Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld tried their hands at selling Vista. John Hodgman and Justin Long have made mini-careers out of pitching Apples. Here are of some of the celebrity spokesmen that preceded them.
With the exception of the recent Microsoft Windows and ubiquitous Mac/PC ads, you don’t see a lot of commercials about computers on TV anymore. When there was more diversity and competition between home computing platforms, companies like Atari, Commodore, and Radio Shack all employed celebrities to help peddle their goods. Here are some of the top computer pitchmen from the 80s and 90s.
You’re probably most familiar with William Shatner’s technology endorsements coming in the form of Priceline ads. However, being The Negotiator isn’t Shatner’s first foray into trading off of his Captain Kirk persona to give people the impression he knew something about computers.
In the late 70s, William Shatner was the spokesperson for Commodore. He was featured in several commercials selling the wonders of the Commodore Vic 20:
More famous probably as Dr. David Banner in The Incredible Hulk, Bill Bixby also had a side gig for Radio Shack. As Radio Shack was changing from the famous but aging TRS-80 line to the Tandy brand, they needed someone who came across sounding intelligent but friendly. That’s where the smooth-talking Bill Bixby came in touting the Tandy line as being Clearly Superior:
I previously mentioned that Atari did more than sell video game consoles in the 80s; they also had their own computer line. Coming off of the success of the TV series M*A*S*H, Alda took a turn at selling Atari computers. Here you see Alda kicking back in his office, dressed the same way he did when he was playing the part of Captain Hawkeye Pierce, wearing a comfortable bathrobe:
Bill Cosby was the ultimate pitchman in the 80s. He sold everything from Coca-Cola to Jello Pudding, all while he was writing books, touring the nation doing stand-up comedy, and starring in a little TV show called The Cosby Show. One of the things he also pushed was the TI-99/4a computer line from Texas Instruments. Unfortunately, not even a $100 rebate could save the TI-99/4a:
King Kong Bundy
Although computers are still intimidating to some people, they’re certainly a lot easier to use today than in the 80s. Computer start-up Vendex decided to make an easy-to-use computer called HeadStart. Because the 80s were also the era of Hulk Hogan, what better pitchman to use to prove how easy computer are than a professional wrestler? One of Hogan’s archenemies was King Kong Bundy, and he also served as HeadStart’s lead computer spokesmen:
A few others
The guys listed above weren’t the only high-profile computer spokespeople; there were also others who made cameo appearances or pitched other computer-related items.
George Plimpton was a noted author in the 70s and 80s. He introduced an air of sophistication to the computer gaming platform by endorsing the Intellivision from Mattel. He appeared in a series of ads touting the superiority of the Intellivision over market-leader Atari and their 2600:
Tommy Lasorda, Tip O’Neill, and the Pointer Sisters
Speaking of a superiority complex, few groups of computer users touted the advantages of their chosen platform more strongly than Amiga owners. The Amiga was a great platform that proved my point that good marketing almost always trumps better technology.
Here’s an ad for Amiga that included astronaut Buzz Aldrin, LA Dodger’s manager Tommy Lasorda, the Pointer Sisters, and former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. Although all experts in their field, they needed help from Stevie and his new Amiga: