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.
As much as layout and design trends change, beauty care ads are usually consistently crisp across eras. Case in point: these amazing magazine ads for hair care products, from the 1960s to the 1980s.
This gentle 1969 ad for what is no doubt a painfully savage hair dye goes a little out there with the font choice, but stays minimal and lets the eruption of blonde hair do most of the talking.
The Lady Norelco home hair dryer takes a space-age approach at selling an experience that could probably never happen, unless that phone is hooked up to an amplifier and/or the hair dryer is turned off. It’s an interesting choice to underline the headline, and the black space in the back really gives it a classy future-feel.
That font, that font, that font. Also that’s a huge “on the go” hair care package.
This one is the busiest of this batch, but the reflective pool against the white space on the top half of the ad gives the whole thing a very clean feel. I think this one is my favorite.
Wait, this one may be my favorite. The copy makes a neat point about using this thing to dry your fingernails, but I can’t imagine anyone made it that far.
“Meet Us In September” was the slogan for the ABC Network’s Fall 1969 lineup. These sizzle reels capture all of the programming news of the 1969 season. There’s so much to love about this campaign! The font choice and graphic work is fantastic, both in the overall face of the campaign and the show-specific stuff:
Not sure what to make of this Johnny Cash segment.
Here’s a compilation. The Bewitched promo is interesting, too – really assumes you already know what the whole show is about. Which, I guess, in a three-network world in 1969, is a pretty safe assumption.
Dynamix 1989 Video Catalog
This reel of upcoming games from the small-ish (bigger now that they were acquired by Sierra) game company Dynamix is earnest and sweet. A-10 Tank Killer was on a heavy rotation in my house. David Wolf: Secret Agent looks like something right out of Decker.
Pennywise – Microwave Cooking (1985)
There are few things more comfortingly charming than seeing these two British women in 1985 discussing the merits of the microwave. Using “units consumed” as an indicator of value, no less! Is this an alternate reality?
I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure what I’m watching here – particularly in the first half without subtitles. When you imagine the Soviet side of the Space Race presented to children, though, I doubt you imagine something this beautiful, colorful, and hopeful. The second half presents an inspiring vision of our future in space. Imagine where we’d be if we’d worked together on this back then.
The Cure’s First TV Appearance
Robert! Put on your long hair!
Is there any time that a live performance of “A Forest” isn’t a contender for the best part of your day?
What if you had a silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you had an idea for a second, unrelated-yet-just-as-silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you just re-used props and sets from the first silly TV show for the second silly TV show and crossed your fingers that nobody would notice? That’s pretty much Sherwood Schwartz’s approach to It’s About Time, the second silly TV show to Gilligan’s Island‘s first silly TV show.
He actually probably didn’t cross his fingers that nobody would notice. He probably just didn’t care.
It’s About Time follows the adventures of two astronauts, Mac McKenzie and Hector Canfield, who get sent back in time to caveman days and end up living with caveman family Gronk and Shad, . Gronk is played by Joe E. Ross. essentially a caveman version of his Gunther Toody character from Car 54 Where Are You? Shad is played by the lovely Imogene Coca.
The cavemen speak in broken-but-very-very-passable modern English. The rest of the tribe are suspicious of the astronauts, but are eloquently suspicious. The plot lines revolve around either the astronauts bringing modern civilization to the cavemen, or trying to adjust to/reconcile their worldview with the cavemen’s.
Now here’s the interesting part – the show was retooled 2/3 of the way through the season to address the sagging ratings. They basically flip the premise, where the astronauts find a way to return to the present and bring the cavemen with them. The episodes then revolve around the cavemen’s acclimation to 20th Century life. That’s a courtesy the Gilligan gang didn’t get until their TV movie finale!
It didn’t help. It’s About Time was cancelled after the first season. While it’s definitely not up to par with Schwartz’s stronger efforts like Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch, there’s still something special here. There’s just a lot of other stuff weighing it down. Here’s a few episodes.
1980 Coleco Catalog
There is so much to love about this 1980 Coleco Games and Toys catalog. So much to love! This Holly Hobbie oven looks like something out of a haunted house. And how about that plaid stroller?
1987 Train Ride to Coney Island
This is a pretty great snapshot of New York City in the late 1980s. Those kids need to jump into a pool of Purell after laying around on the seats of that train, though .
Goonies Famicom Commercials
The Goonies, as a movie, couldn’t be more American in how the kids act, what motivates them, and the nature of their reward. The beautiful insanity of the Goonies videogames, however, we’re just not capable of that. Kudos to Konami for taking a solid foundation and launching it into the stars. These ads for both Goonies games really hammer that insanity home. I’ll also take this opportunity to repeat the fact that Goonies II is one of the greatest video games of all time.
U2’s First TV Appearance
This 1980 TV appearance is a completely different band.
This 1960s training film on the merits of good checkout procedure places an awful lot of responsibility for the store’s performance on what happens in the checkout lane. Indeed, they are “The Front Line” in the grocery war. Seriously, they just casually call it a war.
I’m not going to spend time romanticizing the actual advice given in this film; it boils down to ‘make the right amount of change’, ‘don’t get tricked by crooks’, and ‘sell stuff at the right price.” The way they give the advice, though, is great: the hair and fashion are top-notch for the era, and the large green “test room” has an awesome visual aesthetic.
The real star of the film, though, is the reality of the 1960s grocery store and the golden crossroad of an almost clinically clean store design filled with beautifully packaged processed foods.
It’s worth “checking out”. Get it? Sorry. Here it is.
Cadbury’s Smash Commercial
Speaking of war, this 1970s spot for Cadbury’s mashed potatoes is nothing less than a declaration of it from those smug Martians.
Cosmography & Astrology
This beautifully confounding print from 1686 demonstrates the various applications of Cosmography and Astrology.
King Vitaman Commercial
I don’t know who these people thought they were fooling. This is a cereal made of styrofoam that nobody would enjoy.
It’s 1982. Pac Man’s a pretty big deal. So big that they didn’t just make a Pac-Man cartoon, NBC centered its 1982 Saturday Morning Preview Special around it.
Pac-Man is the carrot that Dick Clark dangles for forty five minutes through this awful special, held on the set of American Bandstand. Like the free movie tickets that come at the end of a Timeshare presentation, you have to through clip after clip of unoriginal, derivative cartoons based on existing properties. When you’re not doing that, you’re watching Dick Clark have a hamfisted time around some children. Seriously – he doesn’t know what to do with these kids. Not 90 seconds into the special, Clark is admonishing a child for talking when he’s talking. On mic. To the camera.
The special tries to be interesting – ventriloquist Willie Taylor does a solid three minute set.
Scooby and Scrappy-Doo costumed characters show up for a clunky appearance.
Henry Winkler and Frank Welker do a table read of a scene from the Laverne and Shirley cartoon. Kids love seeing voice actors!
After a ten-minute long “clip” of The Lil’ Rascals cartoon we finally get about a forty-five minute preview of Pac-Man! Then we’re sent out of the special with a rockin’ dance party.
Seriously, there’s so little effort here. Give me a sloppy narrative or a musical act or some actual star power! At the very least, I guess it’s heartening to see a studio full of disappointed kids make the best of things. Here’s the special.
Ward’s 1971 Microwave Oven
Love that dinosaur puppet! The flaming arrow into the conestoga, not so much…
FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Watch a cowboy with dementia peddle a cereal based on stale waffles to a couple of overacting kids!
The Long Walk Artwork
“The Long Walk” is one of my favorite short stories by Stephen King. This promotional artwork really catches the story, from the illustration to the red background to the font choice. Beautiful.
Guys, I don’t think this conversation actually happened, but I love the layout of this ad.
It’s always weird when Nintendo tries to be cool. Cool just isn’t their thing. This 1995 infomercial for the Super Nintendo is a perfect example of my point; it sets out to showcase the system’s lineup in an edgy, gritty way and it comes off looking like when the chaperones try to dance with the students..
Bush video, or Korn video?
A man in a video screen sends his dark agents to gather intel on the latest Nintendo games. There’s an air of malice to the effort, but each outing quickly turns comical; there’s little edginess to be found in Yoshi’s Island, and even less in Donkey Kong Country. The agents seem committed to torture in order to get the info they need, but the ‘torture’ ends up to be mild aggression and, in one case, just plain money.
There would have been good value in watching this as a kid in the mid-90s. There weren’t many chances to get a look at footage of games that weren’t out yet, and Killer Instinct is a pretty extreme title for Nintendo. Even though Super Mario RPG wouldn’t come out until the N64, it’s pretty exciting to see it here.
And speaking of N64, the video ends with the ultimate intel: a first glimpse at the new console from a Japanese convention. There’s not a lot to it, but what’s there is cool.
So yeah, a mixed bag. The tone isn’t really congruent with the Nintendo we knew then or know now, but it was the ’90s and everyone was trying this sort of thing on. Here’s the video:
1940s Catholic Truth Society Covers
Vintage Irish Book Cover enthusiast Hitone’s got some book covers from the Catholic Truth Society that are nothing short of breathtaking. Here are a few of my favorites – hit their site for the rest.
This “Giant Moon Robut” is flat-out terrifying. Just $9.99 in 1960s money!
I’d like to live in this 1910 poster for a French Race sponsor.
Finally, this 1970 commercial for an adhesive glue that almost certainly gave anyone who touched it some sort of disease.
This 18-minute promotional video for the TurboGrafx 16 game system pulls a page or two from the Saved By The Bell book of video effects.
Most videos like this have a terrible-yet-fun narrative angle threading the game showcases together, but outside of an awkward little kid occasionally playing unseen games we get a rapid-fire tour through just about the entire TurboGrafx library. From Bonk to Darkwing Duck to Super Adventure Island to…Riot City…well, there’s a lot to see here.
The tour through the extensive game library is broken up by accessory after accessory. The portable Turbo Express, the CD Player, and the 5-controller connectable Turbo Tap all make an appearance, promising to turn your slick TurboGrafx system into an expanded clunky mess.
The infomercial concludes with a hard sell on the Turbo , the PS4 Pro of its day boasting increased speed, better graphics, and a higher price point. And a subscription to their Nintendo Power, called Turbo Force.
For what amounts to a relatively unremarkable informercial, it’s actually pretty great – the graphic treatment is insultingly ’90s, the voice-over treatment given to each game is genre-appropriate to the point of being offensive, and the ability to look at the excitement around the gaming technology in 20-year-retrospect gives one a pretty satisfying smug feeling. Definitely worth a look:
Moon Zero Two Pressbook
Speaking of worth a look, I’ve been a fan of Moon Zero Two since I saw it featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s. The set design, the costumes, the soundtrack, the goofy animated intro, the goofy live-action dance numbers, it’s all fantastic. Zombo’s Closet of Horror features a 12-page pressbook for the movie that’s just amazing in its depth of offerings to all members of a community. Hit the link for all of the scans, but here are some of my favorites:
MTV Spring Break 1993 Special
Is there anything more perfectly 1993 than this special concert during MTV’s legendary annual Spring Break stunt featuring Lenny Kravitz, Living Colour, the Black Crowes, and Stone Temple Pilots? If there is, it’s on you to show it to me.
Of particular note are those black and white MTV bumpers… I may break those out into their own thing at some point. Amazing stuff.
1980s Showtime Free Preview Weekend
I wore my VHS player out during the HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime free preview weekends. My family would take shifts recording as many movies as we could. Thanks to these weekends I can still recite Caddyshack 2 verbatim. This Showtime segment featuring Bill Harris hits that sweet spot.
For a bonus, check out the graphic design of this 1987 Showtime bumper. I want to live in it.
That bass line!
Safeway Supermarket Ad w/ Bob Weir
And to round things out, a stiff, muted Bob Weir championing a good cause in a 1980s Safeway ad. Just weird all around.
Gamepro Video Game Secret Tips, Tactics & Passwords, Vol. 1
Our old friend J.D. Roth from Gamepro TV takes us on a journey to sap all of the fun out of video games by using cheat codes and exploits!
This video covers the Super Nintendo, Genesis, and TurboGrafx generation of games, and features some pretty B-list games for a “Volume 1”. While most videos of this type gave viewers hints and strategies around tough parts of games, with the occasional game-breaking code or exploit, this video delivers hack after hack, with the objective seeming to be to get you to the end of the game as quickly as possible. I guess that’s what you’d be paying for?
There’s a LOT of “attitude” here, fueled by Roth and his arsenal of slang. I did not age well, but I will say that it sets this video apart from its drier, more straightforward competition. Roth is also awkwardly superimposed on top of game footage for much of the video. Does that make it more fun?
At the end of the day, this video is a pretty interesting snapshot of early ’90s video gaming technology, early ’90s video technology, and…well, just early ’90s technology in general. Back then it would have taken several weeks for someone to mail in a payment for a non-trivial amount for the VHS, wait for it to arrive, watch it, and then apply a learning from the video to a game that they owned. I achieved the same thing this morning in about 30 seconds, for free. FUTURE.
Here you go. Enjoy skipping straight to the end-game ceremony in Bulls vs Lakers And The NBA Playoffs. Seriously, who wants that?
This ultra-charming Saturday morning kids show ran on the BBC from 1982-1987. It featured several different segments, some with kids, others with pop stars, scripted bits and the occasional call-in. Margaret Thatcher was on the show in 1987, and was repeatedly asked by a little girl where Thatcher planned to go if nuclear war broke out. Ultra Charming!
Here’s the 1982 Christmas episode.
The Cap’n continued to experiment in the early 1970s with variations on what was already the perfect cereal. This iteration, called “Vanilly Crunch”, featured Wilma the White Whale as the mascot. Better her than La Foote, I guess.
Palitoy Star Wars Ad
I love everything about this hand-drawn ad for Palitoys’ Star Wars line.
1992 Lincoln Malfunction
In honor of President’s Day, here’s Abraham Lincoln from Disney’s Hall of Presidents shorting out and taking a little robot nap.
Leonard Nimoy lends his credibility to this alarmist video produced to aid those concerned with the potential societal collapse caused by the world’s computers’ refusal to acknowledge the year 2000.
This video is one of several attempts to cash in on the hysteria around the Y2K phenomenon. 1999 was the perfect breeding ground for such a scam – nobody could say for sure that the Y2K alarmists were wrong, and nobody wanted to look like a fool. The President even appointed a Y2K Czar! And the Y2K Czar appeared in this video! What an honor!
While the content of the video is assuredly alarmist, and we’re reminded throughout that many people are probably going to die, the tone never rises above a typical infomercial level. It’s not a frantic or panicked video, which makes it play pretty creepily.
It’s sort of an impressive effort that this video is an hour long – it’s really about 4 minutes of information repeated over and over again in different ways. When the video feels like it needs a break from that, there are instances of what seems to be free-form musing on specific catastrophes that could occur.
There’s a lot of specific advice, too. Helpful nuggets, like “Don’t buy a machine gun and run to the woods.” We’re also encouraged to “enjoy the family time” when our systems fail us. I can only imagine the satisfaction that those who paid actual money for this VHS tape must feel. The video takes on a very nuclear-scare-era tone when advising preparedness: store fresh water all over your house, in any dark place, toilet safety in a world without plumbing, stock up on baby wipes to bathe with. From here, it’s essentially a survivalist video – which makes for a good thirty minutes more content. While the video stresses the importance of community, there’s an underlying addition of “but make sure you get yours first”, which is pretty ugly once you notice it.
Here it is. Alarmist and cheesy, and a little bit alarming that so much time was spent on this. And that it probably made money.
French Mega Man 2 Commercial
There’s so much to love about this commercial for Mega Man 2 – from the newscaster Mario to the overacting live-action Mega Man to the shrouded, overacting Dr. Wily. Perfection.