A thought occurred to me the other day while munching on the contents of a bag of corn chips—an activity I engage in regularly while reading. Somehow, the bag tipped over and wound up lying face down with the nutritional information (like I really need to know) facing toward the ceiling. As I reached to set the bag back upright, I noticed that there appeared to be something scribbled about one-third of the way down the back of the bag: a signature. I tilted my head to see whose John Hancock graced my bag of corn chips, and I realized it was a certain young, highly photogenic heart-throb NASCAR driver whose last name rhymes with “warden.” At that point, I went back to my reading, chortling that some marketing flunky somewhere actually thought my decision to consume this particular brand of corn chips would be affected by the appearance of a reproduced autograph on the back of the bag.

That’s when that aforementioned thought marched unbidden into my head. In a world where the Olympic Games has marketing tie-ins with a candy bar and a fast-food restaurant, how far away can we be from this sort of thing in the development industry? You can say such a thought is preposterous if you like, but I’m not so sure, after giving the matter much consideration over a bowl of “the official corn chips of NASCAR.”

Developers aren’t an easy mark, right?
Certainly, we developers are way too sophisticated as consumers to have our opinions swayed by compensated spokespersons or celebrity endorsements. However, even if that’s true (at times I wonder), you don’t necessarily have to be the one who’s swayed. The smart marketer will be after your boss, the one with the purchasing power. Can you comfortably make the same assertion about your boss, or your boss’ boss?

I didn’t think so.

When you get right down to it, though, the question really isn’t whether developers are sophisticated enough to be unaffected by an endorsement, it’s whether the marketing people think we’ll be affected. And you have to admit that marketers routinely try some exceedingly odd ideas. After all, you’re reading this article on a Web site that’s owned by a company that’s partially financed by selling space for little flashing clickable graphics meant to influence buying habits. That, if you stop to think about it, qualifies as a pretty bizarre notion in its own right.

No vendor has that much marketing cash anymore, right?
What vendor actually has the marketing bucks available to do something like this? Granted, I can’t see Sun spending money to bring Mr. American Auto-racing himself down to personally autograph a few Java CDs. Certainly not now that the technology marketplace lies mired in the depression to end all depressions. But the idea is not as farfetched as it may sound. If we’re only a handful of loss-ridden quarters removed from strokes of marketing genius like 3Com Field in San Francisco, Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland, and slightly goofy CNET Networks Super Bowl commercials, we can’t be too many profitable quarters away from more of the same.

Besides, there’s always Microsoft, which is still going strong. This is a company that pioneered the use of effective marketing for technology products and, I believe, has the distinction of being the first ever to run prime-time television commercials promoting a development tool. Add in the fact that the company as a whole has never been afraid of very big-time marketing gimmickry (remember the XBox launch party?), and I’m thinking I’ve found my prime candidate.

You can call me crazy if you want, but when I think that one of the founders of Microsoft happens to own a professional American football franchise, then I can see the future marketing tie-ins quite clearly. When you one day find yourself building software with “The official development environment of the National Football League,” just remember these words: I told you so.