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Hype in the digital age

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on March 15, 2002
(Issue 2011, The Doctor is In)

The Super Bowl is about a lot more than football these days. In fact, one of the big things to do during the Super Bowl nowadays is to watch the commercials. Advertisers will often now premiere their best new ads on the Super Bowl. Heck, the week before the game one of the networks ran a show titled "Best Super Bowl Commercials" that simply re-ran popular advertisements from previous years.

It makes sense given the huge audience for the Super Bowl, and the fact that unlike other big-audience events like the Olympics or World Series, the Super Bowl is condensed into one three-hour slot.

High-tech startups – the so-called "dot-coms" – have been enthusiastic participants in this Super Bowl advertising spree of late. The last couple of years, a networking company has gained cult status with its ads featuring cats being herded like cows. A clever ad, although to this day I couldn't tell you what company paid for it.

Tied in to this year's Super Bowl was a huge, expensive campaign for something called "mLife." For weeks prior to the big game, print, broadcast and online ads directed viewers to All the site did was promise that on Feb. 3, the details of just what mLife was would be revealed.

Neither the web site nor the associated advertised specifically referred to the Super Bowl. But when – curious about all this hype being directed to a web site – I visited on the morning of Feb. 3 and found that the "secret" still hadn't been revealed, it dawned on me that there would undoubtedly be an mLife ad during the Super Bowl.

I was right, oddly enough (undoubtedly using up my quota of being right for the entire year). I was watching the game at the home of David Weil, curator and director of the Computer Museum of America in San Diego and David of course has a computer in his living room. Since the mLife ad on television was this weird, vaporous thing that still gave no concrete information on just what the heck mLife was, we tried to go to

Good planning, gang – the server couldn't handle the traffic. We never did get into the site during the game.

Later that night, I managed to get in and found out that mLife was a suite of new services from AT&T Wireless.

Even though AT&T is my mobile phone provider, I have to admit that all the hype leading up to the revealing of mLife was more exciting than the actual package itself.

The ability to read the news on my cell phone or send text messages to another AT&T user may be occasionally useful – but worthy of all the hype surrounding it? Oh, and if I upgrade to a fancier (and more expensive phone), I can download new sound files to use for my ring.

The web site is well organized and easy on the eyes – but there's so little content, it seems a waste to even have a whole domain assigned to it.

What the mLife advertising campaign shows is that, even in the age of the Internet, your hype should never build the public's expectations higher than you can deliver. While this was one of the first major ad campaigns to fully incorporate the Internet, I can't really say that the 'Net played a defining role. Instead, it was simply one more piece of a very large effort.

The fact that such advertising campaigns do lean on the Web shows, though, how deeply the Internet is permeating our lives.