Holiday gift ad for Dragon NaturallySpeaking proves tone-deaf

Radio commercial for speech-to-text software sends a slew of wrong messages

Dragon box
Listen up, kids: Don't bother learning how to type; play more video games instead!

That's the cheery message from the makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking being delivered to radio listeners in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco this holiday season. And a full-throated "bah, humbug" it deserves. (Here's the audio.)

The commercial fails on a number of fronts: inflated claims, gender stereotyping, a misreading of its target audience, and annoying me being but four.

(2011's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

Here's how the ad plays out: Mom and Clueless Dad are in a car talking about holiday presents for the "six students" -- two kids and four cousins -- "on our family gift list." Clueless Dad asks Mom what she has in mind.

Mom: "Since they all tell us how much homework they have, we can get them all Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech-recognition software. They can use Dragon for book reports, essays, doing research on the Web; they won't ever have to type again."

Never type again? That's when I swore at the radio. I understand that speech-recognition software has improved over the years, but don't tell me -- or my kids -- that there will be no need for typing and typing skills any time soon. Not buying. And their aunts and uncles had better not be buying either.

Clueless Dad: "Wait? They talk and their computer types for them?"

That's right, Clueless Dad, they talk and their computer types. Clueless Dad -- old reliable for advertising writers everywhere -- will be around even longer than the need for typing skills.

Mom: "Yeah, do you think they'll like Dragon?"

We just finished establishing that Clueless Dad has never even heard of this technological marvel called speech-to-text software, yet Mom heartlessly presses him for validation of her plan, which -- let's be honest -- will go over like a new pair of socks with most young people? Not fair, Mom, let Clueless Dad concentrate on the road.

Clueless Dad, winging it anyway: "A gift that will get schoolwork done faster and get them back to video games sooner? (chuckle) They'll love it. They'll love you."

In other words, win your child's heart by giving the gift of more Wii time.

Not only is that lousy parenting advice, it's a silly sales pitch. This software is being marketed and sold to parents, not children (hear any kids clamoring?). And in how many households is carving out more time for video games a goal ... of the grownups?

By the way, Dragon Naturally Speaking costs at least $100 per copy, which means Mom and Clueless Dad are talking about a $600-plus investment here. And who can afford to spend that kind of scratch on nieces and nephews these days?

So Happy Holidays Mom, Clueless Dad and the marketers responsible for bringing both of you to my radio. Enjoy your lumps of coal.

(Update: Don't miss the company's response below.)

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