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AT LARGE: Spit and polish

AT LARGE: Spit and polish

I have to say, I'm a sucker for good industrial design. Beige and grey boxes have their place, certainly - and a degree of standardisation has kept costs down, offering both consumers and small manufacturers access to high technology. I just wish I could understand why we standardised on beige and grey rectangles. Whose idea was that, anyway?I've welcomed the trend in the last few years for computers to try and look a bit different. The iMac was a breakaway success in this regard, and demonstrated starkly that customers were ready to sacrifice some standardisation in favour of a computer that looked snazzy. It's been followed by a string of designs from various manufacturers - some rip-offs, some with genuine flair - that offered varying ratios of standards to snazz.

IBM's NetVista is one such, although the company that produces it has much to answer for on the beige and grey rectangle question. I would put NetVista in the "genuine flair" category, as it eschews the translucence and roundedness of the iMac wannabes. Its design harks more to the stark, clean lines of Bang & Olufssen stereo equipment, so loved by people with much higher incomes than mine. It has in common with the iMac an emphasis on connectivity, with much of its marketing centreing on its various networking capabilities.

But it would be a waste of expensive design work if the machine's looks were not also a selling point. Around town at the moment are numerous posters featuring the machine with the slogan, "Work. Drool. Work." This being IBM, work has to come into it somewhere.

At first, I was quite taken with the ads. They said to me, "envy this machine and the people who own it. Desire one for yourself." My response to it was, as to a succulent meal or a new Lamborghini, rather Pavlovian.

Then it occurred to me: if I owned an IBM NetVista (as I would presumably have to if I were to carry out the ad's instruction to "work"), why would I envy the owner of the machine? I would, obviously, be the said owner. The instruction to drool is therefore not intended for people who desire the machine, but is rather advice for people who already have one. Like a dentist's instruction to "rinse and spit" when things get a little too gloopy.

What could have become of IBM? Could the same company that once exhorted its employees to "Think" be the same one inviting its customers to "Drool"? It may well be that "No-one ever got fired for buying IBM", but I would warrant that any employee drooling on company property would at the very least receive some sort of reprimand. And perhaps therapy. IBM's customers were once considered intelligent, hard working and somewhat conservative. Is it possible that the company now believes they have become prone to dribbling?My mind is set back, as I'm sure is yours, to the ad campaign during the 1970s for a lemony concoction called Solo. Essentially consisting of flavoured sugar water, and indistinguishable from its competitor, Mello Yello (and later Lift), Solo had ads claiming it was "light on the fizz so you can slam it down fast".

Or perhaps "hard". My memory is a little hazy on this, but I recall you could slam the stuff down, as if that would be pleasant and refreshing.

The central figure in the Solo ads was the "Solo Man", a massive, hulking man with an unlikely moustache, epitomising all that was wonderful about maleness in the 70s. The spiritual and intellectual descendant of the 1960s "Marlboro Man", the "Solo Man" was rugged, exciting and unafraid. Unafraid to ride the rapids, wrestle crocodiles, bite the heads off snakes and do all manner of manly thing while the jingle exhorted him to "take the lead, and make the others follow".

Where the "Marlboro Man" worked the land with the sweat of his brow, "Solo Man" defied nature, laughing at its feeble attempts to control him. And at the end of his exertions, he would be rewarded with an ice-cold can of Solo. Cracking the can in a spray of foam (for the can had been with him on his quest), he would proceed to pour it down his throat, spilling copious quantities down his chin. "Solo Man" was even unafraid to dribble.

Perhaps this is what IBM wants from its customers: leaders, not followers. Bold pioneers, deflecting with their sheer masculinity all who would defy them.

Manly, sweaty, moustachioed men who are willing, nay, eager to drool - even while they work.

I only hope the machine comes with a bib.

For the record, Matthew JC. Powell's tongue is firmly in his cheek. Poke fun back at him on mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au


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