These days, tech firms spend millions of dollars on complex, multi-layered ad campaigns to market their latest wares. But just a few decades ago, such campaigns were as basic as the products they proffered.
We recently stumbled across an amusing 1981 TV commercial for Sony’s hugely successful Walkman cassette player. The fascinating find prompted us to dig into the video archives to track down other ads featuring a range of gadgets from yesteryear. Our research turned up some real gems, with many of the ads cheesier than a fully loaded pizza.
Sony Walkman (released 1979):
The Sony Walkman launched in 1979 and sold more than 385 million units before its demise in 2010. According to Sony, the world was a dull place before its personal music player landed on the scene. Its 1981 commercial kicks off with a somber-looking guy walking along the street in a black-and-white world.
But his life takes a turn for the better when he spots some folks having a great time — in color — across the street. He rushes over, joins in the fun, and soon realizes that the Sony Walkman is the answer to all his woes, as it helps you “see the world in a whole new light.”
Cheese Rating: 8/10
Radio Shack cell phone (released 1989):
This one’s a real shocker, and we’re not just talking about the fashions. Radio Shack’s 1989 commercial for its “transportable” phone features a device which, rather than put in your pocket, you hung over your shoulder. Because it’s massive. “Go where you wanna go,” the ad implores, though it declines to mention that you may tear a ligament in your upper body if you fail to undertake a rigorous warm-up routine before setting off.
The ad has some real fun trying to convince us about how easy it is to use the phone — check out the smiley businessman lugging it along a street as he chats to a client, and the guy in a speedboat who looks really cool with his transportable box phone thing. And the entire setup cost just $799.
Cheese Rating: 9/10
IBM Selectric typewriter (released 1961):
IBM’s Selectric typewriter commercial from the early 1960s is a truly earnest effort, the script bereft of humor, gimmicks, and silly ditties. The Selectric was a special piece of kit when it launched, as it let you “snap on and snap off” the printing ball for others containing different fonts.
The narrator helpfully points out that the ball can print as fast as your fingers hit the keys, which is kind of what you want when it comes to typing. The tagline? “A typewriter so different, only the alphabet stays the same.” Brilliant.
Cheese Rating: 4/10
Hitachi TV (released 1983):
Hitachi sells “quality” and “elegance” in this 1983 commercial featuring one of its television sets. Back then, the idea of a TV as thin as a paperback was the stuff of fantasy, so manufacturers tried to dazzle consumers with features like “cabinetry of fine wood products,” as the woman in this ad proclaims with much glee.
Sold in an era when “high definition” sounded like another picture control alongside “contrast” and “brightness,” the commercial insists the quality of Hitachi’s picture is really, really good. The commercial even tells us the sexy stuff, outlining details of its “limited warranty” that features 10 years on transistors, 2 years parts, and 1 year labor. What’s not to like?
Cheese Rating: 7/10
IBM Convertible PC (released 1986):
By 1986, IBM had apparently fired the guy it used in the Selectric ad and instead gone down the “funny” route, calling upon the services of a Charlie Chaplin lookalike to help market the IBM Convertible PC. In its day, this was a revolutionary device that was part PC, part laptop, and — tipping the scales at 12.8 pounds (5.8 kg) — part weight-training kit.
The ad shows “Chaplin” rushing from the office to his car with his Convertible PC, before driving to a business meeting where he impresses clients with his ultra-modern computer. The machine came with a monochrome display and 256KB of RAM, expandable to a whopping 640KB, and was billed as “one computer for people who really need two.” No, it didn’t sell very well.
Cheese Rating: 6/10
Atari 2600 (released 1977):
While Atari produced many ads for the Atari 2600, this particular one from 1979 features a father totally ignored by his children as they spend their whole time playing on the once-popular games console. Such a scene may well be familiar to many modern-day parents, except that these days the games are a little more advanced, and the clothes and hairstyles a little more sensible.
Atari’s ad begins with two kids playing Sky Diver, a game with all the complexity of a slip-on shoe. Dad looks on with an expression of sadness, before saying to camera: “Maybe one of these days they’ll let me play.” To prevent the 30-second ad from descending into a murky pit of misery and despair, the father turns his attention to some of the console’s amazing games, among them “basketball, football, chess, and bowling.” But just when things are looking up, his emotions take another dive when his daughter hands him her doll and offers to play.
Cheese Rating: 7/10
Nintendo Game Boy camera (released 1998):
Twenty years ago, Nintendo released the Game Boy camera, an add-on for the handheld Game Boy console. In some ways, it was a forerunner to Snapchat lenses as it let you add silly extras to your photos. Nintendo’s marketing team promised the device would turn “pho-tography” into “fun-tography,” though the camera’s 128×128 pixel sensor and black-and-white images meant that “crap-tography” may have been a more fitting description.
But credit where credit’s due, Nintendo’s high-energy commercial tries its best to generate some excitement, pointing out that you can print off your carefully composed images and stick them “wherever you want.” According to the ad, someone’s face or T-shirt are ideal places.
Cheese Rating: 8/10