So What Software

Advertising History

By, William Stephens – Founder, So What Software

** “Click on any image to enlarge” **

Advertising in the 1980′s was a bit different from the polished high definition, high tech ad’s of today. First there was no internet, so no pop over’s or under’s, no spam’s, no pushes, nothing electronic, well, almost nothing. There was printing, television and radio, 2 of which were either ineffective or cost prohibitive… you can guess which ones.

Online Advertising
Magazines were the only widely distributed media that was available aside from “flying the flag” at expos like Applefest and “word of mouth”. For a time in the late 80′s we used the pre-internet like Genie or Compuserve to telephone information around at a blazing and amazing 2,400 bits per second. In the early 80′s this was done as well but at a slower 300 bits per second. Mind you, there were no pictures or movies or clips… it was just text, not very compelling and the audience was tiny… just a few fellow geeks and engineers, nothing like the millions of users online today.

Magazine Advertising
Our first ad’s were created in pen and ink on posterboard drawn 4X or 4 times as big as will be printed. This was done to minimize slight errors in line quality. Much of the lettering was pre-made stick-on letters and symbols like “Zipatone” lettering sheets. The Ad to the left is one of the first advertising pieces So What Software ever made. It was formatted for triple column magazine pages and ran in Nibble, Byte, A+ and Hardcore Computist magazines starting in 1984.

More ad’s of this type were created over the next few years as our software library increased. All the ads from this peroid were made mainly for the personals style black and white section at the end of the magazines.

Our early advertisements were 1/8 and 1/4 page formats with the occasional 1/2 page and full page insert.

In 1986 the AppleIIgs was introduced and this now offered two platforms for our software, the good old 6502 and the new 65816 microprocessors.

At first, the software was quickly ported over the the 65816 without many changes to the substance of the software aside from the utilization of the super hi-res screen in the GS. Later on however, the unique charateristics of the IIgs were exploited to their fullest in the software packages and finally became exclusively IIgs titles.

Catalog Advertising
Most of our magazine advertisements had a tag like “Circle 10 on reader service card” which was how you ordered brochures and catalogs for a particular product or line of products. These were also referred to as “bingo leads” and are still a mainstay of magazine advertising. Of course, we needed to have something to send for these requests and that’s where our line of catalogs comes in. These ran from late 1985 to late 1987 and tens of thousands were mailed out in those years. I can’t say that they generated sales in the same proportion, but they did generate reasonable sales none the less.

After the catalog phase we ran more targeted advertising focusing on a single product at a time. This was supported by single sheet flyers and cover letters. This query response method serverd us well until the end of the AppleIIgs era.

Finally, money enough for color
1987 marked the first year where revenue was sufficient to afford a new marketing campaign but this time in color! These were not the only changes, new packaging in the form of boxes and sleeves, some professional intervention in the form of a commercial photographer and an advertising team (of sorts).

Focus was squarely on the AppleIIgs now and even with the “Power Trio” selling briskly I could see that something new was emerging in my mind which needed to be addressed immediately. As sales continued along on the Trio, I quietly assembled a small team of programmers and began work on what would be the ultimate Applesoft programming tool for the AppleIIgs… Call Box.

Over several shoots many images were made aside from this ad which were used for the new box art, advertisements and yet to come products. I even had to hire an additional hand model… there seems to have been some sort of fixation with hands.

The shooting of the Power Trio advertisement was documented, a thing that was quite rare for So What Software. Most things were done without fanfare or much notice back then. As you can see, no cut and paste or overlays. No special effects, just rigging, sawhorses, stands, lights and a studio view camera… oh yeah, and those two ad people with paint on their hands.

New packaging, new disks, new prototype
Many thing changed in 1987/88, mainly the AppleIIgs used the new 3-1/2″ disks and the old 5-1/4″ floppys were being phased out. The first hint of “hard drives” were about and the days of the floppy in a baggie were over.

New packaging was in order so development of a prototype package was started. The images to the right show the first concept sketch, mockup and final result for the new packaging. It would be full color, die-cut, embossed and shrink wrapped for sale.

Aside from new packaging, new disk labels were made as well and production methods were developed to mass produce these packages. The folks at Huntington Valley Press made the sketch and mockup a reality working through several intermediate prototypes until the final package was decided upon. Once the cutting and creasing dies were made and the print ready plates were etched, production started and in a few weeks, the new packaging was delivered and ready for assembly, stuffing and shipping.

Expo/Applefest Advertising
Expo advertising was a far more complicated affair. First you would have a physical presence, so a trade show booth had to be designed and built. This was done in my living room over a period of a few months. The booth was initially sized for a 10×10 floor area which just squeezed into my living room with most of the furniture moved and stacked off to the side. Later on we increased to a 10×20 space and redesigned the expo display several times to accommodate for this.

This booth had to break down to a minimum for shipping while being designed for 1 person to unload and assemble in about a two hour timeframe. No small task, but achievable and that’s about how the thing was deployed over the next few years. Aside from the expo display, dozens of “little things” like show buttons, brochures and flyers, demo programs, order forms, receipts and so on had to be designed and created as well.

The four expo pictures above are from Applefest in San Francisco 1988. The first picture is of the night before Applefest was to begin, basically unloading, putting the carpet down and general assembly. The second picture is the morning of Applefest, just arranging the final details. The third picture is moments before the Expo started, and everythings ready for the attendees. (Expo staff from left to right: James Stephens, William Stephens, John Pothier, Dennis Newberg and Violette Stephens). The fourth picture shows some guy who starts off Applefest88 with a speech about something.

Third Party Advertising
So What Software was not the only entity that marketed our software products. Wordlwide and Nationwide distributors also marketed So What Software products, even the company store at Apple Computer sold our stuff. Distributors like Programs Plus and Egghead Software advertised us in their multi-page full color magazine ads.

Often their wording tended to be inaccurate or even naive but they seemed to be happy with it, they even took their own pictures. In retrospect, third party advertising provided up to 30% of our sales and cost us nothing, not a bad deal all in all.

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