A ton of old computer commercials

Ah, nostalgia. As Don Draper once reminded us, it’s the pain of not being somewhere that’s lost. I’m referring to this classic segment from Mad Men:

But I’m not here to talk about slide projectors. I’m here to talk about computers. Depending on who you are, you might have spent your entire life around them. Or, you may remember the days when you were first introduced to one. Either way, you’re sure to find something resonant when you look at today’s Throwback Thursday video.

This video cleverly packages its advertisements inside period-appropriate televisions, which makes them work a little better. A lot of these are pulled from old film and video tape, and the quality is a bit dicey. Making the image a little smaller really doesn’t hurt the presentation.

Of course it would be great to see someone like the Museum of Television and Radio or the Computer History Museum make a concerted effort to find the film or video masters of these commercials and scan them properly.

Two of the best

This video of course includes Apple’s “1984,” which is perhaps the most influential computer ad of all time. It aired only once, during the Super Bowl, and instantly created a legion of Apple fans who have been loyal to this day.

The other is 1995’s “Start Me Up,” which marked the first time that Microsoft advertised an operating system launch. Windows 3.0 and 3.1 had put Microsoft products in front of millions, and now here was the first mainstream, retail upgrade experience. It was the first appearance of the “Start” button, making the song resonate. The line “You make a grown man cry,” which was also fairly appropriate for Windows 95, doesn’t appear in the commercial, but anyone familiar with the song remembered it.

Hi, I’m a Mac

The “I’m a Mac” campaign from the 2000s is represented as well, although I think perhaps they didn’t choose the most iconic one. If you’re interested in that well-regarded campaign, here’s 10 minutes of commercials.

I’ll have to ask you if that is before, or after taxes

If you really want a deep dive into how computers were promoted to the general public in the past, check out this clip from See it Now, one of the first documentary TV shows. The narrator is the legendary Edward R. Murrow, and the citation says that the program aired in 1951.

The irony of computer commercials in the first place

Of course now we tend to laugh at the very idea of advertising computers on a television. Computers are everywhere, and we don’t need TV ads to tell us that. TV is still an important way to get some kinds of information across, but the idea that tech-forward folks would make their buying decisions based on live linear TV is a bit silly-sounding at the least. But remember that for most of the history of computers, there was no internet advertising, and television was the only way to go.

At least it’s fun to watch these videos now.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.