Monday, October 25, 2010

Oberheim OB-8 synthesizer, Keyboard 1983

Oberheim OB-8 advertisement from page 14 and 15 in Keyboard Magazine, February 1983.

This was the introductory ad for Oberheim's new flag-ship synthesizer. The two-pager only ran once or twice at the beginning of 1983 before being replaced by a half-page version (really? half-page? Yup!).

This ad was meant for one thing: make an impression. It has good real estate - two pages near the front of the magazine, and not the centerfold where you usually expect to find two-pager. And that one... big... photo. Gorgeous! And the angle of the machine in the photo is optimized to make sure the "OB-8" on the front panel is as big as possible.

So, with the photo definitely taking centre stage, Oberheim decided to choose their words for the ad-copy carefully. And keep it short and sweet.

As the intro copy states, the OB-8 really does look like the OB-Xa. Oberheim definitely had the room to yap about all the good stuff that was kept from the OB-Xa, and then they could have spent another paragraph or two on all the new features, including the whole "Page-2" functionality, whereby half the front panel controls controlled a whole other set of parameters!

But they didn't. You only get one shot to make an impression, and Oberheim chose to focus on the beauty of this machine.

Beyond the beauty of the photo, the actual style of the ad brings back a lot of design elements that were used before the 1st generation of "The System" ads. For example the bold font titles, as well as the red accent lines and bullet points could be found in late 1981 ads such as this two-pager DSX/DMX ad with the OB-Xa shaded out in the background. But then, Oberheim changed up their ad style a bit in 1982 with ads such as this first generation "System" ad. In particular, loosing the big bulky title font and going with a muted background.

To me, the big bulky hug-able font *is* Oberheim. I, for one, am glad they brought it back!

Speaking of the "System", this ad appeared smack in the middle of Oberheim's "System ads (actually, between the 1st generation and 2nd generation of "System" ads). But interestingly, the "System" isn't mentioned at all in this ad.

Confused? The time-line goes something like this:

1981: DSX, DMX, and OB-Xa start appearing in ads together.
1982: 1st generation "System" (OB-Xa/DSX/DMX) ad appears.
Early 1983: This OB-8 ad appears - no mention of the "System".
Mid 1983: DX drum machine ad appears - mentions the "System".
Late 1983: 2nd generation "System" (OB-8/DSX/DMX) ad appears.

So, even though the time-line indicates that Oberheim was still actively promoting their family of products as the "System", they decided that it was worth more to them to keep this ad clean and simple. A single key message:

The OB-Xa is being replaced by the cheaper, better OB-8.

But I'm not sure that it was the best move to not mention the other members of the "System". When current owners of Oberheim gear saw this new ad, they may have been wondering if the OB-8 was still compatible. By not mentioning the DSX/DMX compatibility at all, a current Oberheim user may be wondering if Oberheim was dropping the "System" platform all together.

And considering that these Oberheimers were probably the most likely purchasers of new Oberheim gear, a simple statement about compatibility could have gone a long way.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that often when a company is launching a new product, it is wise to keep the image strong and the message simple. But if so many of your customers have invested *a lot* of money in a certain technology, when a new product is launched, it almost becomes what the company doesn't say that is important. And when Oberheim doesn't mention the "System", did anyone get nervous?

As the title of the ad states, often "There's more than meets the eye!"

Future ads tell us this was definitely not the case. Oberheim was still supporting their proprietary "System". But reading that ad in February 1983 may have put me square into the paranoid camp. A simple bullet point mentioning compatibility would have put an end to any anxiousness that an Oberheim user might feel, even before it began.

Time to put the tinfoil hat back on.

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