Jumat, 02 Maret 2012

0 Sales pitches

The advertising and promotional material, displays and sales presentations
at BETT can be analysed as texts—that is, as particular configurations of
verbal and visual language. These texts invoke and employ broader
discourses, which represent the meanings of technology and of education
in quite particular ways.
Of course, the BETT Show is primarily a marketing event; and the
background literature (letters of invitation, a printed official guide and a
newsletter) sets the tone by ‘selling’ both the event itself and the products
which it helps to showcase. These texts reassure teachers about the
potential of ICT, while at the same time giving them cause for concern
about their own role in this technological age. New technology is presented
as exciting, innovative and a ‘solution’ for schools. At the same time,
these texts focus on the responsibility of teachers to keep up-to-date and
to use their ICT funding wisely.
The printed texts produced for the BETT Show present ICT as
challenging enough for teachers to need some guidance, but not so
challenging that they should be discouraged. Just as ‘good parents’ invest
in technology in order that their child does not fall behind, so does the
professional teacher. Providing children with a ‘good’ education means

 implementing government policy on ICT and using school funding wisely.
The BETT Show claims to help teachers fulfil this role by providing them
with the necessary information, thereby ‘meeting all the ICT needs of
[their] educational establishment’ (from a circular to participants).
BETT 2000 displayed the products of more than 400 education
suppliers, including some of the biggest names in computer hardware
(such as IBM, Compaq, Dell, Time and Tiny) and software publishing
(such as Dorling Kindersley, TAG, the BBC, the Learning Company and
Two Can). Many of the exhibits used glossy pictures and images taken
from the companies’ CD-ROMs, web pages or books. These exhibits
tended to be bright and colourful, in a manner characteristic of children’s
media: Two Can Publishing, for example, used multi-coloured pictures
of space travel, the Earth and letters from the alphabet. Other companies
(usually those with the largest exhibits) were minimalists: they tended to
have the company name and a limited selection of key phrases, bullet
points and images. The focus here seemed to be more on the company
name and perhaps one particular initiative, rather than on a variety of
different products, suggesting that the central aim was to do with branding
rather than direct selling of products.
Some companies combined the minimalist and the product-centred
approaches. For example, the software publisher Dorling Kindersley
had two exhibits. One was a presentation area with seating and a large
screen. The second exhibit had rows of posters showing different Dorling
Kindersley products under various headings, including history, science
and the various key stages of the curriculum. By contrast, the BBC had
a grey bus with ‘The Learning Journey Starts Here’ written on the side.
Various characters from children’s television (for example, a Teletubbie)
were shown at the windows on the upper deck of the bus, while the
names of particular product ranges like Key Stage 3 BITESIZE Revision
and Revise WISE were written on the lower deck windows. All the
exhibits had computer terminals at which participants could try out
the products on offer; and there were numerous company representatives
on hand to offer advice and demonstrate how to use the technology.
Some companies also ran short presentations describing their products,
providing timetables so those participants could plan ahead. Despite the
high level of noise in the hall, the presentations ran very smoothly. Other
exhibitors offered incentives to encourage people to attend the
presentations. They made it clear at the beginning of the presentation
that you would get a free gift (e.g. key rings, soft toys) or be entered for
a prize draw (T-shirts, vouchers for a particular product) if you stayed
until the end. After Microsoft’s presentation, T-shirts were thrown to the
winners in the crowd.
Some of the presenters sounded like market traders or hawkers
addressing a group of potential customers. These presentations were fast

moving, loud, ‘punchy’ and upbeat. The presenters spoke rapidly and the
sales pitch was far from subtle. For example, one Microsoft representative
demonstrated ‘brand spanking new technology over from Seattle’,
contriving to mention Seattle as frequently as possible. Like market traders,
these presenters used devices like repetition to emphasise what a bargain
they were offering. One speaker, for example, repeated the phrase
‘absolutely free’ several times in succession, while another asked a
cumulative series of rhetorical questions—‘Does this cost £2,000? No!
Does it cost £1,000? No!’—before finally revealing the cost of his product.
Some presenters attempted to personalise their sales pitch by assuring
the audience of their personal belief in the product and its relevance: ‘If
I didn’t think you’d be interested in this I wouldn’t be telling you’ (TAG).
One of the Microsoft representatives claimed that both he and his son
used an E-Book (a hand-held device for reading) on a regular basis, and
went on to tell a few anecdotes about doing so while they were on holiday.
Meanwhile, a person dressed as a furry animal wandered about the
hall, while Oscar, the ‘DELL Talking Robot’, posed for photographers.
The Digital Workshop exhibit consisted of a striped circus tent with
balloons tied to the entrance. Inside, a video was being shown; and as
people walked in they were promised a free gift. When the video ended,
a juggler (dressed in black-and-white with striped socks) started juggling
outside the tent, presumably to attract an audience for the next screening.
Other companies used more direct sales pitches. The Skills Factory
selected key words and phrases from the reviews of its CD-ROM and
presented these on a pink poster in much the same way that an
advertisement for a film or show might do: ‘“Groundbreaking”—The
Teacher. “A Joy To Use”—Times Educational Supplement. “Absolutely
Brilliant”—Numeracy Co-ordinator, Manchester.’ Several exhibits had
large television screens showing advertisements or short promotional
videos, often featuring fast-moving excerpts from their productions set
to music. Both in the videos and in the presentations, attention-grabbing
sales talk was occasionally balanced by the calmer, less upbeat voice of
‘expert opinion’ from academics or educationalists.

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