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.
AT&T’s got a record of anticipating future trends and technologies that extends almost as far back as they do. They kind of have to; that’s their business. This 1993 video, Connections, takes the emerging technologies of the internet and mobile phones and imagines a future that combines the two. And, despite a few silly overreaches, pretty much nails it.
Connections starts off with a trans-continental phone call between a woman, her fiancee, and the owner of the rug store in which the couple met. This call auto-translates the three languages to suit each participant – a translation in the actual voice of the speaker.
The next scene features (what we will find out later is) the girl’s Dad, a land developer using a tablet PC to imagine changes to a building project and then receiving a voice call. Look familiar?
Cut to the family’s Son, playing a VR game online with his buddies, during which he receives a video message from mom reminding him not to turn off the VR system but instead to switch over to the homework module.
Mom and Dad pick Daughter up at the airport, who rushes to a public phone booth to call her finance. Of course it’s a video call, with a voice-activated sign-in that can instantly access the caller’s contacts.
Mom, a doctor, then engages in a remote consultation for a patient.
She then shops for wedding dresses with Daughter, over the internet. The online store uses models of Daughter to explore different customization options.
There are two plotlines threaded through this showcase: the Daughter’s wedding plans and the Dad’s development plans. The development plans are controversial as they would mean the loss of a community center. A concerned citizen appeals to Dad, showing him the appeals of the electronic classroom – a classroom filled with terminals that “connect to the Education Center in Washington” and provide virtual lessons customized to each student.
Speaking of, there’s a Siri/Alexa component that is apparently customizable. There’s a bit where Dad questions Mom’s use of a handsome digital personal assistant. Gulp!
Anyway, the education classroom visit forces Dad to grow a conscience and he confronts his boss in a futuristic office that belongs in an episode of 1995’s The Outer Limits reboot, in an episode that takes place on Coruscant. No future tech in this scene, just some old guys arguing.
The storylines wrap up predictably in a way that makes everybody happy. The boss finds a way to make the development they want to make and incorporate a Community Center as well. Daughter gets married and has a baby. The rug salesman is conferenced in to meet the baby. The end.
It really is remarkable how right this video gets the application of the technology. It’s one thing to say that mobile communication and the internet will merge and define our lifestyles, but there are still dozens of ways that could happen. Just about everything in this video exists now, 20-plus years later. Except, I hope, that we’re a little less cheesy than these guys. I don’t know. Maybe we should be. There’s a lot of hope in this video.
The Odyssey 2’s answer to Pac-Man was, well, Pac-Man.
This ripoff of Pac-Man was actually available a year for home entertainment a year before any Pac-Man ports were, so in a sense it was actually the first to that specific market. It was Pac-Man, though, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone arguing otherwise with a straight face. That said, there were some interesting additions to the Pac-Man formula. On some levels the map would become invisible, forcing you to remember the layout. On others the box where the ghosts respawn would change location. Little things that, while not admissible in court as grounds for a unique product, do impact the gameplay experience significantly. Still, total ripoff.
The marketing was pretty good, though, and the box art is as on point as most video game box art was at the time.
Sure, Mac, Sure
This bizarre 1970s PSA dispels the myth that eating food makes it okay to drive drunk. I think it also serves a secondary function as a cautionary tale about drinking seventeen different types of alcohol and then getting in a car.
John Berkey 1975 Otis Ad
This ad for the Otis Elevator Company, illustrated by famed Sci-Fi and Space artist John Berkey, depicts an indoor vertical storage solution. Maybe that sounds a little dry, but this is the future for me.
Those polls at the bottom of each Five Things post? This is why they’re there. Here are the top Five things of 2016, selected by a very unscientific combination of votes, comments, email feedback and good old personal bias. Looks like old TV shows were mostly what resonated with you guys this year. Me, too!
“ALF Loves a Mystery”, and I love an original fabric woven with characters and elements from a half-dozen different Saturday Morning shows. These things are the dream of the eighties, and this is probably one of the best of the bunch.
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when the TV itself didn’t offer a lot of information as to what was coming on so you had to consult print media to see what the viewing layout was for the evening. Alongside those programming guides were ads for prime time shows, just above and below the horoscope and Jumble puzzles. The Twin Peaks ads were uniformly fantastic, in both layout and tone.
Another failed show, but this one didn’t even make it past the pilot. In 1968 Irwin Allen sent future alien Tomo on a mission to then-present-day Earth, and then sold him out and attacked Earth, forcing Tomo to defend what was apparently his new homeland. Fantastic premise that never bore fruit. Yes, I blame Irwin Allen directly for Tomo’s misfortune.
and my personal favorite of 2016….
This series has taken up residence in my brain more than any other Thing I covered this year, and for good reason.
A farmboy who questions his reality just enough to trigger events that cause him to discover that he’s an astronaut on a generation ship that’s malfunctioned and is headed straight into a star, and that there are countless other pods of isolated societies on that generation ship, unaware of the existence of both the ship and of any other society? Sign me right up.
I seriously chew on this premise at least a few times a week. Unfortunately the reality of the show itself doesn’t shine as brightly as the idea going into it, but there’s a lot there to love.
And that’s 2016. For those of you who have read, commented, tweeted, sent me feedback, I can only say thank you. I’m delighted that someone out there gets as much of a kick out of these as I do. Happy New Year. More to come.
1. Boosting is a Business – Here’s a 1950 informational film detailing various techniques used by “professional” shoplifters. The tactics used range from pedestrian “grab-and-put-it-in-your-pocket” theft to coordinated operations involving multiple people Beyond the actual shoplifting there’s a lot to love about this film: the locations, the fashions, and the little slice-of-life glimpes you get of 1950s America are all worth the watch.
The film’s pretty balanced about its thieves; there’s only the occasional teenager while the majority are middle aged men and women.
The shifty eyes give these people away every time.
This one’s got it figured out. Look straight ahead.
This scene is particularly noteworthy not only for the fancy clothes rack design but also that this lady just opens her skirt and tucks more skirts onto the front of her actual skirt! How would that work!
Like I said, worth a watch. There’s no hokiness here other than the harsh overdramatic tone of typical 1950s short films. For a department store shoplifting is pretty serious business, and this film certainly backs up that attitude. There’s also an odd little piece of drug fear interjected into the middle about crazed addicts who will steal anything to fuel their habits.
2. Thanksgiving Magazine Covers – I shared a great Thanksgiving themed Boy’s Life cover last week, but here are a few more that I love.
Woman’s Day from 1956:
Harper’s Bazar from 1894:
Child Life 1925:
3. Give Peace a Chance (1991) – Everyone knows John Lennon’s 1969 version of this classic song but fewer are aware of Yoko’s 1991 cover, made in protest of the Gulf War and including dozens of musicians from the ’90s. It’s really…..something.
Sebastian Bach really belts it out, doesn’t he?
4. You Cannot Beat Us – Not one of Nintendo’s finer moments, this ad was quickly pulled off the air due to the fact that it was scaring children.
5. Little Birdie – One of my favorite Vince Guaraldi tunes, here’s “Little Birdie” From A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
1. Mars and Beyond – This episode of Disneyland, the ABC show that would eventually become The Wonderful World of Disney, Walt Disney Presents, and about a dozen other variations on that title, presents the history and future of speculation on the rest of the Solar System and man’s eventual place in it.
This episode is similar in structure to “Man in Space”, but really ups the ante in just about every way with its ambition. It opens with Walt and his robot pal named Garco:
No real reason is given for Garco’s presence, and he’s not featured in the rest of the special, but just look at him!. In typical Disney fashion we’re then taken through the history of man’s speculation of just what was out there in the cosmos, back when all we could do with space was to just look at it with the naked eye.
There’s a ton of gorgeous original animation in this special -it fills the majority of the first half hour and a good chunk of the second. We’re guided through our evolving view of the cosmos; the uncannily accurate, the charmingly inaccurate, and the downright embarrassing branches our views took. My favorites are the interpretations of Bernard De Fontenelle’s visions of what life was like on other planets. Here’s Venus:
About halfway through the special, it shifts gears to what we think might really be out there given our current knowledge of the world around us. It starts this section off with a slightly cruder animation of how the Solar System was formed, how Earth was formed, and eventually, how we were formed – beings capable of living within a wide range of temperatures given the right equipment.
We’re then told about the specific ways each planet would kill us. Saturn’s my favorite, because it looks like a beautiful way to go.
The special then turns to Mars specifically, emphasizing that Man could actually make a go of things there in contrast to the other planets. E.C. Slipher is brought in to give a little more color to the idea, which includes the suggestion that life may already exist on Mars…
…and we’re brought back into more animated speculation on how life might have evolved there.
The last third or so of the special drills down on our efforts to get to Mars. This thing aired in 1957, and seeing this sorted of plan formulated at that point in time both inspires and depresses me. Here’s the spacecraft suggested, an atomic powered saucer 500 feet in diameter and supporting a crew of 20 people.
The reactor is on the bottom of the stem, and the landing vessel is attached to it. On the opposite end of the stem from the vessel is the thruster. The special concludes with a view of the proposed mission, with several of these craft taking the trip to the red planet together.
This special is really well done and captures just about everything I love about Disney the futurist. Like most of his futurism, there’s not a lot of time spent on what wouldn’t work about these ideas or the incredible costs they’d rack up or the dozen other things that would prevent this and I’d make the argument that there doesn’t really need to be. Not here, at least – these specials were meant to inspire first and inform second. And they certainly do that.
Here it is. Enjoy!
2. St. Nicholas Magazine Covers – St. Nicholas was a children’s magazine from the late 19th and early 20th century, published by Scribners. Their covers are beautiful; here are some that caught my eye.
And here’s a promotional poster for the magazine that I also love.
3. Starriors – Here’s a commercial for Starriors, a robot toy from the ’80s that featured an old-school wind-up mechanic in a then-modern way. That’s a lot of dashes in one sentence!
4. Columbia House Games – Did you know Columbia House had a branch that extended their rip-off service to include computer games? Now you do! Here’s an ad from the early ’80s with the available titles and platforms.
Full disclosure: I could not get enough of that Cabbage Patch Kids game as a kid. As far as ColecoVision goes, that one was a system-seller.
5. Chee-tos Ad – And finally, an odd ad for Chee-tos. I wonder if they really got the Duke of Cheddar to say that. I do miss that old logo and those old bag designs. Why did we stop letting the customer see the chips inside of the bag?
1. Just Say Julie – Late-1980s MTV had two Julie Browns. There was Downtown Julie Brown, the cool Club MTV host and then there was Miss Julie Brown, the goofy comedienne. The latter Brown’s show was Just Say Julie, a mostly one-woman show that drew heavily on her celebrity-mocking stand-up act.
Brown played a valley girl with a bit of an agenda against pop stars like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, and a bit more of an agenda against Madonna.
The show was an unintentionally beautifully sort of clunky stream of consciousness, with Brown’s monologues taking up the bulk of the time. There were also music videos but these were mocked in a proto-Beavis-and-Butthead style. Sometimes she’d even show up in them!
She played up a rivalry between herself and Downtown Julie Brown, the “Evil” Julie Brown. Her unrequited love for Jon Bon Jove was a recurringtheme as well. Both running gags resulted in payoffs later in the series!
Here’s an episode. It’s almost hard to tell from the grainy, hiss quality here but this was a pretty popular show and managed to upset a lot of celebrities!
1. Our Friend the Atom – In 1956 the Disney propaganda machine and the Disney futurist machine held hands and created Our Friend the Atom, a book and documentary that really is Disney at its best.
Our Friend the Atomwas a joint effort with the German physicist Heinz Heber to position nuclear energy as a constructive tool that could be used for good – not an easy job in an era where the effects of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had given the atom a pretty bad reputation. The documentary and book both rely heavily on both Heber’s clear explanation of the science and Disney’s expertise at…everything else. The animation, illustration, and production of both book and documentary are top-notch. The story relies heavily on a parallel drawn with an old fable about a fisherman who unleashes a wrathful genie. He quickly outsmarts the genie, tricking him back into the bottle so that he can be contained. It’s interesting that they position nuclear energy and nature as something that needed to be “tricked” in order to harness it.
Here are some of my favorite images from the book – it’s a layout dream:
And here’s the special itself. It sounds weird to say, because all of the videos I post here I feel are worth watching, but this one is really something great.