Monday, July 23, 2012

Akai S-612 "Would you like a sampler for less than $1000.00?" introductory ad, Keyboard 1985 - first ad

Akai S-612 sampler "Would you like a sampler for less than $1000.00?" 1/2-page black and white introductory advertisement from page 87 in the May 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Work is about to take over my life for the next two or three weeks, so I've decided to enjoy this gorgeous weekend as  much as possible and spend only a minimal amount of time indoors - cleaning, blogging, music, etc. And, in retrospect, it looks like Akai took the same minimal approach both in the design of its S-612 sampler as well as its introductory advertisement.

Right or wrong, much of the early life of the S-612 was probably spent being compared to another relatively new and cheap-ass sampler, and it's main competition - the Ensoniq Mirage. So, of course, I did the same when looking at when exactly each of these samplers started showing up in Keyboard magazine.

The S-612 Spec Sheet appearance looks to be the first sign of life for Akai's sampler in the May 1985 issue of Keyboard. For comparison, the Ensoniq Mirage sampling keyboard had already been showing off its chops for a good five or six months in the form of a full colour two-page introductory advertisement that began running during the December 1984 Xmas season. I would have hoped for a bit more meat in the Spec Sheet from a company trying to play catch-up to the competition:
"Akai's 6-voice polyphonic 612 Sampler is a 19" rack-mount device designed to operate with any MIDI-equipped keyboard. It features 12-bit resolution and can digitally sample up to eight seconds of any sound. Front panel controls enable the user to set a looping point for the sampled sound, set MIDI mode and channel, and externally trigger the device. An LFO and filter are built-in. Price is $999.00. Akai, dist. by IMC, Box 2344, Fort Worth, TX 76113."
Yeah, not a lot of info in that spec sheet... but then again, the Akai S-612 was a simple machine. There wasn't much more to it. Just your basic entry level sampling machine.  And what was probably a really bad case of "coin-ki-dink" (ah... coincidence), competitor Ensoniq managed to slide in a FULL PAGE COLOUR advertisement directly opposite Akai's Spec Sheet promo. And not the Mirage introductory ad - that one had already run for a while and was replace in this May issue of Keyboard with Ensoniq's second advertisement for the machine!

In the words of Martin Q. Blank from the movie Grosse Point Blank: "Dumb fucking luck".

So, I'm thinking. Okay, a slow start. But maybe there is earlier mention of Akai's sampler in Keyboard's semi-annual NAMM tradeshow round-up article. That February 1985 Winter NAMM show article turned out to be easy to find. It was in the same issue as Akai's Spec Sheet - May 1985. 

From the article:
"One of the games that was being played at this NAMM convention was spot the digital sampler, also known as how many sampling machines can you fit inside of one convention center. Kurzweil, Ensoniq, E-mu and Fairlight were all on hand to show off their instruments... ...And everyone was curious about the Ensoniq Mirage (which we'll be reviewing next month in Keyboard Report), the sampling keyboard with a list price under $2,000."
Ensoniq's timing was perfect. A Xmas launch, hitting NAMM at just the right time with a great price-point, and free earned media in this NAMM article with a mention and a photo!

And yet, no mention of Akai. Gah!

So, from a casual reader's perspective, Ensoniq's Mirage had already been on the market for quite a while, resulting in five or six month's exposure in advertisements and articles before Akai even gets their first break with their Spec Sheet promo. Until this advertisement came along, some readers may have thought that the only thing the Akai S-612 rack sampler had going for it was its under $1000 price tag compared to the Mirage's $1700 list price.

You'll probably agree that the S-612 needed to come out swinging with it's first advertisement to get in front of Ensoniq. But Akai or distributor IMC (or whoooooomever) looks like they made the unfortunate decision to make the S-612's introductory advertisement a 1/2-page black and white ad. ON PAGE 87!!!

Not really that confident, were we, Akai?

Or just playing it safe?

It's not all bad. For a half-pager, it is a nicely designed ad. Good layout with a large title, good photo and a very readable large-ish ad-copy font.

Akai knows they have the cheapest sampler on the planet - and use that fact to their advantage in the ad-title:
"Would you like a sampler(TM) for less than $1,000.00."
That "TM" symbol beside the word "sampler" makes me a little uneasy. Did Akai really trademark the term "sampler"? They give the word the "TM" treatment through the ad-copy. I did a quick search and I wasn't the only that noticed this. The Microscopics blog made note of this back in 2009. Interesting.

Also, I just gotta point out the crazy sense of humor in the ad-copy . Underneath the ad-title about wanting a sampler for less than a grand is:
"So would 348,000 other synthesizer players". 
Huh? What? Where does that number come from? Did they just pull that number out of their ass? Or am I missing some in-joke?

Again - we get a little chuckle in the first sentence:
"Now the S-612 sampler(TM) by Akai enables thousands of synthesizer owners the freedom of sampling technology without mortgaging their wife and kids!"

Okay, between the time I started writing this post and the time I finished it, I've done a complete 180 degrees on my thoughts on Akai's first S612 advertisement, and their move into the professional instrument market.

I think Akai has a really shot at this "sampler (TM)" thing.   :D

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