Opinion

Fact or fantasy, or, is there substance to multimedia?In this issue, we debut a series of five articles by Charles de Gruchy on high-tech, interactive marketing.In the first article in the series, de Gruchy attempts to define the market. In subsequent...

Fact or fantasy, or, is there substance to multimedia?

In this issue, we debut a series of five articles by Charles de Gruchy on high-tech, interactive marketing.

In the first article in the series, de Gruchy attempts to define the market. In subsequent articles, he will look at specific ways in which advertisers are using interactive technologies to solve various marketing problems.

De Gruchy is managing partner of Salter de Gruchy, a Toronto- and New York-based ad agency.

Why should marketing professionals care about multimedia?

There is no installed base. It’s all hype. It’s okay for a few specialized purposes, but it has got nothing to do with marketing.

It’s just a techno-toy that amuses the media, but has no practical applications for our industry.

Do the nay-sayers have it right? Or are we missing the point and the boat?

Certainly, it is true that too much has been written lately about the promise of multimedia – and too little about its reality.

It is almost impossible to avoid media discussions of how important multimedia is about to become – from the Sunday edition of The New York Times, to The Globe and Mail, The Financial Post, even, recently, The Sunday Star in Toronto.

The problem is that, while we all now know a great deal about this ‘promise,’ we know little about how well it is being kept.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of truth to the rumor that multimedia has turned a corner. Indeed, multimedia for the home is here today.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s define multimedia as nothing more than a computer with enhanced audio and video. Sound familiar?

Just imagine a video game machine with more brains, and a somewhat more serious purpose than blasting asteroids in space.

In the future columns in this series, I want to go beyond the smoke and mirrors and hype and examine some real-life examples of how people in the marketing community are taking advantage of the possibilities of multimedia.

How can it help?

How can cd-rom, cd-i (Compact Disc – Interactive), and all the other forms of interactive communication help marketers do their jobs better? That is the question we want to answer.

Any 386 or 486 home pc can be retrofitted with a cd-rom disc drive, a 16-bit digital stereo sound card, and a pair of desktop loudspeakers for less than $1,000.

If you are buying a new home computer, many now come fully equipped with the cd-rom drive and sound card already installed.

And the statistics are certainly glowing.

According to Business Week, in the u.s., consumers were expected to buy 718,000 multimedia-equipped microcomputers by year-end 1993 – a considerable increase over the 279,000 bought in 1992.

As for upgrading existing computers, Dataquest estimates that 4.8 million cd-rom drives were sold in the u.s. in 1993, and that total is expected to grow to 13 million units by 1997.

Digital Information Group, of Stamford, Conn., recently completed its ‘CD ROM Factbook,’ which projects consumer multimedia and infotainment sales at $615 million for 1993, nearly 150% growth over 1992.

Sales for all cd-rom titles will top $5.7 billion in 1993, representing about 80% growth.

As of late 1993, according to Business Week, about 2,500 cd-rom software packages are available.

In Canada, there has been a boom in personal computer sales, with an installed base estimated at around 23% of Canadian households, up from around 10% in 1986.

Roughly 5% of these household computers have sound cards to provide multimedia audio, and about 3% have cd-rom drives.

It does not sound like a lot yet, but there is a big, concerted push by hardware and software manufacturers to make it grow by leaps and bounds.

From the point of view of computer suppliers such as Microsoft – which is planning to release more than 100 cd-rom titles in the next year – multimedia in the home is a reality.

And, indeed, from a certain level of business and industry, there are a growing number of industrial applications for multimedia, in particular, cd-rom.

Most of these take advantage of the gigantic digital information storage capacity of the now-familiar compact disc, which can store more than 360,000 pages of text.

You want the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary – all 20 bulky volumes, but you don’t have the space, and you don’t like the miniprint edition? And you might even like the chance to cross-reference words, definitions, and quotations?

It is available on a single-sided cd-rom for about $1,200.

For the Ontario government, cd-rom has already become an invaluable new tool in the form of the Rubicon Government Profiles.

Extensive directory

This consists of a single cd-rom that contains a directory of more than 45,000 government employee records and about 36,000 supplier records cross-referenced to more than 13,000 product and service categories.

The Government of Ontario is using cd-rom today to replace not only a bulky stack of printed materials, but also to take advantage of computerized data base management to create a new, more useful service – something that did not previously exist.

But, despite the vigorous signs of growth in the home, and despite the obvious areas for growth in industry – where it is already beginning to replace the cumbersome foot-thick, loose-leaf catalogues of various suppliers such as hardware manufacturers – we have yet to see how we can apply this new technology to our own business of marketing.

One striking example is Searle Canada, which tapped cd-i as an ideal means of communicating information about several new drug products to its doctor client base.

Before choosing cd-i, Searle investigated its options. Doctors have too much to read, and too little time. Videos tend to be too linear. As a means of communicating a lot of complex information, a video would require sitting straight through a presentation that might last as long as two hours.

What Searle wanted was the ability to present information in a manner that gives the doctor individual choice of options.

More information about a particular area should be able to be retrieved instantly. To skip something should be just as easy.

It is called ‘random access,’ but you need a computer or a computer-like device to make it work.

Searle considered cd-rom and decided against it. At the time it studied the problem, it felt the installed base was too low, and that, technically, cd-rom is too hard to use. The alternative was cd-i, a format invented by Philips.

cd-i is like a cross between a video game machine and a cd player.

Dedicated computer

Inside the box is a dedicated computer that controls the action. There is a cd transport mechanism to read the disc. And there is a point-and-click controller that allows the user to activate a menu-driven system that can open various files at will.

But, most important, a cd-i player plugs directly into your tv – not your computer. And it is far easier than cd-rom to use.

The big drawback, though, is that the installed base of cd-i players is non-existent.

Searle’s solution was simple, elegant, but expensive: it bought 80 portable cd-i players – literally, the first off a new Japanese assembly line, and the first in North America.

The portable cd-i players were self-contained: a liquid crystal display (lcd) screen showed the action, a built-in speaker provided the sound, a built-in roller-ball provided the cursor movement, and a built-in transport ran the disc.

It could then lend out – as a self-contained package – the player and the disc to doctors for several days at a time.

And it worked. Doctors were happy. Searle is happy. And it is now working on a second cd-i production for yet another new product introduction.

Charles de Gruchy is managing partner with Salter de Gruchy, a Toronto ad agency.