Selling a computer in 1982 had to be pretty tough. For one thing, they were super expensive. For another thing, you had (at least) two different types of customers. On one side, there’s a really informed audience that wanted to know what specs your company brought to the table that made you better than the other guys. On the other side, you had an increasingly interested consumer base that knew nothing about the technology and needed to know why they needed a computer in the first place.
This set of Commodore Vic-20 ads does a good job illustrating the differences in marketing to each group. In this first ad you’ve got 1980s Geek-Jesus William Shatner running through detailed spec comparisons and software offerings in a very busy layout.
And for the know-nothings, a clean and elegant ad that throws just enough jargon out there to get a few polite head nods and a consideration at getting this instead of an Apple.
Nintendo Fun Club – April 1988 – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
I played the new Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, for about an hour this morning. I didn’t have a ton of time to play, so I didn’t want to get into anything too big. Instead I just collected some food and cooked it, went to a few camps to farm arrows from some scrub mobs, scouted and unlocked a lookout tower while dodging laser beams from ancient robots, and stumbled across a giant one-eyed monster called Hinox and figured out how to defeat him. Then I looked back at the past hour and marvelled at how far the series (and really, gaming in general) has come since 1986 and 1988’s Zelda and Zelda II games. Then I remembered the Nintendo Fun Club issue that came out in April of 1988 covering Zelda II, and I found it again on Archive.org.
Amazing ’80s font work aside, the cover art pales a bit in comparison to the cover for the original Zelda, but by itself that’s forgivable. The original cover is pretty amazing. What’s less forgivable is that this design sort of leans into the character design of the CD-i Zelda games, which are legendary for their awfulness. It’s gotta be a coincidence, though – this cover is cartoony but still not that bad.
It’s no ‘cooking food’, but the addition of the winged boots, thunder spell, fairy transformation and, you know, towns, were pretty significant upgrades.
Apart from Zelda, there’s some other really fun stuff here. The pros offer some Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! tips – it’s the least they could do, since the game itself advertises the Fun Club pretty blatantly:
Some user-submitted reviews and Metroid artwork are pretty adorable:
And, of course, some epic-looking game ads. Nintendo’s own ads are always a significant cut above the rest:
It’s times like this that I’m thankful for sites like archive.org, that can collect and keep these pieces of history. Stuff like this could have easily been lost, otherwise, and it’s such an important part of pop culture history. Consider throwing them a few dollars if you haven’t already. It’s good work!
How to Send an E-Mail (1984)
I had to continually convince myself that this 1984 “Database” feature on modems, bulletin boards, and email was not a parody or a segment of Look Around You. The enthusiasm these folks display about this technology is really pure, encouraging, and charming.
That’s definitely not Jermaine Clement travelled back to the past to be on a BBC Program, right? Definitely not. Right?
Day In The Life of a 1950s Small Town
Richard’s town’s got a lot going on! Movies AND bowling? This is actually a really good slice of life of the ’50s.
1989 Canon Superman Commercial
Not sure how much more on the nose you can be with your subject matter without actually being on the nose.
1978 Taco Bell Commercial
The Enchirito cameo makes this 1978 Taco Bell commercial an easy share. Miss that guy. The man about to eat them looks a bit ogre-ish for such a refined dish.
I’ve never been as simultaneously captivated and out of my league as I was when I played Robot Odyssey as a child in the 1980s.
Robot Odyssey, created in 1984 by educational game company The Learning Company, had a unique sort of difficulty to it. Other games by The Learning Company of the same era, like Gertrude’s Puzzles or Rocky’s Boots, were filled with logic puzzles that were difficult but generously so; Robot Odyssey basically asked you to learn engineering in order to succeed.
The premise of the game is that you’re in a dream and you’ve been transported to Robotropolis. In the sewers of the city you find three robots, and those robots must be programmed to solve puzzles so that you can escape Robotropolis. You start out with pretty basic programming, but the levels get more and more difficult and require more and more advanced programs to solve. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty quickly outclassed by this game, but that didn’t stop me from playing. I was a kid, I loved robots and video games, it was the ’80s, and they let me use the computer at school.
Everything about this game, from the Adventure-like design to the maddening complexity to the really beautiful artwork/character model/item design, tells me that this was a labor of love. The intense difficulty would usually be a fault of the game design, but in this case it’s our fault for not being as smart as we should be. This game expected better of us, and we failed to deliver.
Here’s a playthrough:
Pizza Hut got fancy in 1985 with their take on the Italian pie, the Priazzo. Didn’t work out so well for them, but here’s their campaign in which they tried to position themselves as an Italian restaurant.
This 19th century kidney/liver tonic ad is amazing. I pity that skeleton!
This mellow 1970s commercial for the Romper Room Inchworm toy goes to show you just how sedated people were back then.
Have It Your Way
Slightly more upbeat here, with the novel idea that you could get a hamburger exactly the way you want it at Burger King. The “Have It Your Way” campaign came to define Burger King in the 1970s and 1980s, and was actually a pretty effective way for them to identify as a cut above the other burger franchises of the time. Still, though, they’re a little too excited about giving you a burger your way.
Despite being shot on location in beautiful 1975 Hawaii, this very short lived game show didn’t accomplish much beyond giving host Bob Eubanks a chance to get a tan.
The Diamond Head Game featured four mini-rounds consisting of basic trivia with contestants pulled from what can only be referred to in this post-Arsenio era as a Dog Pound. These contestants are also the entire audience, presumably given the restrictions of the location, and they’re really happy to be there.
Once all four first rounds are done, the climb up the mountain begins. The four winners of the first round are pitted against each other to remember a list of nouns and recall them one after another. This is as mind-numbing to watch as it sounds.
Once a winner emerges from the mountain climb the final round begins: the money volcano. Or, a wind chamber with flying tickets.
The contestant is given one last chance to trade their haul for a secret prize and, if they decline, are given each ticket they collected one at a time. The tickets have dollar values or prizes on them, but if a contestant pulls a one dollar bill they lose it all. They’re given the chance to bow out and keep their winnings after each ticket is revealed.
Here’s the show – it’s actually really worth watching for the novelty of a mid-70’s game show shot outdoors in a beautiful location but not for much past that. For every element in the game there’s a show that did it better.
Also, the theme song was another Alan Thicke joint, too. That guy is made of theme songs.
RCA Remote Control
This 1960s introduction film for the remote control is pretty charming. While it’s definitely impressive and I can appreciate the waves this thing made at the time, I imagine somebody in the future will look at a how-to video for a Harmony remote or Homekit integration with the same smug appreciation.
In which a mime performs a terrifying death before two children to illustrate the dangers of retrieving kites from power lines. Canadian film and television was painted with a really special brush back in the ’80s.
How about that appearance?
Color Computer 3
Love this commercial for the Tandy Color Computer 3.
Stephen King’s pretty well-regarded nowadays, but in the 1980s and 1990s he had a polarizing level of fame. While he had a dedicated fanbase, he tended to be regarded in the mainstream as a shlocky horror writer who put out a new book every week and opinion of him was formed on whether you liked that sort of thing or not. He was a bestseller, sure, a rockstar of a writer, but it seemed like there was a level of respect for his writing that he never got.
Besides the fact that his crazy creative output in that era meant you always had something new to read, the volume also provided an easy business opportunity in the space that Time Life and Columbia House had forged – subscriptions. Enter the Stephen King Library.
For $7.95 (the first time, $14.95 each shipment thereafter) you got a new King book, hardback. It’s crazy to me that there could be a book subscription service for one author, but there you go. I love the commercials for the service; this one seems to imply that publishers are approaching people on the street to try to sell Stephen King books:
While I love the cheesy comments and the hokey “scary music”, the comments reinforce that shlocky image that King’s writing had back then. It’s not wrong, really, just… incomplete. The narrator also clearly hands the first guy a copy of Needful Things but calls it Dolores Claiborne.
Here’s some commercials for specific books – The Stand, which would be a steal even then at $7.95:
I love that the extra content is pitched as something that we “weren’t allowed to see before”. Here’s one for Gerald’s Game:
These visuals aren’t really backing up the content of the books themselves; did anything really come up out of the ground in The Stand? That’s more of a Pet Semetary thing…
The Stephen King Library is still alive and kicking, too! That’s even crazier to me than the fact of its existence. I’m just glad that time has borne out King’s reputation as a great writer and we can all now move on to arguing about whether those fat cats in Hollywood are doing his work justice. How many days until The Dark Tower releases?
Coming Soon: Portable Computers!
Here’s a cringeworthy trip through all of the newest tech for those geeks with tons of disposable income in 1994. It’s neat to see how big our ideas were and how limited our ability to execute those ideas was. The delay on that videophone cannot be unseen.
That’s, what, $9,000 worth of tech in that video? $10,000? And a printer you can use in the car? Worthless.
K-Tel Records: Looney Tunes
From the people who brought you the Sesame Street soundtrack, here’s Looney Tunes. Not the Looney Tunes you’re thinking of. It’s weird.
Even weirder? How about I’m Telling!, which is basically The Newlywed Game but with child siblings instead. This one didn’t last long – it ran from September 1987 to March 1988.
Uncle Sam Says Garden
Beautiful poster encouraging Americans to grow their own food in order to cut down on waste.
The internet was introduced to my house in 1990 through Prodigy, an early online service that touted all of the features of online living we take for granted today in a crude, difficult-to-use format that was still the best experience of the era.
Prodigy came to us bundled with a 2600k modem and a pre-set user ID that was a nonsensical combination of letters and numbers that could not be changed. You had to memorize this user ID or keep it written down next to the computer or you were hosed. Once you logged in you could do some rudimentary shopping, play some basic games, pay more money to play some good games (looking at you, MadMaze), or read the news. Each of these experiences involved a roughly 3-5 minute load time between each screen. Then there were the message boards, which were the real meat of the experience for 11-year-old me. I became the secretary of the Sierra Hint Club, an organization of nerds who provided hints for the Sierra adventure computer games for anyone who wanted them. Yeah. Pretty great way to be eleven.
Anyway, I loved Prodigy and it obviously has a special place in my heart. I soon learned that the modem could be used for other things like BBS’g and got into all that later, but Prodigy remained the family internet portal until AOL sucked everything up later in the ’90s. I came across these early 1990 ads for Prodigy and really love the way they sum up the promise of the internet. Nobody would really deliver on this promise in a game-changing way for quite some time, but they did the best they could and going from zero to this was really something.
In the mid-90s when competition was a bit stiffer, they had to up their “cool” game a bit. Barry White helped. Still centered around the message boards and communities, though.
Did I mention you had to pay for X number of hours per month? Could you imagine having to measure out your internet like that now?
This ’90s Fox Kids PSA about the effects of eating too much sugar is very ’90s and very horrifying. The kid goes to Sugar Hell!
1975 Sesame Street Greatest Hits
Selling soundtracks on TV in 1975 was a pretty crude effort, apparently. Here’s a Sesame Street ad that features some terribly off-model plushes and some really awesome animations from the show mixed all together into a really weird combination.
Q*Bert Board Game
There is everything to love about this commercial for the Q*Bert board game.
The font on the “Dungeon!” part kills me. I love it.
1. The Martinettis Bring A Computer Home – It’s strange to see Apple playing this sort of game, but the ’90s were a different era for the company. This 1995 infomercial presents the Martinetti family and their experience with their first family computer, the Macintosh Performa.
This half-hour “program” plays like a sitcom without jokes, like a Seventh Heaven episode. The family gets to talking about the merits of a computer at the dinner table one night, and the next day head to the computer store to talk to Fletcher. Fletcher’s a computer salesman whom the family apparently already knows.
Fletcher goes into what is revealed to be a scripted song and dance about the clunky, expensive, peripheral-laden nature of Windows machines…
…just to make the point that the Macintosh Performa is the right choice for anybody with a brain.
The family is appropriately wowed by the Performa, and the program takes the opportunity to throw a few more jabs at Windows’ clunkiness. The family’s ready to buy, but Pops has some hangups. The rest of the family basically demonizes this poor guy throughout the rest of the show because of his unwillingness to plunk down over a grand for something they just started talking about yesterday. Grandpa gets involved, and starts to argue with Pops AT THE STORE.
Grandpa then buys the computer himself, with the agreement that if the family can prove that it’s a benefit to their lives in one month that Pops will pay him back. It’s not really made clear what will happen if they can’t prove it, though – will Grandpa soak up the cost or will they return the computer? The stakes are not clearly laid out.
The family flourishes, though. Mom’s birthday card company that she runs from home (seriously) does great:
Zoe the five-year-old’s reading skills are coming along nicely. She even apparently goes to the computer store and purchases more software, by herself.
And Grandpa gets into the internet, trolling opera forums and even makes himself an internet girlfriend. This really happens. A month passes, and (spoilers) Pops is finally on board. The family does an awkward dance in the living room to celebrate and the doorbell rings. Grandpa’s girlfriend walks in and is introduced to the rest of the family. This is the happy ending!
The narrator (the middle kid) summarizes that the family didn’t just choose the Performa, the Performa chose them. He creates a family picture that has the Performa included. As well as Rose! As well as Rose!
In a contest between this infomercial and the Windows ’95 infomercial with Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston, this one loses by a hair; that one is just too bizarre. It’s a thin hair, though, and if you enjoy this flavor of cheese you’re in for a treat. Enjoy.
2. Gilligan’s Island vs. Batman – In which the cast of Gilligan’s Island competes with the cast of the prime time Batman series on Family Feud well after both shows have completed their runs.
3. Allstate Scooter – A gorgeous page from a 1950s Sears catalog advertising their scooter. This thing is beautiful.
1. Children of the Dog Star – Tommyknockers for kids? Sign me up.
OK, not really Tommyknockers, but darn close. Children of the Dog Star was a 1984 children’s series set in New Zealand, about a group of kids who discover a bunch of alien relics.
Across the first few episodes they uncover more relics and figure out how to assemble them. Conveniently, a brass weathervane at Gretchen’s uncle’s farm turns out to be the catalyst for the machine, and they activate an old probe that is linked to Sirius, the Dog Star.
The probe turns out to be a teaching probe named Kolob, sent ages ago to teach science to humans. It also knows the kids’ names by scanning them. It then seems to go haywire and ‘pauses’ the entire town so that nobody but the three kids can move.
The kids are somehow able to establish a communication link with the aliens who sent Kolob in the first place, and are chastised for having re-assembled Kolob. There’s a nice moment of First Contact, and then both species team up to destroy Kolob and hide the weathervane to prevent any future assembly.
If we’re being honest, this probably could have been a three episode series. It holds up a lot better than a lot of stuff from the ’80s, though. The alien design is pretty inspired and you can tell they were really trying to do as much with the effects as they could on their budget.
1. Protect and Survive – Coming right out of the gates with a downer!
Protect and Survive was a 1970s series of Public Service Announcements in the UK aimed at educating people of the things they needed to take care of in the event of a nuclear attack. Unlike a lot of nuclear propaganda from the time there’s not really a lot of paranoia here, just a stiff upper lip and a level-headed rundown of what would need to be done. The even tone of the PSAs makes the whole thing even more chilling, particularly when they’re explaining how to bury and tag a body in terms even a child would understand.
The thing is, horrific what-if aside, there’s a lot to love about this series. The graphics and animations are great and the soundtrack is a chilling synth dream.
The opening graphic of each PSA.
A visualization of what the attack siren will sound like.
A visualization of the Fallout Warning.
The top two floors are bad for fallout!
An unnecessary but beautiful graphic of the radio making…sounds.
Watching this compilation of PSAs really affected me in a way a lot of these nuclear attack preparation videos haven’t. I think it’s that the practical approach to survival and daily life highlights the reality of just how horrific this situation would be for a family. This was a genuine concern back then, and finding something that doesn’t over-dramatize this already dramatic situation makes it more…real.
1. That Refreshing Look – The appropriately-1950s-named Vendo corporation produced this promotional film touting the benefits of Coca-Cola’s new vending machines. The part that’s actually about the machines themselves is a little dry, but the crisp color imagery of 1950s American life at the beginning and the ‘roleplay’ selling scenarios at the end are fantastic.