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"The future is on line"

06/06/2008 - 00:00 AM

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The implementation of digital encoding for all data content and the ongoing process of computerization in telecommunications in the 80s paved the way for new networks that would carry all kinds of data-based content, not just voice but data, photos, videos and audio. Also in the 80s, SIP began to roll out new products and services: the fax, telefax service, answering service, beepers, carphones, the data/telephony network, teleconferencing and videotel. None of these brand new products had appeared on the market before; all of them needed to be publicized. SIP, the then monopoly telephone provider in Italy, launched a concerted and in many ways novel communications drive. From the mid-80s onwards, the company created a number of advertising campaigns to promote these new products (all of which bore the company’s logo, as redesigned in 1983), while at the same time recasting the company’s image as forward-looking and profoundly renewed.

Major communications and enterprise marketing agencies were commissioned to run some of the best-known campaigns. The Armando Testa SpA agency played a lead role. It was this agency that, in 1985, was behind SIP’s slogan “The future is on line”, in a series of adverts featuring the “red wave” from the new brand logotype.
Though many of these new products did not have particularly long lives, some attracted a greater number of converts; none of them, however, become true mass-market items. Technologies that at the time appeared to be the future of personal and business communications were to be swept away just a few years later by new technologies and forms of communication – the internet and the mobile phone – that would take the mass market by storm.

The fax or facsimile


First presented in Italy in 1974 at the Fifth Press and News Exhibition in Rome, by 1982 just 5,000 machines were in use in Italy. Xerox actually launched the product on the market in 1966, though it was not until the late 80s that the fax really took off in Italy and elsewhere.
SIP ramped up its fax promotions from 1984, when the Armando Testa SpA agency ran its “Facsimile” campaign to promote the “Telefax” service. The advertising copy claimed that this service could send “an exact black-and-white copy of typewritten and handwritten sheets, diagrams, drawings, technical drawings and blueprints, in between 60 seconds and three minutes.”

The fax machine was the subject of a renewed bout of intense advertising in the early 90s, by which time over a million fax machines were in use in Italy. The fax had emerged as an indispensable business tool: no other technology could send copies of documents around the world as quickly, simply over a telephone line.
Two business-oriented adverts from 1992 extolled the virtues of fax machines integrated into a telephone and answering machine. This particular campaign used in-house SIP agency design.
In the early 90s, the fax was a favorite medium for raising the profile of protest and charity movements. Indeed, the phenomenon became so widespread that some opinion-based movements became known as the “fax people”. Despite this, the fax machine never did catch on as a truly mass tool of communication. Ultimately, the fax was eclipsed by mass market acceptance of the internet and e-mail. As the 90s drew to a close, the fax was still hanging on, above all for corporate and professional communications.

The answering machine and telephone/answer machines


In 1985, SIP ran an advert as part of its “The future is on line” campaign, conceived by the Sarin agency, advertising the benefits of answering machines: “Even when you’re home but you’d rather nobody knew. SET answering machines play an outgoing message, record the caller’s message, and play it back to you (even from another phone). You will never miss another call again, and never lose that bit of business either.”
In the 1980s, adoption of answering machines went hand-in-hand with the start-up of myriad new small businesses as people found that they could manage their affairs more efficiently and more effectively. Answering machines chimed with changing lifestyles too. As the number of individuals in each household fell and more and more one-person households sprang up, it was increasingly likely that nobody would be at home to answer the phone for hours and hours on end. SIP rolled out other products and services for this target group too. One such product was the telephone/answer machine, on which users could record their own voice and send a message to callers: “The day has arrived when the telephone answers on your behalf, telling people where and when to call you” ran the slogan of a SIP advert conceived by the Armando Testa agency in 1986; this was an early expression of people’s desire to always be contactable.

By the early 90s, there were 1.5 million answering machines in Italy, and people were becoming accustomed to leaving messages. The anonymous outgoing message “Nobody is home right now, please leave a message after the beep” began to give way to tailor-made messages, as people “expressed themselves” over the phone.
By the late 90s, answering machines were being superseded by Telecom Italia’s new centralized Memotel answering service. Indeed, widespread take-up of cell phones meant that people could always be contacted –cellphones offered centralized voicemail – and the old fixed-line answering machine was more or less ready to be pensioned off.

The beeper and videotel


Though they were neither as widely adopted or as successful as the fax and answering machine, beepers and videotel were more accurate forerunners of mobile phones and the internet, the mass communication methods that would become popular in the present day.
Beepers were mainly used for work purposes. Nevertheless, SIP did attempt to lure young people to this emerging technology in a 1989 Publicis FCB/MAC advert.

Beepers allowed people to be contacted at any time of day. When the beeper went off, the caller’s phone number flashed up on the beeper’s display. Not surprisingly, this product fell by the wayside with the advent of the cellphone, which offered the same constant availability, plus the ability to answer the call directly.
Videotel is the closest ancestor to the internet. A 1988 Armando Testa advert coined the slogan, “Relax, you’re going out with videotel”, featuring philosopher Luciano De Crescenzo. Videotel was an Italian version of Minitel, a French service that was the true trailblazer of online household access. Videotel became an important tool for professionals, who used it to look up specialist databases. Private users could access various news services, home banking, train timetables and the like; they could also exchange messages or chat.