What are we to make of the merger of Compaq and Tandem? This is a question that has been vexing some of Mole's more serious-minded friends. Clearly what is needed is a new name that reflects the combined purpose, but what should it be? If the aim is to convey the clinical efficiency and unobtrusive convenience of their products, then Tampaq has the right ring. If the two firms intend to concentrate instead on the security aspects of their servers, safe computing and the prevention of unwanted little disasters, then the choice has to be Condem. Mole looks forward to the advertising campaign with interest.
Names tell us a lot about a company. When Lotus thought it had a licence to print money in the groupware market it named its product Notes. Years later, in the grip of a more sombre reality, the company's product names are more downbeat but still playful. The new server is called Domino, which raises the inevitable question: when there's a crash, do all the servers go down together? Now Domino is joined by Go, which also happens to be the name of a Japanese board game. Is there a pattern forming here and, if so, what can we expect to see next? Lotus Cluedo, perhaps, or Lotus Scrabble. Monopoly will probably have to be ruled out on grounds that Microsoft owns the trademark, but there are many more great games that have yet to be turned into software products. Most obviously, the world is crying out for a tell-it-like-it-is package called Trivial Pursuit.
You don't have to be a Notes administrator to laugh at this joke, but it helps.
Despite what Shakespeare had to say about roses, the names we give things seem to matter a great deal - or they do in Redmond. An important part of the brainwashing process for Microsoft staff is to learn what words should and should not be used to describe the alien concept of "problems".
According to a report in the Guardian, the nearest equivalent term to "product defect" at Microsoft is "design side effect". Things that go wrong are not known by the popular English term "failure" but by the Billspeak euphemisms "issues", "known issues", and "intermittent issues".
Young people who bunk off school to steal cars and smoke dope are commonly referred to as "problem children". At Microsoft they would be exhibiting "undocumented behaviour". According to Microsoft officials, Billspeak is all about greater clarity. Thus the word "bug" is banned not because it smacks of failure but because it is too "complex" for the company's official language. And presumably the same is true of the word "bullshit".
Mole has been approached by a student who has been sponsored by Microsoft to research attitudes to the company among journalists and other groups of opinion formers. Stripped of its Billspeak, the aim of the project is to find out why no one likes Microsoft. Not since the Elephant Man conducted an opinion poll to discover whether women found him attractive has anyone undertaken such a breathtakingly stupid piece of research.
If Microsoft wants to waste its money, fine, but Mole already knows the outcome. The research will reveal that everyone hates the sort of company that is so sensitive and self-important that it sponsors research to find out why everyone hates it.
Readers will recall that the impact of postcode software company QAS's promotional literature was somewhat reduced when QAS put the wrong address on a leaflet sent to the department of speech at Newcastle University.
Having been ridiculed in this column, QAS's marketing department have tried again and are now using the correct postcode. Unfortunately, most of the other details of the address, including the street name, are now wrong, and its latest letter boasting that "accurate addressing can deliver real advantages" refers to the newly abbreviated "department of sp".
Rather optimistically, the QAS missive concludes: "If you need further information or would like some advice on your address management needs, then please do not hesitate to contact me." The recipient of all this inaccuracy, a Mr D Cudmore, the systems manager, is said to be "eechless" with wonder.
More impressive news from the world of marketing. A company calling itself Nike Consultants has been nominated for a PRAT (Promotions Received After Time) of the week award for sending him an invitation to take part in a prize draw for an HP ScanJet. The invitation was received on 2 July, but according to the fine print on the entry form, "draw takes place by the end of June 1997". Just do it, as they say in the Nike Consultants' post room.
Some sort of award is also due to the marketing department at clip art publisher IMSI. To draw attention to their product, the company attaches a small, red flashing light to the packaging, powered by a miniature battery.
At Software Warehouse, one of the retailers of MasterClips, a fire officer opened a parcel from IMSI, took one look at the flashing light and trailing wires and issued a bomb warning. Later, an extremely angry fire chief from Merseyside Fire Brigade rang IMSI to tell them that, thanks to their marketing "ploy", a considerable amount of time and public money had been wasted by the fire service, the police and an army bomb disposal unit.
Explaining that IMSI had apologised, a not terribly apologetic sounding spokesperson for the company said: "Whoops! Time for a promotional strategy re-think." If any off-duty fire, police and army officers are reading this and fancy popping round to IMSI to give the management a good kicking, Mole can supply an address on request.
If you feel the need to name names, write to Mole at the address above or ring him on 0171 316 9068.
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