Tech Ads @ Super Bowls

Postlight Newsletter for Monday, February 8, 2016—Subscribe here

I’m assembling this newsletter on Sunday morning before Super Bowl 50, and I have no idea what will happen when the Carolina Panthers face the Denver Broncos. I’m the co-founder (this is Paul) who watches the game for the commercials; co-founder Rich, however, will be holed up in front of a large TV gritting his teeth and shaking his head. (Postlight in general is prettttttty mixed on football, as one of our football-loving employees discovered last week when she set up the pool.)

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“Literally every gain or loss of yards heals one team and damages the other. You’d think this might dumb the game down, though as with many time-honored games such as chess, this is a restriction that only deepens the experience.”

You can look at the Super Bowl from any angle and get enough thoughts to fill a newspaper (or an email newsletter); it’s such a big elephant-in-the-dark that everyone gets a grope. A few years ago, for example, Kotaku, the videogame blog, explained football as you would any incredibly nerdy strategy game, “A Game of Dueling Wizards (Generals) (Kings) (Emperors).” (The dateline on that post has been moved up to this Saturday at 3PM, because Gawker Media needs to squeeze every bit of sap out of its evergreens.) Then Vox explains, via video, the “magic yellow line,” which turns out to involve a ton of engineers, a company called SportVision, and a ton of technology (like laser surveys); it used to cost $25K/game to put the line in there.

You can look at the game financially, obviously, and everyone does: Each team was built working back from a salary cap of $143.28 million; the Broncos spent more on offense. Forbes says that the Panthers have yielded a better return on investment on quarterbacks, but the Broncos have achieved better ROI on running backs. And there’s $4.2 billion in the betting play pot, which means that between when I’m writing this and when you’re reading it a lot of people lost a lot of money. Many of the NFL players are coming out of poverty; some are headed right back in; and many players suffer from brain trauma. “There’s risks in life,” explained commissioner Roger Goodell.

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And then there are the ads, running at a cost of $166,666 per second. You can get a pretty good potted history of what America was up to by glancing through Wikipedia’s long, incomplete list of Super Bowl commercials; of course, given our interests, it’s the technology ads that we want to see. One early player was Wang Computers, with a 1978 commercial about a word processor that let you store up to 4,000 pages of text (still a lot of pages when you think about it). Radio Shack also was pushing its color computer around then (not sure which ad–maybe this one? [Note! That link leads you to a set of 30 Radio Shack Ads from 1970–1985, which, well, you know what you are. Make good choices.])

By 1984 Apple had its famous ad announcing the Macintosh; a year later Wang was back with an awkward ad in which a helicopter is about to kill an IBM executive. It’s easy to forget there was another Apple ad, from 2000ish, that looks like it cost about $15, puts you to sleep, and presumably was signed off on by Steve Jobs.

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Great work, guys

In 2000 there were an extraordinary number of ads for tech companies or just-plain-websites: AutoTrader.com, Britannica.com, e1040.com, EDS (herding cats — founded by H. Ross Perot, who also funded NeXT and, less interestingly, ran for president), Epidemic.com (in a toilet), E*Trade (with a dancing chimp and the message “well, we just wasted $2 million”), e-stamp.com, HotJobs, Kforce, LastMinuteTravel.com, LifeMinders.com, MicroStrategy, Monster.com, OnMoney.com, Netpliance, OurBeginning.com, WebMD, and Pets.com. An unbelievable amount of money was burned for little effect; by next year many of those companies were husks, so in 2001, E*Trade ran an ad called “Ghost Town” that featured a chimp — presumably the same chimp but I can’t tell from chimps — riding a horse through empty office parks that once housed startups (“Pimentoloaf.com,” “eSocks.com”), until a tear runs down its cheek; a filthy dog sock puppet lands at its feet. Later E*Trade would be famous for its chatty baby commercials, and for getting deeply ensnared in the mortgage crisis, which presumably also made some monkey cry, somewhere. The question is never “is there a bubble”; the question is “which bubble are we in?”

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Postlight Sessions: Come meet Jon Lax and discuss his year in Silicon Valley

Thursday, February 11, 2016, 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM

One year ago, Jon Lax made a huge career move — from agency co-founder in Toronto, to Director of Product Design at Facebook in San Francisco. We asked him to talk about what he learned and to try to capture just how insane Silicon Valley is. He’s great, and we’ll have some beer and snacks. Let us know you are coming on Meetup so we can buy enough beer!

Jon Lax’s entire name is seven characters long if you include the space.

Written by

CEO, https://postlight.com, a digital product studio in NYC. Also writer, Medium advisor, programmer. Any port in a storm, especially ports 80 and 443.

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