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Audio

Were you ever 'blown away' by sound?

Before multitasking, sound was a big deal, so it was easier to be blown away by it.

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The 'Blown Away Guy" Maxell tape ad Maxell

CNET's Geoff Morrison used the above image from a Maxell tape ad in his " Music multitasking: How 'background' listening enhances life" blog post a few weeks ago, and that image really took me back. Maxell's "Blown Away Guy" campaign debuted in 1979, and it was perfect: the hipster is on the right side of the picture slouching in a massive Le Corbusier chair, with a table lamp and martini glass "blown away" by the sound of a JBL L100 speaker on the left side of the frame. The photo is by Steven Steigman, and there have been endless parodies of the image over the years.

Communicating great sound in a black-and-white still image isn't easy, and the ad's creators' achievement has never been surpassed. Sound never stands still, it's constantly in motion, and the image makes that perfectly clear. The Maxell ad was so popular it was expanded into a TV ad campaign.

The other thing I love about the ad is the man is really listening; he is at one with his sound, but multitasking was still decades away. People loved the ad because we all identified with the concept. Back then it wasn't just a handful of audiophiles who cared about sound quality; Maxell's ad catered to the sound aspirations of millions of tape consumers. Tape was big business in the 1970s and 1980s, and sound-quality advances (and creative marketing) were crucial to the success of tape manufacturers.

Apple's early iPod TV and print ads with silhouetted dancers grooving to their iTunes are definitely contenders for iconic status. Again, the theme is all about movement and total immersion in the sound of music. In those days iPods were just music players; there was no texting, video, games, or streaming, just sound.

Now that most mainstream speaker buyers are stuck in multitasking mode, sound quality is irrelevant, because sound is just background to other activities. Sound is there to fill up empty spaces and rarely engages the listener. Headphone sound is inherently more intimate, so buyers care more about their headphones' sound. Perhaps a future headphone ad will become as iconic as the Maxell tape ad.

Do you have a favorite audio or music ad? Tell us all about it in the comments section.

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An early iPod ad Apple