December 16, 2010

The 10 most ridiculous gadget TV commercials from the 1980s

The 1980s were a crazy time. We elected a former B-movie actor to defend the free world, replaced Coke with a new version only to change our minds shortly thereafter, and found entertainment in the hijinks of a fuzzy brown puppet alien.

It was also a time when computers and other formerly high-end electronics started to gain a foothold as standard household products. Of course, the promise of a Buck Rogers future world didn't quite live up to the hype — but don't tell that to the electronics marketing teams of the day. I've assembled the top gadget commercials from the 1980s* complete with all the adorable naiveté, synthesizer music, and graphic effects that decade of cheesy excess could muster. Enjoy!

*For the point of this post, I'm defining "the 80s," as the era between 1977 and 1990. Note: you won't be seeing that groundbreaking Ridley Scott-directed Apple commercial from 1984 as I'm scoring on the basis of unintended irony, timeliness and overall 1980s awesomeness.

10. Casio Keyboard CZ-101 (1986)

While this commercial may seem somewhat over the top by today's standards, it's emblematic of the confidence of an era where people truly believed anything was achievable. Back then, it just wasn't completely outside the realm of possibility that a musical instrument could literally launch you into space or that a "cool" dude like this might conceivably make a living as a rock star — if only he had the right keyboard.

9. The IBM 5100 Portable Computer (1977)

Looking for a mobile magical box to tell you how to run your small business' finances? Well, the IBM 5100 portable computer may be the solution for you! The 5100 boasts all the power of an early graphing calculator crammed into the size of a doublewide suitcase and weighs in at only slightly more than the average six-year-old. But don't take my word for it; check out around 1:29 when the manager of a printing press raves about how digital technology is going to completely revolutionize his industry. (Oh, poor soul!)

8. SelectaVision VHS Player (1979)

Greetings, people of 30 years ago. Did any of you miss the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of Dallas? Too bad you didn't have a VCR. Now you'll never find out who did it. (It was the shark from Jaws. Think I'm lying? Well, you weren't able to tape it, so you'll never know.)

The time to jump on the SelectaVision train is now! For a limited time, when you buy a quality SelectaVision VHS player, you'll get four blank cassette tapes, which apparently cost $100 back in your day. You'd be nuts to turn down a financial incentive like that. But on that note and while I have your attention, I'd strongly recommend that you acquire the trademarks for the words "twitter," "flickr," and "google." I know they must sound like a random assortment of made-up and/or misspelled nonsense words, but you're just going to have to trust me this.

7. RCA Video Disc Player (1981)

Video on demand, schmideo on schmemand. While the rest of the world is gearing up for web-enabled TV, I think we should reserve a place for these massive, unwieldy discs and their players. Why store your movie collection in the cloud when you could fill your den with your library of large LP-sized discs. Most full-length movies only require you to turn them over two or three times — four times, max. Well, unless it's a really long movie or a director's cut or something, then, I won't lie to you, it may be more.

6. Sony Cassette Walkman (1985)

I really like the idea of rocking out to the newest Bryan Adams album during calisthenics class, but it can be such a hassle to carry around a turntable and portable generator. There has got to be a better way! Thankfully, the good people at Sony have created a mobile cassette player that is diminutive enough that it will only impede your movement about a quarter of the time.

5. The Apple IIc (1984)

Nearly 20 years ago, the "Apple wizards" introduced the world to the Apple IIc. Revel in remarkable 1 MHz computational power showcased via a breathtaking green and black interface, which you can access with a mouse that's only 150% the size of the average adult's closed fist. The whole package comes available for a mere $1,300 ($2,800 in 2010 money). An unbelievable bargain for a device that has the capacity to run the full suite of first generation Beagle Bros software and all the pure gaming muscle of Zork.

4. Intellivision Home Gaming System (1982)

Once upon a time, George "founder of The Paris Review" Plimpton was the spokesman for Mattel's Intellivision video game system. The whole "thinking man's crude home video gaming system" would eventually prove a fruitless pursuit as the system was discontinued in 1991, never to return. Most of the commercials compared the superiority of Intellivision's games to rival Atari. But here's an odd variation featuring an encounter between George and a young boy that seems dangerously close into transforming into a PSA about "stranger danger."

3. Sony Betamax (1979)

Remember Betamax? What strange branding. It even has the word "beta" in it. That means second to the alpha — to the max. It was just begging to fall short to the VHS. Here, Betamax sells itself as a home movie studio to entertain grandma with. It promises you a world where you don't have to visit her in person anymore because she has a kooky family TV tape to watch. And that's how the disintegration of the American family began. Thanks for that, Sony. I, for one, am glad your home-wrecking, second-rate videocassette recorder failed to take off.

2. The Legend of Zelda (1986)

The Legend of Zelda didn't just offer a magical world of birds-eye-view adventure; it had the power to bring teenage archetypes from opposite ends of the suburban social spectrum together. There's even a rap song to celebrate the bonding of nerd and skateboarder. How kumbaya. (Side note: my favorite YouTube comment for this clip comes from user ZanderShocker: "they need to get laid................BIG TIME!" Indeed.)

1. Radio Shack Cell Phone (1990)


RadioShack isn't just your go-to source for watch batteries and RCA cords, it's are also a leading dealer in the groundbreaking world of cellular technology. Have you heard about "cell phones" yet? They work just like an actual phone booth, but are available at half of the size. They're mobile enough to bring in a car or on a boat, but still large enough that it can sit next to you at a table at a fancy restaurant so you don't have to feel so very alone. I see big things in the future for RadioShack-branded cell phones.


  1. hahaha,this is fucking great. That cell phone is epic.

  2. That's some pretty cool gadgets! haha

  3. Wow we have really come a long way since then. Oh technology.

  4. LOL that Zelda commercial was so cheesy when they started rapping!

  5. Man, those were different times! Haha that Zelda rap is priceless.

  6. I chuckled at the portable IBM weighing slightly more than the average six year old. Doesn't sound very portable if it did weigh that much though.

  7. The 80's were incredibly awesome, in every aspect. Follow!

  8. Oh, Betamax. We hardly knew thee.

  9. It's amazing how far we've come since then. Looking at those it's actually pretty funny.

  10. if i went back in time 20 years and showed someone my iphone, they would shit themselves

  11. Dang dude. This is great and all, but you should have spread this out over 10 blog posts, saves a lot of time and energy.

  12. @poorfags

    I don't mind doing this, barely takes an hour while playing online poker!

  13. Hell, every commercial from back then was wacky as hell.

  14. I've heard the CZ-101 was hot shit back in the day. That Zelda commercial is classic. Poor betamax. Something I'll only hear about in the past tense.

  15. those old cellphones..unreal, also the walkmans were epic!

  16. man those were the days huh
    loved these

  17. Man this is fantastic ! Loved all of em :D