If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again Dept.

The largest advertising and promotional campaign for an audio product in Sony Electronics' (and possibly anyone's) history debuted during NBC's Thursday-night prime-time television lineup last week. The campaign, titled "Make it with MD," featured various celebrities as they moved through a Hollywood party sporting a small MiniDisc personal stereo unit playing their own personalized music mixes. Sony also plans major cable, billboard, print ad, and promotional tie-ins.

Sony first rolled out the MiniDisc technology several years back as a recordable digital replacement for the cassette tape. At the same time, Philips launched its own ill-fated cassette replacement, DCC. Both formats were considered feeble and left for dead within a couple years of their release, but Sony believes that the US market is ready for another look at the MD.

According to John Briesch, president of Sony Electronics' Consumer Audio/Video Products Group, "MiniDisc will be one of the hottest consumer electronics products this year. We are creating a number of advertising and promotional vehicles that underscore how MiniDisc allows enthusiasts to digitally record their favorite songs and take their customized music mixes with them wherever they go."

Reports about MD's success in most countries are mixed, but several claim that the MD format has caught on in Japan and Europe. Reception of the format, which employs ATRAC data compression, has been cool in the US so far despite an initial Sony ad campaign that included bundling a free MD with every issue of Rolling Stone magazine back in 1994.

Critics have claimed that the MiniDisc format's heavy data-compression scheme limits its use as a high-quality digital recording and playback medium. They also cite its high cost relative to cassette recorders and players as a detriment to the target market, especially high school and college-aged buyers.

But Sony insists that the public wants a smaller, recordable digital medium. John Briesch states that "People for years have expressed themselves through music. MiniDisc gives people the ability to easily personalize their own music without the problems associated with analog cassettes."

Which brings up an interesting point. Sony is marketing the MD as a way for folks to record from existing CDs, since the market for prerecorded MDs is practically nonexistent. Yet we all know how much the music business hates digital recording. The RIAA has been very firm in controlling DAT, Recordable CD, and DVD-Audio.

But here's Sony, in one of the biggest audio ad pushes in history, telling us to go out and make a digital recording from a CD. One might think that this would confuse consumers who don't understand the subtleties of copyright law, but hear about the RIAA going after music "pirates" in the home. After all, the music business has made it pretty obvious that "Taping is Killing Music!"

So maybe MD sounds mediocre enough that nobody cares, or perhaps it sounds decent but nobody really thinks it will ever take off. Regardless, Sony is hoping you'll crave a MiniDisc soon. It's also interesting to note that Sony, one of the originators of the CD, has yet to join the ranks of manufacturers announcing inexpensive CD recorders for the consumer market. A mere coincidence?