No spaceship? No sale.

Publication date: 21 June 2010
Originally published, in a smaller version, 2009 in Atomic: Maximum Power Computing
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


I think I'll miss those special advertisements, that only ever appear in computer magazines, when they finally die out completely.

You know the ones I mean.

Magnificent Amaze ad

The type-specimen is an ad for a motherboard or graphics card. It may or may not include an image, preferably tastefully small, of the actual product. Much more important is the background image, which absolutely must feature a 3D-rendered spaceship, racing car, fantasy monster or sub-Frazetta revealingly-clad chick.

If possible, the chick should be equipped with wings, or weapons, or both.

Ideally, more than one of the abovementioned spaceships, racing cars, chicks, etc, should be depicted, even if it pushes the actual product right down into the gutter next to a staple.

This magnificent promotional concoction almost invariably takes up an entire page of the magazine..

Seasonic racing-car PSU ad

...because otherwise, it's too easy to accidentally make the product picture the same size as the racing car, or find yourself with no room for anything but the spaceship.

It is lightly garnished with some copy which must - this part really isn't negotiable at all - be written by a person who has a poor grasp of English.

(I'm not sure whether equivalent ads in Hong Kong computer magazines feature Cantonese copy written by someone specially imported from Alice Springs, or Randolph, Utah. Further research is clearly called for.)

The ad text comes from the same source as the Engrish "anti-marketing" that's still so common on computer-product boxes, and in manuals too.

Helpful fire-piston instructions

As the above-linked article explains, these terrible translations keep on coming because the head office in Taiwan or wherever just doesn't care about the mistakes. Straight, unedited machine-translation (a.k.a. "Blind Idiot Translation") is good enough for them.

(A commenter on the above article points out this magnificent Thermaltake page, where in the course of emitting an indigestible blob of machine-translation, Thermaltake manage to misspell their own name.)

Those of us in English-speaking countries are accustomed to seeing this sort of ignorance applied in the other direction. We've moved on from the technique of making English comprehensible to foreigners by speaking LOUDER AND SLOWER, to the entertaining new development of people who think you can translate English into "Asian" by changing the font. (And then, of course, getting a giant tattoo of the result.)

Don't get me wrong - that ad copy is there to do a job, and it does it well. I honestly do not know what I would have done with myself if I had not recently been informed that there's a Cooler Master case that provides "Swift Intelligence" and "Secure Mobilization", and a Thermaltake case whose glowing fans "create a strong, dynamic and exciting atmosphere to stimulate gamers with an ambience that can be in tune with their respective gameplay".

And I assure you that my future RAM purchases will be strongly influenced by the ad-assisted discovery that G.Skill memory is "sharp, fierce, powerful".

(I was actually looking more for something "avuncular, cajoling, vine-ripened", but I find myself persuaded.)

NZXT menacing PC-case ad

You can get a lousy English translation anywhere, of course. It's the pictures that really make these ads special.

Antec horny-monster case and PSU ad

In some cases, I suppose it's appropriate. If you've decided to take your product names from power metal and sell a motherboard called "Flaming Blade" or "Dragonlord", then you pretty much have to have ads like this.

Utgard case ad

(In case you're wondering what "utgard" means, it is of course the "outyards" surrounding a stronghold of the Norse giants.)

I'm not sure how these ads came to be. If it were only a couple of Taiwanese companies where the boss's nephew did the ad design then there'd be no great mystery, but these ads are actually an industry-wide phenomenon. Practically every major PC-component brand has made not just one shiny-robots, goofy-headline, mangled-English advertisement, but a whole series of the things. And they're probably still making 'em.

There's obviously some connection between these ads and the 3D-rendered fantasy creatures traditionally pictured on graphics-card boxes...

Asus wing-ed demon-knight graphics card

...but I'm pretty sure video-card companies know that even totally mystified PC-hardware purchasers don't generally fall into a trance state while walking the aisles of a computer store, and end up buying whatever product has the spikiest chrome samurai or most heavily-armoured rocket-powered serpent on the box. Box art may be meant to be eye-catching, but it's not really promotional.

When I first saw these sorts of ads - more than ten years ago, now, which is eternity in the computer-components business - I presumed they'd soon be displaced by more tediously effective ones. Normal Western-world advertisements for the products of large corporations usually have very nearly zero real information content, but whatever tiny message they do manage to convey usually isn't "We couldn't be bothered proofreading this!".

(That, I think you'll agree, may not exactly be the optimal message to send to your customers, when you're in the business of selling things that contain millions of transistors and thousands of lines of code, all of which must work perfectly if the product is to avoid making its user want to die.)

But no - there those demented ads still are. I doubt there's a PC magazine anywhere in the world that doesn't still contain at least one robot, jet, tank or shiny-rendered-chick selling graphics cards or power supplies.

There are, however, not as many of these ads as there used to be. When it were all trees 'round 'ere, lad, you could count on finding a hatful of roboninja-'n'-battlemech ads inside even business-computer magazines, and a bonus silver dragon or fairy-with-two-pistols on the back cover. Now the ratio is slowly dropping, even in "enthusiast" mags like Atomic (in which a smaller version of this article first appeared).

The crazy ads definitely aren't a very endangered species, though. All but one of the scanned ads I put on this page came from a single issue (number 114) of Atomic. And Atomic is just a 98-page magazine, not one of those super-fat mags that turns into a wall-to-wall block of ads halfway in.

You'd think the Engrish copy would be the first to really, consistently, go, since it's so very easy to fix.

And perhaps, finally, it will. It's weird that it took this long, but it finally is starting to dawn on Chinese companies that their usual standard of commercial Chinese-to-English translation has been making them look like idiots all this time. Perhaps the playing field is level when everybody's ad copy is equally awful, but that's no argument against being the first graphics-card company on your street to pay some foreigner $50 to proofread your $50,000 English-market ad campaign.

As evidence of this slowly-dawning realisation, note that some of the people who created the remarkable number of Chinese signs that have the world "fuck" on them appear to now be aware that they may perhaps have made a slight error.

(The famous "Star War: Backstroke of the West", source of the Do Not Want! meme, also contains four startling instances of "fuck"-ery.)

Perhaps the copy is all that'll change, though. Perhaps the industry has, overall, decided that this is what a hardware ad should look like. Because they keep on making new ones!

I was particularly pleased by this excellent recent example from the back cover of Atomic, which advertises ATI graphics cards...

Magnificent Amaze ad

...using a chick with a gun and a giant shiny robot, who is apparently about to clobber the chick with an HD 4890 the size of Taronga Zoo.

(That's the only ad that wasn't from that single Issue #114 of Atomic, by the way. The back of #114 does have a windswept woman keeping various Corsair products company...

Corsair runs out of ideas

...but she's not 3D-rendered, and the copy is depressingly comprehensible.)

Eventually, I suspect that bland professionalism, tedious utility and those enemies of humanity who call themselves "creatives" will finally kill the crazy ads.

I hope they go out in a blaze of glory.

Someone should make a motherboard ad dominated by a space battle more complicated than the start of Backstroke of the West Revenge of the Sith, with DayGlo arrows pointing out truly unusual motherboard features.

"Scratch-'n'-Sniff x16 Slot!"
"Heat pipe NOT tested on pangolins!"
"8-Layer PCB stops up to .30-30 Winchester!"

I solemnly promise to buy that motherboard.

But only if it comes with a poster of the ad.

If you've found a particularly choice example of this sort of ad, tell us all about it
in the comments here!

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