30 Incredible Vintage Tech Commercials

8 minute read

AT&T’s “You Will” ads from the early ’90s were eerily prescient. Widescreen monitors? Check. Touchscreens? Check. Dash-mounted GPS? Check. Using a tablet to send a fax from the beach? Eh, close enough.

Selling point for the Motorola StarTAC? “It can vibrate instead of ring!” The tagline: “What you never thought possible.”

The late, great Phil Hartman sells the Philips CD-i in a series of truly bizarre ad spots. Here’s another one and one more after that if the following video somehow left you jonesing for additional weirdness. The CD-i, for what it’s worth, was an interesting flop (to put it lightly): there’s a nice writeup here.

Here’s an early commercial for the deluxe Nintendo Entertainment System set, which packed a robot — a robot! — called R.O.B., the zapper light gun, two controllers and a couple of games. Pay attention to the last five seconds of the commercial to see all the loot you’d get with that $200 kit.

Here’s Steve Ballmer in his early days, selling the bejesus out of Windows 1.0. He now owns the Clippers. Learn to sell like this and you could own a basketball team someday, kids. This “commercial” never aired on TV. It’s an internal Microsoft video, but it’s too good to leave off this list.

This old Atari commercial has it all. Kareem Abdul Jabbar is priceless! Just look at that little kid gloat while our old buddy Kareem sulks.

Here we have Bill Cosby shilling for Texas Instruments. I can’t help but wonder if this computer is the one, though. That wasn’t made clear. Wait — I just rewatched it. Yes, it’s the one. Sorry.

This mid-’80s Compaq ad starring John Cleese is actually pretty funny, though I’d be surprised if the general public understood the 386 joke or, even more obscure, the bus joke. If you’re feeling ambitious, read this Wikipedia entry and then rewatch the commercial. I snort-laughed a puff of air out of my nose at the bus joke; you may find yourself doing the same after reading about computer buses. You might not, though, so plan accordingly.

William Shatner of Star Wars fame sells the Commodore VIC-20. “He’s from Star Trek.” I don’t think so. *Coffee cup shatters against the wall mere inches above my head.* Star Trek it is. Fun fact: The VIC-20 sold like relative hotcakes back in the early ’80s, widely believed to be the first computer to clear the million-unit sales mark.

This stretches the whole “vintage” thing, but the below Ameritrade commercial contains three of the greatest quips in the history of tech commercials: “Let’s light this candle…”, “Easy as falling in love…” and “That’s synonymous with free…”

This AOL ad is from back when you could meet kayaking buddies online within a week and repeatedly have courteous, civil discussions with them.

I’m almost positive we had this giant VCR with the comically large, colorful buttons. Didn’t everyone? Note that the remote control had a cord on it. I remember my dad having to lie on the floor to record stuff so he could be close enough to the VCR to use the remote.

Ah, the old video disc. These were actually analog and functioned sort of like records. Watch at the 10-second mark in the below video. Wild, no? These RCA jobbers got steamrolled by VHS, Betamax and the LaserDisc formats of the early ’80s.

Somehow or another we actually ended up with a 3DO, the insanely expensive flop of a console. In many ways it was far superior to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis it mocks in the following commercial. Except for one: fun. Oh, and it loaded really slowly. Also, there weren’t very many games available for it. So three ways, at least.

You think people using their phones in restaurants are obnoxious? Get a load of this jerk from the early ’90s. Zero eye contact with the waiter. Here’s another doozy of an ad, too.

Even back in the mid-’80s, Apple was running us-against-them ad spots. Here’s the Apple IIc firing shots across the bow of an IBM PCjr.

This old-timey ad for the Sony Walkman is in Japanese, but you know what? Doesn’t matter. Primates enjoy music just like humans do.

The Simpsons sell Intel’s Pentium II processor which, by the way, looks absolutely enormous compared to modern-day processors. Had to finesse that L2 cache, though.

Hit me on my beeper, kids. This ad is so old that they have to spend a chunk of it explaining how a pager works. Man, Jason really jacked up his bike, too.

Ah, the svelte and ultraportable IBM 5100 weighed in at a mere 50 pounds. It was introduced in the mid-’70s; the below commercial was apparently from 1977.

I had an Etch A Sketch Animator and I followed the instructions to make the baseball animation in the below video. If memory serves, it took roughly a year and a half and I had to drop out of elementary school for a bit to get it done. But I finished it!

Try to figure out what this commercial is about before the 50-second mark. I won’t spoil it here. I do, however, work from home on occasion and can confirm that the big city is exactly as it’s portrayed. They left out some late-running trains but other than that, it’s spot on.

Oh my. Remember the U-Force? No? You didn’t miss much. It was — to put it diplomatically — not good. You waved your hands over it, which in turn broke infrared beams, which in turn translated into controller directions. Except the last part of that sequence didn’t work well. At all.

Comedian David Cross sells AOL back in the mid-’90s. He apparently hasn’t aged a bit. Well done, Mr. Cross.

Here we have Sega referring to the Nintendo 64 as “Pretendo” before shooting it skeet-style, saying it wasn’t worth waiting for. The general public would disagree, as the N64 proved to be pretty popular.

I bought this motion-based Sidewinder Freestyle Pro controller back in the late ’90s, and the Motocross Madness game that came with it was a hoot. Playing other games with it? Not a hoot. But you could turn off the motion-sensing hoopla and use the thing as a standard controller.

To be fair, the jump from 56k to broadband was pretty incredible. Going from 28.8k to 56k was nice, too, but broadband was life-changing for a lot of people.

Believe it or not, things like “interest groups” sold Internet service back in the ’90s. You’d join Prodigy to talk with other people who liked fly fishing and cross stitching.

Thanks to Radio Shack’s Color Computer 3 (born of the TRS-80 line), Eliot and Jeff can spend some time alone, together. Notice that Eliot does his homework first, while Jeff just goes straight for the games. And do check out this deep, deep dive into the TRS-80’s history if you’re interested in learning more.

Here’s IBM showing off voice recognition waaaaay back in the mid-’80s. We’re getting there — slowly but surely.

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