Monday, September 26

How AT&T predicted the future of technology in a 1993 ad campaign

It’s hard to believe, but the videoconferences that your company organizes, your tablet, the smartwatch, your Netflix subscription, the OBE that you use for electronic tolls, the automatic translator that helps you understand that Chinese website… All that, and more, it was probably already figured out by an AT&T technician more than 30 years ago. If you don’t believe me, take a couple of minutes and take a look at the video that we include below: a spot that demonstrates how in 1993 AT&T starred in —with the permission of Douglas Engelbart— the technological guessing exercise most brutal of the 20th century.

Brutal for his amazing aim. And, in a way, because of how well it describes much of the consumer technology that would revolutionize our lives three decades later.

The story of how the multinational launched an epic display of cabalistics is almost as interesting as the result itself. In the 1990s AT&T worked with Bell Labs on innovative lines of study in fields such as telemedicine, video compression, video conferencing… but it faced a worrying image problem: that effort did not reach the street. People simply perceived AT&T as a company from which no big changes could be expected.

How do you imagine the future?

“We were losing ground in a critical area. Consumer technology was rapidly being overtaken by companies like Sony or Panasonic in the fields of video, music, and computing. That led to a subsequent consumer study showing that AT&T was losing the battle for public perception on a number of tech attributes, such as being “the company most likely to bring new technology into the lives of 18- to 34 years’”, Glen Kaiser, director of the American multinational in the 90s, explained some time later.

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What did AT&T do? Easy: tell how he saw the future.

To make up for lost ground, AT&T decided to throw the house out the window and launch an ambitious advertising campaign with a first-class team. At the head of the direction was David Fincher, practically fresh off the red carpet with ‘Alien 3’. To announce the spots they first signed Robin Williams and later Tom Selleck, the voice that had given life to the famous ‘Magnum’.

The result was a series of sposts that were as simple—apparently simple, of course—as they were well thought out. AT&T’s idea was to tell viewers, the public, and ultimately the consumer, what technology would change their lives in the future. The scheme of the campaign could not be more basic, ABCD, almost: from the outset the company posed questions with a futuristic air and then finished off with a forceful phrase: “YouWill” (you will do it). And how? Well with AT&T.

— “Have you ever received a phone call on your wrist?” thundered the off-screen voice while on screen a man was seen chatting through his watch. With that clear hook and the viewer’s attention in his pocket, the spot It ended: “You will. And the company that will bring it to you: AT&T.”

The fascinating story of the first mouse: made of wood, with metal wheels and invented half a century ago

He did the same with distance classes, thanks to screens.

Buying personalized tickets with a computer.

The selection of movies on demand.

Simultaneous translation.

And so a long, very long, etcetera.

Was he correct in his predictions? Boy, did she do it.

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Under Fincher’s direction, AT&T’s spots show people in video conferences, taking calls with something very similar to today’s smartwatches; sending documents to the fax from their tablets, without cables; GPS navigation systems for cars, electronic tolls; distance classes with the help of computers; screens with an offer of movies on demand; automatisms that allow you to watch your house remotely; telemedicine services; virtual assistants or computer ticket purchases. And that as part of a long etcetera that includes cabins to renew the driver’s license or stores without cashiers, a concept not very different from Amazon Go.

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All with a certain retro touch, a very vintage golden —its smartwatches bear the same resemblance to modern smartwatches as a cave and a skyscraper—; but true, after all: much of the consumer technology we use today, in 2022, is there to a large extent.

Ironies of history, AT&T got the hard part right; but not in the question for note.

Many of that technology would end up arriving, another would be even more spectacular than what the 1993 advertisements showed and if some of his predictions did not materialize it was due to a matter of logistics or bureaucracy; but… Do we owe it directly to AT&T?

As the magazine points out vox, although its role was important, a good part of the software and hardware would arrive with other companies, companies that at the beginning of the 90s were still baking in Silicon Valley or had not even been born. The e-commerce giant, Amazon, was founded in 1994.

That the shot did not hit the nail on the head with the protagonists does not detract from a merit in any case. historic campaignso popular that in 2018, for its 25th anniversary, AT&T decided to return to the technological pool and predict some of the great changes that we will see in the coming years.

At the moment, everything is said, it does not seem that they are misguided.

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