Don't believe the hype 

Microsoft's marketing machinations

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It’s bad enough that the average person spends five years of their life waiting in lines, but some people had to go and make a sport of it.

It all started with rock concerts. People used to wait in line overnight, braving the elements, just to be the first one at the ticket booth in the morning. I used to do a bit of this myself in high school, so I know the only people out there at four in the morning buying tickets for Pink Floyd and ACDC were either the most hardcore fans in the world or scalpers. My friends and I even took turns lining up for tickets to the Who after the first diehards set up tents a week before seats went on sale.

Sadly those lineups are a thing of the past. It seems like the first five rows of anything are already promised to radio stations and teenage children of the event sponsors. And with the Internet and 1-800 phone lines opening the same time as the ticket wickets, you can wait in line all night and still wind up in the back bowl, second deck, behind a pillar.

The whole stadium concert scene died around this time. I doubt there are more than five bands in the world that could fill a 70,000-seat arena without packing 10 other bands on the bill and making a festival out of it.

With no good reasons left to wait all night in line, people are stretching the concept a bit. Not content with the five years an average person can expect to wait in lines during their lifetimes, people lined up for weeks to be first in line for the awful Phantom Menace , and days for the slightly better Attack of the Clones .

People camped out for two days to buy Furbys for their kids, and to buy Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for the PS2, and Halo 2 for the Xbox.

Last week, when Microsoft released the Xbox 360, some people waited a day or more to get their hands on the next generation console.

Of course, those lineups were part of a carefully orchestrated marketing ploy.

In the weeks leading up to the release, Microsoft admitted that there would only be a limited number of the units to go around on the release date. Rather than downplay the issue as a simple matter of limited quantity versus a huge demand, delaying the release, or staggering the release in different markets until the supply catches up, electronics stores played up the hype with cryptic hints about their own limited supply and put together some outrageously priced bundles. That sent gaming fanatics into "gotta-have-it" panic mode, creating huge lineups and drawing all kinds of free media attention to the Xbox 360. Lineups, followed by tramplings and near riots, equal free advertising.

Unfortunately, the hype has blown up in Microsoft’s face – thanks mostly to the Internet. A few of those Xbox units sold at midnight on Tuesday, Nov. 22 had glitches – problems loading games, system crashes, graphic issues, and so on. There’s no word on how many buyers reported the glitches – Microsoft is using words like "few," "isolated" and "some" to describe the reports, and says it’s to be expected with any release of any new technology as complex as the Xbox 360.

Some of the people who found glitches went to various online forums to complain, and shortly afterwards the major news outlets picked up the story. By Thursday, Google News had links to more than 118 stories on the Xbox 360 glitches, including most of the major media outlets and wire services.

I guess the lesson is that when you want to create a buzz, be careful that you don’t get stung – good publicity can go bad so quickly. And to stop using lineups as a way to create excitement.

Still, the Xbox 360 is an impressive piece of machinery. To read more about it, or if you purchased one and are having some problems, visit www.xbox360.com .

Satellite radio, here I come

I hate radio. It’s given me thousands of free hours of entertainment and content over the years – traffic reports and weather reports mostly, and occasionally some interesting news stories. One of my best high school memories is sitting in a park with some friends one afternoon, listening to the radio debut every song of the Tragically Hip’s Road Apples. But I hate it.

And I’ll tell you why – it’s the DJs. Those stupid, chattering, and incredibly sexist DJs. I’m sick of their lame jokes, their double entendres and the inappropriate remarks they’re always making to whatever poor woman who has been called in to do the weather, news and traffic reports, remarks that would qualify as harassment in any other business.

Some stations are not as bad, like CBC or Mountain FM, but neither station plays the kind of music I like to hear. In fact, aside from the few times I get lucky, none of the stations are playing what I want to hear.

The good news is that it’s all coming to an end – satellite radio is here, offering commercial-free and DJ-free music stations, as well as all the best stations from around the continent. All you need is a satellite radio receiver, and a few bucks a month to pay for a subscription.

To learn more, I suggest you start at Sirius Radio Canada ( www.sirius-canada.ca ), Canadian Satellite Radio Inc. ( www.xmradio.ca ), or CHUM Subscription Radio Canada ( www.chumlimited.com ).

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