Is it live or…

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Ad slogans that work are the ones most memorable, the ones we talk about like those from Geico or the older ones from cassette tape manufacturer Memorex.

I haven’t thought of the slogan “Is it live or Memorex” for some time but, aside from the memories of a bygone era it brings back, I remain enamored with the goal of the ad: To get people believing reproduced sound was so good there’s no difference between live or recorded.

Of course, that’s just an ad and in hindsight, we can snicker at how preposterous the premise is. I am not sure when the last time you heard a cassette tape deck through vintage 1970s equipment but live it ain’t!

What’s more interesting to me is not what the Madison Avenue advertising execs were trying to get us to believe but how they did it—not with the classic listener at a concert but by shattering glass.

In 1971 Memorex ad people hired singer Ella Fitzgerald to hit exactly the right note to shatter a glass. In the commercials, she would sing that note that shattered a glass while being recorded to a Memorex audio cassette. The tape was played back and the recording also broke the glass, asking “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

While I am pretty certain a sustained frequency of enough amplitude would shatter any glass, even if it wasn’t sung by Ella, the idea was nothing short of brilliant.

I wonder how many folks got the idea that recorded sound could rival live music from those commercials (and Maxell Tape’s version with the guy’s hair blown back in the chair) and how many of them turned into audiophiles.

After all, we’re interested in the very same things the folks at Memorex wanted us to believe.

Only, I think we’ve come a long way baby!