly from the product only to find ourselves watching the speaker talking to the other camera. This kind of style can work in addition to traditional full frontal face shots in order to create a more rounded, dimensional view of the speaker. But here the salespeople are never allowed quite to meet your eye. I add to my litany of complaints patchy sound quality and the total is an exposition that, rather than let it shine, just gets in the way of the product. The worst crime in the book, as all of us who have ever had to do a demo know.

Demo presentations in need of much more than a touch up.

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