Friday, 12 January 2018

The Black Baron

This is about the first themed show that we did. We had previously done the same chrome-and-white-plastic shows as everyone else. In order to be taken seriously, you have to be serious. And boring. And people forget everything you told them as soon as you've finished talking. So I decided to try something completely different.

This was just at the time when viruses had been written by someone calling himslef the "Black Baron" - he turned out to be a British guy from Plymouth. He called his viruses Smeg.Queeg and Smeg.Pathogen, and generally seemed to be a fan of the TV show "Red Dwarf". The interesting thing about his viruses, was that they were very polymorphic. at a time when polymorphic viruses weren't common.

Before the show, I thought about what we could do, and I put together a mini-presentation, to show to our sales and marketing people, with sound from a tiny tape recorder, and I hoped they could use their imagination to see what the real thing would look like. I heard a whisper "Is he serious?".

I wanted to impress on the audience that, no matter how clever the author of the viruses were, we were cleverer, and were completely on top of the situation.

The occasion was Softteach, a show put on by distributor Softsell, aimed at dealers. And what dealers want, of course, is something they can sell, for a profit. And which doesn't cause them hassle later.

So my commercial pitch was this. We're giving you a free copy of the Antivirus Toolkit, and you can sell it to whoever you want. Because when someone wants an AV, they want it RIGHT NOW, not after a couple of days for delivery to happen. But when you sell it, you'll re-order, right? So that you can keep on selling it. Also, don't worry about tech support. We do all that, we have a free tech support line. And don't worry about us undercutting you on price - I promise that we won't sell copies to anyone at anything other than our recommended list price. So the message was "You can make money out of this".

So that was the main message. I know what turns dealers on. But that's boring. So I decided to explain to them about how polymorphic viruses worked, using an animated Powerpoint presentation to show how the viruses self-mutated in each copy. Also boring, but really the point I was trying to make is "We know what we're doing."

But how to make it really interesting? At Softteach, each vendor had a room, and you do the same presentation several times over the two days. We installed a really good sound system in our room, and we controlled the lighting.

When the dealers came in, we were playing the theme tune to "Red Dwarf", which was so popular at the time, everyone recognised it. Then, when everyone was sat down and the room filled, we started. "I'm going to tell you about the Smeg viruses, written by "The Black Baron" and when I said "The Black Baron", we did a flash of lighting and a crash of thunder, really loud. Which they weren't expecting, so it made them jump. And from then on, whenever I said "The Black Baron", we hit them with lightning and thunder again. And the presentation was quite technical (these are dealers, so they do understand about computers) and it didn't matter that it was over their heads, because A) we were flattering them by being so technical and B) we were saying "We know what we're doing."

We all wore t-shirts with the message "Smoke me a kipper" and  a picture of one of the Red Dwarf characters. I still have one of those t-shirts.

Word soon spread "Have you seen the S&S presentation? You've got to see it?" and we were packed out. We gave away hundreds of free Toolkit copies to these dealers and from that time on, whenever anyone asked for an antivirus from those dealers, they were sold one of our Toolkits. Which was, at the time, the best product around, so everyone gained.

And it was so much fun to do!

Except for Chris Pile, The Black Baron. He was apprehended, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 18 months.

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