Writing as Theater: The Marketing of the Digital Word
by Sally McMillanUniversity of Oregon
Prepared for the Qualitative Studies Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
CommunicationAnnual Convention, August 9-13, 1996Anaheim, California
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The computer represents the latest evolutionary stage in the
processing of words. This study examines the "imperfect mirror" of advertising
to learn how marketing messages are shaping the way that we understand this new
means of communication. The producers of word processing products play a
central role in the drama of the digital word, but the primary protagonists are
technology and humanity. Most advertisements cast technology as the hero and
humanity as the rescued victim.
Public Journalism: A Defining Moment
We stand at the brink of a new age, a new time, when
the handling of the written word will change very deeply,
will change accordingly.
Words are the building blocks of language. From hieroglyphics
pressed into clay, to the development of parchment scrolls, to Gutenberg's
manipulation of moveable letters, words have been processed into visible forms.
The computer represents the latest evolutionary stage in the processing of
words. As Nelson suggests in the opening quote, this new way of building
language may have lasting impacts on civilization. Yet, computer-processed
words are one of the least tangible forms of writing. Jay David Bolter notes
that "Words in the computer are ultimately embodied in the collective behavior
of electrons, which fly around in the machine at unimaginable speeds."
IBM coined the term "word processing" in 1964 to describe a
typing machine that used magnetic tape to store pages of text. With the
introduction of personal computers in the late 1970s, the concept of word
processing expanded. The capabilities for on-screen editing, cutting, pasting,
and endless revisions have been defined, refined, and packaged. Michael Heim
suggests that word processing has become a cultural phenomenon.
Brenda Laurel compares the cultural phenomenon of computing
with the cultural experience of theater. She claims that computers "have the
potential to transform the process of writing from a series of isolated and
cumbersome tasks into a whole action that retains and refreshes its connections
to its inspiration, materials, and outcome." But, to achieve this potential,
developers must recognize the inherent drama of human computer interaction.
This paper explores the evolving drama of word processing as it
is played out in the advertising messages of software developers. Roland
Marchand used a similar approach in his attempt to understand American life in
the early part of the twentieth century. He began an analysis of advertising
from 1920 to 1940 with the premise that advertising would provide an "authentic
and uncomplicated social mirror" of that time. Instead, he found that
"advertising's mirror not only distorted, it also selected." The research
reported below recognizes that advertising is not a perfect mirror.
Nevertheless, marketers' messages about word processing are a key element in the
drama of the digital word.
Setting the Stage
To gain insight into how marketers framed their messages about
word processing products, I sampled advertisements that appeared from 1982
through 1995 in PC Magazine. I analyzed ads in the November issues
because both new products and new ad campaigns are often launched in November to
coincide with COMDEX, the industry's major trade show. I examined all ads in
this sample that were at least 1/2 page in size and that focused primarily on
word processing products. This sample yielded 61 ads for 29 different products.
I analyzed both graphic and textual elements of each
advertisement. Appendix 1 summarizes all of the headlines in the ads and
Appendix 2 provides samples of some ads that are representative of primary
themes that emerged in the analysis.
Before considering content of the ads, it is helpful to examine
briefly the context in terms such as total number of ads, ad pages, and ad size.
The sample yielded 86.75 pages of advertising. Ads ranged from 1/2 page to 8
pages. The most common format was the 1 page ad (38 cases) followed by the 2
page ad (12 cases).
An average of four ads appeared in each magazine of the 14-year
sample. However, as Figure 1 illustrates, the actual number of advertisements
varied from year to year.
Figure 1 - Number of Word Processing Ads Run Each Year
No definitive pattern emerges from this data. However, two
trends are worthy of note. First, the early years were most diverse. In both
1982 and 1983 a total of nine different products were advertised in each
issue. This suggests that barriers to entry were still relatively low and a
number of players were able to compete for a part in the emerging drama of the
digital word. Second, toward the end of the sample period, we see an increase
in ads placed by retailers (e.g., catalog operations). For example, the 1992
sample includes three separate one-page ads placed by a single retailer,
Software Spectrum. The ads are for WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, and AmiPro. In
the same magazine in which these three ads appear, both WordPerfect and Word are
featured in manufacturer-produced advertising. Thus, these retailer ads do
little to enhance the diversity of product offerings.
Table 1 reports when and how often different brands were
advertised. This provides further evidence of the diversity (or lack thereof)
of product offerings. Data reported in Table 1 suggests that WordPerfect and
Microsoft Word have lasted longer and been advertised more extensively than
competing products. WordStar was advertised heavily before the introduction of
Windows 3.0, but advertising stopped after 1989.
Table 1 - Diversity of Brand Offerings
First Year Advertised
Last Year Advertised
Total Ad Pages
PFS Professional Write
Professional Write 2.0
Table 1 - Diversity of Brand Offerings, Continued
First Year Advertised
Last Year Advertised
Total Ad Pages
Edix + Wordix
Multimate Word Processor
Palantir Word Processing
The advertising history traced in Table 1 suggests that
WordStar and other products failed to make the transition from DOS to Windows.
Operating systems are an important element of the stage on which the word
processing drama is played.
From 1982 through 1984, operating system requirements are
frequently included in the advertising text. DOS dominates these ads, and
system requirements often specify a minimum level of DOS (e.g., DOS 2.0).
Additionally, these ads often distinguish between PC-DOS (IBM's custom operating
system) and MS-DOS (the Microsoft operating system which was virtually identical
to PC-DOS but which ran on "clones"). One of the ads appearing in 1982
indicates that the company, Perfect Software, offered both DOS and CP/M versions
of their products. By 1983, all references to CP/M had been dropped. And
between 1985 and 1990, the majority of the ads made no reference at all to
operating system. Presumably, readers of ads in the sampled publications
assumed that all word processing products were DOS-based.
But in 1990, when Windows 3.0 emerged as a powerful new
operating system, ads began to specify that products were Windows compatible.
AmiPro formed a message around the concept that it was "the only word processor
designed from the ground up for Windows."
Data reported in Figure 1 show that 1989, the last year of DOS
dominance, was the last year in which five or more different products were
advertised in a single magazine issue. Thus, it would seem that the more
powerful but more complex capabilities of Windows served as a barrier to entry
for some software developers. Preliminary analysis of the impact of Windows 95
supports the view that sophisticated operating systems create a barrier to
entry. The 1995 sample includes only two word processing products - the lowest
total number of ads in any one issue. One ad is for Microsoft Word (the
developer of Windows 95) and the other ad is for a technical and specialized
product which is labeled "The Giant Killer."
The advertisers who are responsible for creating both products
and advertisements are central to the drama of word processing marketing.
Analysis of 1995 ads suggests that Microsoft seems to be the reigning giant; but
throughout the sampled period several products have claimed leadership status
while others have assumed the role of giant killer.
The 1982 ad for PowerText establishes the pattern of leader and
underdog relationships. The headline reads "Is WordStar as Good as PowerText?"
The ad sets WordStar up as the acknowledged industry leader and then knocks it
down with a series of claims summarized in the subhead which reads: "Quite
simply, PowerText will do far more for you than WordStar." In 1985 WordStar
reinforces its role as the reigning giant in an ad with the headline: "You Don't
Need a Computer to Figure out Which is the Best Word Processor."
By 1988, the balance of power was shifting and WordPerfect
proclaimed that it had "produced the number-one selling word processor for two
years running." WordPerfect continued to position itself as the leader through
1980s. But, with the 1990 introduction of Windows, leadership in word
processing software seemed to shift. AmiPro made a strong case for its
leadership as a "Windows-designed" product. But, by the mid 1990s Microsoft
Word seems to be the giant that all other products pit themselves against.
The role of the underdog takes many forms in the sampled ads.
A common theme is the "easy to use" message exhibited by Xyquest in 1983
(Appendix 2, Figure 1). The ad suggests that other word processors "distract
you with a crazy command system," unlike XyWrite which is logical and easy to
learn. The 1995 ad for the Universal Word lists an incredible array of features
(such as support for over 100 languages including Croatian) then screams in bold
face type: "All of this starting at the outrageous price of $49."
Behind the scenes, another story of underdogs and giants is
played out in these ads. The big companies keep getting bigger by acquisition.
For example, AmiPro is advertised for the first time in the sample (1991) as a
Lotus product. But the fine print acknowledge the product's earlier roots by
assigning the copyright to former owner Samna Corporation.
One of the biggest mergers in recent software history is played
out between the lines of WordPerfect advertising. In 1983, the product is
advertised by Satellite Software International. In 1986, the company recognizes
that it is best known as the maker of WordPerfect and changes the corporate name
to WordPerfect Corporation. In 1994, Novell acquired WordPerfect and made the
product the cornerstone of its applications group. The 1994 ad seems designed
to calm customer fears about this merger. A full page is devoted to a
testimonial about how Novell continues to uphold the reputation for service that
WordPerfect developed. The ad proclaims that "now as part of Novell,
WordPerfect offers even more options to find the solutions you need. You still
get the same personalized service you've come to expect in the past, but now you
can access the combined resources of Novell and WordPerfect." This service
statement contradicts the commonly-accepted belief that Novell is not willing to
invest the resources required to maintain the level of customer support that
WordPerfect customers had "come to expect in the past."
Finally, a discussion of the players would be incomplete
without a program note about the role of retailers. Early ads stress the role
of the retailer as a source of information and product demonstrations.
Virtually all these ads stress that buyers should seek out a local retailer.
This orientation is based on a marketing system in which obtaining shelf space
was critical. Manufacturers sacrificed up to 50 percent of the selling price of
a product in order to obtain widespread distribution through the
wholesale/retail channel. But to get dealers to continue stocking products,
manufacturers had to agree not to sell directly to customers. In the early to
mid-1980s a typical pattern was for a developer to advertise a product
nationally, attract a sizable customer base, and then seek distribution through
the wholesale/retail channel. A 1982 ad for Perfect Writer illustrates this
model. At the bottom of the page are three pieces of information: an 800 to
call for "the dealer nearest you," bold type proclaiming "dealer inquiries
invited," and finally, boxed copy which announces that Microhouse (a wholesaler)
has just become a major dealer/distributor of Perfect Software products.
But by the early 1990s, the roles showed signs of change.
Manufactures no longer instructed customers to "call for the dealer nearest
you." Instead, the ads invited readers to call an 800 number and place an
order. Retailers, particularly mail order companies, began to take a larger
role in primary product advertising. This advertising may have been subsidized
by manufacturer co-op funds, but each ad featured products from a single
manufacturer. Examples include: 1992 ads by Software Spectrum for WordPerfect,
Microsoft Word, and AmiPro; a 1993 ad by Dustin Discount Software for Word
Perfect; and a 1994 ad by Corporate Software for Microsoft Office.
The stage is set and the cast of characters identified but, as
Hamlet noted, "the play's the thing." And for the drama of word processing
marketing, the advertisement's the thing. In keeping with modern advertising
practice, almost all of these ads contain three primary elements: a headline, a
primary visual element, and body copy. Appendix 1 summarizes headlines for each
of the sampled ads.
Central graphic elements are a bit more difficult to present in
summary form; however, a few generalizations can be made. The product
packaging, depiction of the product operating on a computer screen, and/or
samples of product output are the most common graphical elements found in ads.
Most often, these product elements are shown through the use of photographs.
However, not all ads depend on photography; original art appears in ads such as
the 1988 ad for Professional Write which presents an elaborate collage of a
manager's desk including a half eaten sandwich, phone messages, a watch, a glass
with a soft drink still bubbling, and a copy of the Professional Write product
Several ads use cartoon techniques. A notable example is the
1994 ad for WordPerfect Works which depicts three men and one woman in a
cluttered office. All are caricatures with large noses and rumpled clothing.
Two of the men are tentatively tapping at computers. The woman holds a pencil
to chin while watching one of these men. The third man is fumbling with blue
prints. Time on the office clock is 1:00. The text of the ad leads us to
believe that people like these can improve their productivity with everyday
software that matches the everyday needs of people who work on "Main Street."
The interplay of text and graphics forms the basis of the
following analysis of primary themes in these ads. The six subject areas
explored here are not all inclusive, but they do represent major story lines
that punctuate the drama of word processing advertising.
Of the 61 ads, 57 percent do not have any human graphically
represented. In 23 percent of the ads, the only humans depicted are male. Five
percent show only women, and 7 percent show mixed-gender groups. Additionally,
7 percent show a body part (hands or head) that cannot be definitely identified
In fact, almost all of the ads that show people do not show the
whole body but focus instead on the head or the hands. This focus on head and
hands may be partially explained by design practices that stress tight cropping.
But a brief look at a few examples suggests some deeper meaning may be involved
in this focus on the "thinking" and "doing" parts of the body.
One prime example of the disembodied head is the 1995 ad for
Microsoft Word. The central graphic element is a photograph of a black male.
His head is shown in profile. Superimposed in the middle of his head is a
"start" key bearing the Windows logo. Extending from this key are lines which
connect to a picture of the product packaging, and other symbols of product
functionality. The headline is, "to write as fast as you can think."
This connection between thinking, writing, and speed is also
central to several of the ads which utilize disembodied hands. WordPerfect's
1984 ad pictures a woman's hands hovering over a keyboard. Copy appears in
large type on the screen: "Speed Limit 55 WPM." The headline asks, "Can your
Word Processor Keep Up With Your 100 WPM Typist?" WordStar's 1989 ad also
pictures a female hand hovering over the keyboard. The headline admonishes the
reader to "Keep your hands where they belong." The copy suggests that
WordStar's command key system is more efficient than the use of function keys.
The sexual double-entendre in the WordStar ad is particularly interesting in
light of the fact that these are two of only three ads in which woman are
depicted without men also being in the picture.
Other instances of disembodied hands seem to suggest the power
of hands to drive the functionality of the software - almost as if the software
enables action without thought. One of the most exotic examples is the 1991 ad
for DeScribe (Appendix 2, Figure 2). A gloved hand rests on a mouse. The index
finger hovers over the right mouse button. The mouse, hand, and mouse cord seem
to have just raced onto screen leaving icons, a ruler, and other screen elements
flying in the wind. The headline uses three words: "Simplicity, Speed,
The 1983 ad for Textra warrants a special mention because of
its unusual focus on the human eye (Appendix 2, Figure 3). The dominant graphic
is a 5 1/2" floppy disk with the words "Textra $95" in reverse type at the top.
Looking through the hole in the center of the disk is an eye. No additional
parts of the body are seen and no reference to the eye is made anywhere in the
headline or body copy. On the one hand, this disembodied eye is reminiscent of
the eye that floats above the pyramid on the back of a one dollar bill. On the
other hand, the slightly veiled pupil is both seductive and threatening. The
hint of a computer-mediated "big brother" is present in the image.
Some of the sample ads explain and/or illustrate product
functionality by comparing the digital process of word processing to traditional
analog writing tools. Pens and pencils appear as a central visual element in
several of the ads. Chalk boards form a central graphic element of two ads, and
books appear as a secondary graphic element in two other ads.
The pen or pencil seems to be used to suggest simplicity. For
example, the 1992 ad for CA-Textor uses a baby's head (with pencil tucked behind
the ear) as the central graphic element. The ad copy declares CA-Textor to be
the "first word processor that makes writing almost as easy as talking."
WordPerfect's 1994 ad utilizes the analogy of the blackboard to
illustrate the headline: "Any word processor can write. Only WordPerfect can
read." The ad focuses on the way that technology enables a new integration of
reading and writing functions. The machine actually reads what you are writing
and, like a good teacher who is watching students write on the board, suggests
corrections as you write.
WordStar's 1987 ad also addresses the role of digitally
processed words in enhancing and extending traditional analog communications.
The ad features lists of writers and movie directors who have utilized WordStar
to write articles, editorials, plays, screen plays, and books. The ad begins
with a word picture of the shift from analog to digital writing:
Only eight years ago, a few writers mothballed their
typewriters, erasers, scissors and tape. Instead of
facing blank sheets
they saw their words on screens. And they moved
sentences, paragraphs, even
whole pages with simple keystrokes. They discovered
processing software for personal computers. Suddenly,
whatever could be
done, could be done better. And better again.
Infinitely. In 1979, they
were a small group of visionaries. Today there are over 3
million of them.
In addition to appealing to early forms of writing, several ads
also appealed to earlier styles of living. Lotus used this theme twice. In the
first example (1989), Manuscript was one of a set of three products that were
compared with the Three Musketeers. Compatibility between the products was
characterized by the slogan, "All for one and one for all." In Lotus' 1991 ad
for AmiPro, the graphic depicts four men and one woman. All are dressed in turn
of the century hunting garb. Three of the men carry large rifles, and the group
all looks prepared for big-game hunting. The headline suggests that "No one
ever bought a word processor because it was fun (until now)." The copy declares
that "you can now create letter perfect, picture perfect, documents in half the
time, with half the effort. And with twice the fun."
The 1983 ad for XyWrite (Appendix 2, Figure 1) also draws on
historical images. A barbarian wields a sword over a tiny trembling man who is
typing into a keyboard. We see the lead paragraph of the story that this
presumed journalist is filing: "North of Katmandu -- Six hundred years after
the rampages of Ghengis Khan, savage Mongolian tribesmen still roam freely in
these wild and rugged mountains." The key message is that XyWrite is the word
processor to use "when there's no time to waste."
Back to Nature
While many of the ads focus on technology, a few ads look to
nature to symbolize the beauty of word processing. The image of a rose appears
in ads for three separate products, EasyWriter, WordPlus-PC, and OfficeWriter.
In all cases it is incongruously placed next to a computer, a disk, or product
packaging. The copy makes no reference to the rose, but leaves the reader to
draw conclusions about symbolic meanings. One possible explanation of the rose
is that it was used in early IBM ads for the PC product in conjunction with the
Charlie Chaplin image. It may have been used in these ads to emphasizes the
message that these are IBM-PC compatible products (as contrasted with earlier
The image of a tree is used by two companies. Volkswriter is
made by a company named Lifetree software. The company logo is prominent in the
ads and features a stylized tree surrounded by stylized lines which could be
either a river or a paper clip. Good-Words software is made by a company named
Oak Tree Computing. The ad for this product uses as its only graphic image a
large oak. The words "made in the shade" appear near the tree.
WordPerfect utilizes an incongruous natural image in its
packaging. The package is a central element in most WordPerfect ads. Starting
in 1988 the package features a butterfly floating above a pen, pencil, glasses,
paper clip, address labels, letter, and computer disks.
The nature metaphor is extended in some advertising to the
concept of natural selection and evolution. WordPerfect is most explicit in
developing this theme. For example, the 1988 ad (which introduced the butterfly
on the box) lines up earlier packaging and captions the display as "the
evolution of WordPerfect." This evolutionary theme culminates in the 1990 ad
(Appendix 2, Figure 4) which features a picture of Charles Darwin and the
headline, "If WordPerfect 5.1 were there, all his theories could have descended
from a mouse."
Microsoft's 1993 ad for Office also echoes this evolutionary
theme. Microsoft declares that it has "gone right to the core of all our
renowned programs for Windows and evolved them into a single, intelligent,
effortless working environment."
The subject of power imbues many of these ads. In some cases,
power references are explicit. For example, the 1982 ad for Textra is built
around three primary messages: Powerful, Full-Featured, and Friendly. This
balance between power and ease of use is implicit in many of the sampled ads.
A rather bizarre example of appeal to power is the 1987 ad for
Q&A Write (Appendix 2, Figure 5). The top half of the ad pictures Ronald
Reagan, then president of the United States. He is holding a report (printed
with Q&A Write) and the headline appears next to his mouth as if it were his
words: "Short of knocking down satellites, Q&A Write is the best way to use a
laser." The ad raises a host of issues about commercial appropriation of a
public figure, but the image of the president and the reference to his "Star
Wars" defense system unquestionably imply power.
Laurel suggests that "The Greeks employed drama and theater as
tools for thought, in much the same way that we employ computers today - or at
least in the ways that we envision employing them in the not-too-distant
future." I propose two tools for tying together thoughts about the story
presented in this sample of word processing advertising. First, the producers
play a central role and must be brought on stage for a final curtain call.
Second, the primary protagonists are unveiled: technology and humanity.
This research analyzed advertisements rather than advertisers,
but some inferences can be drawn about the producers of ads based on the
advertising products. First, one can trace evolution of advertiser
sophistication in both the visual and textual elements of the ads. A recent New
York Times article indicates that the "advertising efforts of high-tech
marketers have grown more sophisticated since the days when their idea of
effective selling was to attend trade shows and give away pocket
Visually, the early ads are much more likely to be cluttered
with multiple (and sometimes unrelated) graphical elements. For example, of the
nine advertisements run in 1982 four of the message contained no graphic
elements and were structured like a specification sheet that listed product
features. Later ads tend to have more visual focus both in terms of reduced
clutter and a greater consistency between graphic and textual elements.
The text of many early ads is lengthy and unfocused. Product
features, company background, user testimonials, dealer information, and
technical specifications are run together with little or no transition. Later
ads are more likely to tell stories in the text. These stories may be user
focused as is the 1994 ad for Microsoft Office that traces how the brand manager
for the cable channel Nickelodeon relies on Microsoft Office to "help him put it
all together." Other ads in later stages of evolution focus on a single set of
benefits or themes. For example, WordPerfect's 1993 ad builds the copy around
the theme "It's as individual as you are."
This evolution of advertising sophistication may represent a
transition in the use of advertising agencies. Early advertisers as well as
more recent entrants who are operating on low budgets may have used low-cost
advertising suppliers. Two ways of reducing cost for ad production are to hire
small, local agencies which specialize in retailing or to create the
advertisement in-house. In both of these low-cost models, the level of art
direction and copy writing is likely to be inferior to that found in advertising
produced by agencies that employ highly-paid creative teams, researchers, and
Another possible explanation of the evolution of advertising
design may be explained by the advertisers' perceptions of the market for their
products. Earlier and smaller firms may have been aiming at a niche market of
well-trained users and thus would not have felt the need to tell a basic story
about what word processing can do.
However, even the more recent ads run by major software
manufacturers differ significantly from typical consumer products advertising.
This difference in advertising may be because even highly-paid advertising
agencies have determined that the readers of these computer magazines are
different from the consumers of other kinds of packaged goods.
On the other hand, technology advertising is still more
manufacturer driven than other types of advertising. A recent survey found that
90 percent of the chief executive officers of technology companies said they
were moderately or extensively involved in marketing campaigns. "There has
always been a feeling of elitism among technology companies that mainstream
marketers don't really understand their business and aren't qualified to provide
strategic counsel and advice." Yet, most of these CEOs have little
background in marketing: 80 percent said their backgrounds were technological.
Two of the most notable differences between these word
processing ads and consumer ads is the absence of long-term thematic campaigns
and the ongoing focus on features rather than benefits. These ads have no
equivalent to the Energizer bunny. The closest that any of the sampled ads get
to the concept of an ongoing campaign is the repeated reference to "evolution"
in WordPerfect's advertising.
Consumer products advertising is awash with examples of benefit
advertising - frequently based on the problem/solution format. But word
processing ads do not seem to present "ring around the collar" kinds of problems
that are open to easy solutions. Instead, these ads provide a list of technical
features and imply benefits such as improved work performance. Even the 1995 ad
for Microsoft Word (one of the latest ads in the sample produced for the
software developer with the deepest pockets) lacks a strong benefit orientation.
A key copy block in that ad begins "New Microsoft Word is designed to work
hand-in-hand with the 32-bit performance, advanced multitasking, and simplified
user interface of the Windows 95 operating system." This feature-focused bias
provides the frame in which the two primary protagonists, technology and
humanity, play out the story of these ads.
Technology and Humanity
Each of the six themes which emerged in analysis of word
processing advertisements addresses the tension between technology and humanity.
More than half of the ads show no people at all; however, some representation of
the technology product is visible in almost every ad (not an easy task given the
intangibility of software). And when people are pictured, they are often not
whole beings. The disembodied heads and hands emphasizes those body parts that
most directly connect to the computer technology.
The advertisements which feature pens, pencils, chalkboards,
books, and other older tools for written communication provide a link between
the familiar and the foreign. These analog communication tools play the
mediator role - introducing the protagonist (technology) to the victim
When the advertising stories identify an antagonist, the
villain is often some other technology (e.g., another word processing product,
another kind of computer). Thus technology takes the active and empowered roles
casting the human as the "damsel in distress" who is dependent on technology to
rescue her from a life of ineffective communication. This casting of technology
as the hero is also evident in the historical references. Lotus equates its
products with the Three Musketeers. WordPerfect positions its product as a tool
that could have further enlightened the great mind of Charles Darwin. And
XyWrite is a product which can save one from the savage Mongolian tribesmen.
The "back to nature" allusions in some of the advertisements
suggest that there might be a slightly sinister side to technology. But, by
associating their products with benevolent natural images (such as roses, trees,
and butterflies) the advertisers seek to mask the hard edge of technology.
Similarly, evolutionary metaphors may seek to place technology in a natural
context and position word processors as the most fit communication tool that
promises to survive into the future. Bolter suggests the role of the human in
this evolutionary process:
As the most technologically sophisticated form of
writing, electronic writing should be the farthest removed
nature. The structure of electronic text is the most
elaborate in the
history of writing, and yet the capacity rapidly to create
structures makes the computer in some sense the most
natural of writing
It is in the power metaphors that tension between technology
and humanity is most clearly played out. Technology is the hero that meets
humanity's demands for greater ease of use. Advertisements may choose to
highlight the human side of this relationship by proclaiming the importance of
the person. For example, WordPerfect's 1993 ad proclaims "Of all the things
people do with personal computers, word processing may be the most personal."
But technology always wins the starring role. The same WordPerfect ad that
opens by acknowledging the role of the person closes by transferring power to
the technology: "the power of WordPerfect 6.0 is all yours."
The powerful dominance of technology portrayed in these ads
echoes the technological optimism of Arthur C. Clarke:
Can the synthesis of Man and Machine ever be stable,
or will the purely organic component become such a
hindrance that it has to
be discarded? If this eventually happens - and I have . .
. good reasons
for thinking that it must - we have nothing to regret and
Clarke's lack of regret or fear is not universal. C.P. Snow
noted almost 40 years ago that humanity is divided into two cultures: "Literary
intellectuals at one pole - at the other scientists. . . . Between the two a
gulf of mutual incomprehension." Word processing may help to bridge that
gulf. Nelson offers the optimistic view that new systems for creating and
sharing texts may facilitate the long-term goals of civilization: "education,
understanding, human happiness, the preservation of humane traditions - but we
must use today's and tomorrow's technologies" to achieve those goals. Heim
shares this optimistic view that technology and humanity can find common ground
in the processing of language:
If language is a system which we do not privately and
individually create and manipulate for our own immediate
ends, then might
not the instruments by which thought is put into language,
and is then
composed, entered, stored, and exchanged, be in some sense
essential to an
understanding of ourselves?
Word processing advertising offers a glimmer of hope. While
these ads continue to cast technology as the hero and humanity as the rescued
victim, there is evidence that the "imperfect mirror" of advertising has begun
to recognize the individual as a key player in the drama of the digital word.
Recent ads are more likely to show people than were earlier advertising
messages. And recent ads are also more likely frame their message in terms of
benefits rather than simply lists of features. But this new emphasis on people
and benefits may have less to do with the "humanizing" of technology and more to
do with the increasing sophistication of the marketers who are scripting the
drama of the digital word.
Appendix 1 - Summary of Headlines
How to move a paragraph
Edix + Wordix isn't the most popular, most easily learned, or
least expensive word processor. It's only the best.
Edix + Wordix
This is what the pros have said about Perfect Writer:
Is WordStar as Good as PowerText?
Beaman Porter, Inc.
At work or at home ... Textra is the fastest, easiest way to
enter text into your PC
Ann Arbor Software Associates
The Benchmark Word Processor
Volkswriter: How to get more from your IBM Personal Computer
Try our Word Processing Software for 30 Days. If You Don't
Agree It's the Best, We'll Eat It.
Professional Software, Inc.
XyWrite is text editing and now text editing is only $50
The Full-Featured Word Processor
Oak Tree Computing, Inc.
The Word Processor You've Been Dreaming Of
Multimate Word Processor
Palantir Word Processing: We Don't Have to Beef Up Our
Guarantee With a Lot of Bull
Palantir Word Processing
Only the World's Best Word Processor Could Generate Words Like
Leading the new generation in word processing...
Ann Arbor Software
The Most Popular Word Processor for the IBM Personal Computer
Satellite Software International
Announcing the End of Word Processor Confusion
Appendix 1 - Continued
XyWrite II -- Word processing when there's no time to waste
Office Solutions, Inc.
An Industry First in Word Processing Software
Professional Software, Inc.
Can your Word Processor Keep Up With Your 100 WPM Typist? It
can if you have WordPerfect
Satellite Software International
Word Processing Software for the Complete Idiot
United Software Industries
How Does WordPerfect Top 4.0? Extra Credit
You Don't Need a Computer to Figure out Which is the Best Word
Microsoft Word 3. It Outlines Its Own Advantages
Microsoft Word 3
Dear Jim, For once I'm fast, not furious
PFS Professional Write
Software Publishing Corporation
A command performance
Today it's almost impossible to communicate fully without text
and graphics on the same page.
Lotus Development Corporation
For people too busy to learn word processing. And too busy not
PFS: Professional Write
Software Publishing Corporation
Short of knocking down satellites, Q&A Write is the best way to
use a laser
Word stars on WordStar
XyWrite III Plus: For People who Write
XyWrite III Plus
Today's managers are expected to learn word processing in their
spare time. Fortunately, that's all it takes.
Professional Write 2.0
Software Publishing Corporation
Appendix 1 - Continued
Easy-to-use Word Processor Check list.
Practice makes WordPerfect
Today's DisplayWrite. Word processing works for you on many
If they came back as software, they'd be Lotus 1-2-3, Freelance,
Lotus Development Corporation
If you want better word processing, don't settle for Perfect
Provide for the Future
Word Perfect Corporation
Keep your hands where they belong
If WordPerfect 5.1 were there, all his theories could have
descended from a mouse.
XyWrite speaks ASCII
No one ever bought a word processor because it was fun (until
Lotus Development corporation
Simplicity, Speed, Success
Desktop Processor? Word Publisher?
Their Word. Against Ours.
Lotus Development Corp.
The Word is Out. Introducing New CA-Textor. The Friendliest
Easiest Word Processor you'll ever meet.
Microsoft Office Does it Right
The Perfect Family
In 1990, Microsoft Introduced Windows 3.0 and PCs have never
been the same. Now History Repeats Itself.
Appendix 1 - Continued
It's as Individual as you are
Dustin Discount Software
With Microsoft Office, Nickelodeon has Become the Biggest Kid on
Any Word processor can write. Only WordPerfect can read.
Here are 3 Constructive Ways to Improve your productivity
To Write as Fast as you Can Think
The Giant Killer
Marketing the Digital Word
Appendix 2: Figure 1 -- XyWrite 1983 Marketing the Digital
Appendix 2: Figure 2 -- DeScribe 1991 Marketing the Digital
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, 1991.
Clarke, Arthur C. Profile of the Future: An Inquiry into the
Limits of the Possible. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Elliott, Stuart. "Silicon Valley executives don't seem to feel
they are getting much bang for their marketing buck," New
York Times, 27 November
1995, p. 9 (D).
Heim, Michael. Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of
Processing. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.
Laurel, Brenda. Computers as Theater. Reading, Massachusetts:
Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream. Berkeley,
University of California Press, 1986.
Nelson, Theodor Holm. Literary Machines 90.1 Sausalito, CA:
Mindful Press, 1990.
Snow, Sir Charles Percy. The Two Cultures and the Scientific
Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959.
 Theodor Holm Nelson, Literary Machines 90.1, (Sausalito,
Mindful Press, 1990), 0/11.
 Jay David Bolter, Writing Space, (Hillsdale, NJ:
Associates, 1991), 5-6.
 Michael Heim, Electric Language: A Philosophical Study
Processing, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
 Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theater, (Reading,
Addison-Wessley, 1993), 173.
 Roland Marchand, Advertising the American Dream,
University of California Press, 1986), xv-xvii
 Among computer magazines, PC Magazine has consistently
highest advertising page count and was therefore the
choice for analysis. PC Magazine
began publication in 1982.
 In 1982 and 1983, PC Magazine produced one issue per
1984 through 1995 the magazine produced two issues per
month; in those years, the first
November issue was selected for analysis.
 Both 1982 and 1983 were years in which PC Magazine
one issue per month. However, this fact alone does not
account for the higher ad count.
There is also a greater diversity of ads in these early
years as illustrated in Table 1.
 Total ad pages is not equivalent to total ads run.
ads will increase the ad page count. This table reports
all pages in multiple-age ads
because this measure is more sensitive to expenditure
and potential customer exposure than
a simple count of advertisements placed.
 Laurel, 40.
 Stuart Elliott, "Silicon Valley executives don't seem
they are getting much bang for their marketing buck,"
New York Times, 27 November 1995, p.
 Elliott, 9
 Bolter, 217
 Arthur C. Clarke, Profile of the Future: An Inquiry
Limits of the Possible, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Winston, 1984), 243.
 Sir Charles Percy Snow, The Two Cultures and the
Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press,
 Nelson, 1/13.
 Heim, 34