Oxford Synthesiser Company OSCar "Why would anyone buy this ugly, monophonic synthesizer" half-page black and white advertisement from page 35 in December 1985 issue of Keyboard Magazine.
I love the December issues of Keyboard. They are always a slightly different beast from the rest of the months. They are usually packed with more pages and within those pages are a lot more ads. As a result, I've seen many advertisers try something a little different or take a bit more risk and step out of their comfort zone in order to break through the noise.
Sometimes those ads are just a change from their normal campaign to wish readers a happy holiday or merry Xmas. Good examples are this SCI's "Happy Holiday Season" ad. Another is this Oberheim "Sounds of the Season" ad.
But sometimes, just... sometimes... readers get a real treat. And this OSCar advertisement is exactly that!
I'm sure you'll agree that the opening line immediately grabs your attention:
"Why would anyone want to buy this ugly, monophonic synthesizer"Remember, this isn't 1981. Readers are on 1986's doorstep. Polyphonics had not only been on the market for a while, but prices were starting to tumble. There were lots to choose from - Korg's DW series, Sequential's MultiTrak, Yamaha's DX100/21 and Roland JX3p come to mind.
But being upfront and honest about your product is a great way to help cut through all that advertising clutter. A good comparison is Buckley's Cough Syrup's long running "It tastes awful and it works" campaign. You throw the reader the bad news first to get their attention, and then hit them with the good news. And that's exactly the strategy this OSCar advertisement went for.
The ad copy below the title expands on this idea:
"When you've got a synthesizer with endbells that look like deflated Uniroyals and a front panel design that could double for a rat maze in some scientific research program...".That's synth comedy gold. And it works.
Its only then that the ad gets to the point of the question - why would anyone want to buy it? And here's where the real pitch begins. The good news.
And what is the good news? That it sounds great! As Wikipedia puts it, this is mostly due to "its many unusual features and design quirks". I'm not going to get into all the features and quirks here in this post, except to say that it had such good sounding digital oscillators that the book Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail noted "its sales took off very quickly despite the fact that it was monophonic and cost almost as much as a Roland Juno-60".
And it still sounds so good that even today the OSCar sells for the same, if not for more, than a Minimoog.
That's saying something.
Another highlight of the ad, especially if you caught that little asterisk after the word "anyone" in the headline, is that list of bands that used the OSCar - Go West, Ultravox, Asia, Dead or Alive, and the System. That's a fine list of "anyones"!
But, I have to say, the most interesting thing about this ad is that the OSCar synthesizer wasn't being promoted by the company that manufactured it, the Oxford Synthesiser Company, but by their North American distributor Europa Technology Inc.
Europa was responsible for bringing some of the best European synths to North America in the 80's, including the PPG as well as the OSCar. And one of the owners of Europa, Geoff Farr, who was previously an Oberheim Electronics sales rep in the 70s, went on to distribute the Waldorf Wave and Access Virus as part of the GSF Agency, where he continues to represent Tom Oberheim, Knifonium and Acoustica Audio.
That guy has a keen eye for good gear! :)