Suzan Revah is a former AJR associate editor.
Consumers the world over were successfully wooed by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates ' PR orgy over the debut of the Windows 95 operating system. But is all the excitement a testament to the greatness of the product, the genius of Microsoft's advertising department, or the lemminglike complicity of all-too-easily techno-awed journalists?
Microsoft purchased an entire print run of the London Times . It bought millions of dollars of ads. But none of this compared to the massive amounts of free, largely uncritical publicity generously provided by newspapers across the country. The hype reached Super Bowl or new release by (fill in rock star of the moment) proportions.
Gates' carpet-bombing public relations tactics have some journalists wondering whatever happened to the skepticism and cynicism for which we media types are so famous and so roundly criticized. Many also wonder why a story suited so perfectly to the business pages ended up on everything from A1 to the food section in newspapers across the country.
Maybe it's just a classic case of the journalist caught in the proverbial headlights of the cyber-steamroller. Never was it clearer that computers had shed their nerd-like, neo-pocket protector image. Computers are sexy. Computers are cool.
In any case, it is now clear that Gates had the right idea when he figured the media would be his greatest ally in his effort to convince the American public of the dire necessity of buying Windows 95 and of the market dominance of Microsoft products. In fact, judging from the omission of any mention of Microsoft's competitors in much of the coverage (who even knew it had competitors?), the San Diego Union-Tribune 's lead editorial on August 26, just two days after the Windows 95 debut, best summed up the PR event to end all PR events: "When Abraham Lincoln said, 'You can't fool all of the people all of the time,' he never met Bill Gates."