In the first of a series of exclusive online columns, former Playmusic editor, Tim Slater, muses on the demise of the demo god....
The product demonstrator gig - that weird hybrid of a salesman and a circus act - was once deemed a very necessary part of the whole PR gig for proactive distributors and manufacturers. Product demonstrators present the manufacturers products in the correct context – i.e. showing off the various features & benefits with a healthy dollop of rock & roll showbiz flair –whilst also serving as ‘stealth’ sales people, engaging with the public without the punters feeling like they are being hit on by a salesperson.
This type of ‘selling by stealth’ can and does work. Many years ago I was dispatched to the Southern Hemisphere by a well known US-based manufacturer on a month long promotional trip to the Antipodes that also included a whistle stop tour of New Zealand. My first gig was something of a high pressure deal; 9/11 had just happened and airport security had suddenly tripled, my flight to Wellington arrived late and a rather harassed looking rep duly whizzed me to my first gig in a large music store on the outskirts of the city. When I arrived the place was packed, and a not inconsiderable element of the crowd comprised a group of enormous and very stern looking Maoris who gave me the impression that a coach load of the All Blacks ‘B’ team had taken a wrong turn on the way back from a training session.
As it happened, the evening went really well; I played really great, cracked a few jokes about Quantas airlines food (Kiwis always enjoy any opportunity to enjoy a sly dig at the Aussies, especially since it wasn’t them risking getting a slap!) and the store manager hosting the event was delighted. However, the thing that really set the seal on the evening was when a couple of the big Maori guys forked out great chunky wads of cash and bought several of the very expensive guitars that I had been demonstrating during the evening.
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Nobody had twisted their arm (not that you easily could, judging by the sheer size of them) but they had still enjoyed the chance to hear the guitars demonstrated and to chat with this apparently impartial guy from the UK in a way that wasn’t a direct sales pitch. Trebles all round!
More than 10 years later the product demonstrator circuit seems to have dried up, or at least slowed down. For sure the big international expos still feature a few familiar faces but the clinic tours of old are seemingly a thing of the past.
Our old mate YouTube is probably partially responsible; now that companies are far more conversant with the internet than they were even a decade ago, video demonstrations and reviews are a handy and affordable way of reaching a much wider audience than clinics, allowing companies to sidestep the hassle of paying travel expenses and the disappointment of poor audience attendances when the store hosting the clinic doesn’t do any advance promo.
Still, it is a shame that more stores aren’t hosting professional clinics. A good in-store demo still provides stores with an excellent opportunity to provide a great evening's (free) entertainment for their customers, who are also likely to feel tempted to buy some new gear into the bargain. ‘Speculate to accumulate’ is a wise saying that still counts and in these austere climate isn’t it time that we injected a bit of fun back into the art of selling?