Seinfeld and Celebrity Computer Endorsements [Updated]

by Joey deVilla on August 21, 2008

Updated!

Hello, Boing Boing readers! (And thanks, Cory!) I’ve added a whole whack of new videos to this entry including John Cleese’s 1980s ads for Compaq, Tom Baker’s ads for Prime Computer, plus celebrity ads for Intel Centrino, Apple, Nintendo DS and more!

What’s Up with That?

By now, you’ve probably heard that Microsoft latest move to counter the incredibly popular “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” ads was to hire Jerry Seinfeld as their new pitchman. The new campaign, which is rumored to be based on the slogan “Windows, Not Walls”, is expected to cost US$300 million — $10 million of which is earmarked for Seinfeld — is expected to debut on September 4th. As Jerry would say in his own stand-up routines: “What’s up with that?”

Gawker sums it up best:

Scene from "Seinfeld" showing the Mac in his apartmentYes, because if there’s one surefire way to convince everyone Vista is cool, cutting edge and not liable to get frazzled by life’s minor complications, it’s hiring a 1990s sitcom star and professional kvetcher! Who, um, very visibly owned a series of Macs on his show. This is Microsoft’s worst promotional concept since, well, since its last Vista campaign, the Mojave Experiment, which decisively proved that people hate Vista but will use it if they are tricked into thinking it’s something else, like a stable, functional tool. Here’s how Madison Avenue is responding:

“They are not seen as cool,” says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a New York branding firm. “Apple is cool. Can anyone even recall a Microsoft ad? No.”

And they won’t be able to remember this one either, because using Seinfeld humor in ads was already considered tired three years ago.

Microsoft’s hiring of a celebrity who peaked back in the 1990s is a perfect metaphor for a two of their biggest problems:

  • They’re hamstrung by the need to maintain backward compatibility with 1990s applications (Raymond Chen’s blog has the best stories about these issues).
  • They’re still using their 1990s approach to marketing: throwing a lot of money around.

I expect that Microsoft’s ads will be the exact opposite of Apple’s: instead of two unknown (at least prior to the ads) guys against a plain white background, they’ll feature a celebrity against a glitzy background. Also unlike Apple’s ads, I suspect theirs won’t be all that effective.

To borrow another Seinfeld line: “Good luck with all that.”

Seinfeld in One of the Old “Think Different” Ads

Mark Evans found this old Apple “Think Different” ad — one of those “Here’s to the crazy ones” ads with Richard Dreyfuss doing the voice-over — that features, of all people, a young Jerry Seinfeld.

Seinfeld in an HP Ad

In this HP ad, Seinfeld promotes not just one, but two flops: Windows Vista and Bee Movie:

A Brief History of Celebrity Computer Endorsements

Microsoft’s hire of Seinfeld led me to search for computer and videogame system ads featuring celebrities. Here’s what I found:

Commodore: William Shatner

In the original Star Trek series, Shatner’s character Captain James T. Kirk actually destroyed a number of computers just by talking to them. That’s why I always thought Shatner was an odd choice as Commodore’s pitchman. In the ad below, he’s promoting the Vic-20:

Commodore Amiga: Tommy Lasorda, the Pointer Sisters, NASA Astronauts and Thomas “Tip” O’Neil

This is probably the most celebrity-laden ad I’ve ever seen for a computer, the woefully under-appreciated Commodore Amiga:

Bill Cosby: Texas Instruments TI 99/4

Here’s Bill Cosby, who was the spokesperson for Texas Instrument’s incredibly lame TI 99/4:

George Plimpton: Mattel Intellivision

Bak in the early 1980s, we had the first console war: the Atari VCS (later renamed the Atari 2600) versus Mattel Intellivision. Atari had an unknown — a nerdy blond kid with big glasses — as their spokesperson. Mattel went with a celebrity: George Plimpton.

While the Intellivision’s better graphics and sound made it a much better console for sports games, Atari had the far better gameplay, especially for arcade games. Star Strike, which Plimpton hawks in the video below, was far less fun than Asteroids, even if it featured “the total destruction of a planet”:

Finally, here’s an Plimpton ad that gets downright creepy at the end. It features Henry Thomas (he played “Elliott” in E. T. and was a big star at the time), who’s about to make the classic “Oh, let’s get in the playground candyman’s van…he seems legit!” mistake…

Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston: Windows 95 Training

Although this isn’t an ad but a training video, it’s still got considerable late-’90s star power in the form of Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston from Friends. This features the painful line: “Taskbar? Is that like a Snickers bar?”

Here’s part one:

and here’s part two:

Hewlett-Packard’s Ads

And finally, celebrity ads for half-decent computers (I’ve generally had good experiences with HP machines, and not just the printers).

Here’s Mark Cuban (good friend of my former employer, Tucows):

Vera Wang also did an ad:

Tennis star Serena Williams:

Pop star Gwen Stefani, who should get bonus points for the use of the word “mash-up”:

Jay-Z:

and finally, Pharrell:

John Cleese: Compaq

Back in the early 1980s, Compaq was synonymous with “portable computer”. I remember being stunned that you could actually carry a computer around! I also remember being stunned that John Cleese was doing ads for them.

Here’s Cleese asking the most important question about portable computers: “Does it have a handle?”

“We don’t need a portable. We have Bruno”:

This one’s an ad for the Compaq III that was only shown in the U.K.:

This one targets “that trendy computer” — the original Macintosh. Guess which company is still around?

In which he compares the Portable II to a fish:

Forget about our earlier commercials about portable computers, we make desktops now!

In case you’re not sure how to spell “Compaq”:

“How could a computer be made from three hundred and eighty six chips and 32 bits from a bus?”

The “Trust the well known name” ad is very Pythonesque:

Here’s one for the Compaq DeskPro: “70 megabytes. 8 mega-hertz. Two hundred and eighty-six chips. Dual-mode monitor.”

Here’s another one where he uses the “three hundred and eighty six chips and 32 bits of a bus” line:

“The decision stank”:

“I need a vaction!”

“Three cheers for it!”

Again with “three hundred and eighty six chips and 32 bits of a bus” gag:

He wants 1 million pounds in ransom from IBM:

This one plays on the old adage “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”:

In this one, he’s talking about the new Compaq plant in Glasgow:

And finally, an internal promo video for Compaq UK’s dealers:

Intel Centrino: John Cleese, Tony Hawk and Seal

It could be the opening line to a joke: “John Cleese, Tony Hawk and Seal walk into a commercial…”

Prime Computer: Tom “Doctor Who” Baker

Tom Baker played one of my favorite incarnations of Doctor Who; he also shilled for Prime Computer. Here he is with Lalla Ward, who played “Romana” on Doctor Who:

Apple

Here’s an old one for the Lisa (the predecessor to the Mac) featuring Kevin Costner:

Apple’s had a few celebrities in recent ads. Here’s an “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” one with Gisele Bundchen:

This one features Judy Greer as the cute-but-unstable yoga instructor:

I think HAL 9000 is enough of a celebrity to count, don’t you?

Nintendo DS

Why is Captain Picard Starfleet’s greatest strategist? Because of Nintendo brain training! Here’s Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters with a DS:

Here’s Nicole Kidman keeping her brain sharp:

Liv Tyler:

America Ferrera:

Olivia Newton-John:

Carrie Underwood:

Australian comedian Hamish Blake:

Microsoft UK: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (The Office, the UK Version)

Here’s a four-parter featuring Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in their The Office characters starring in a Microsoft UK training video titled The Office Values:

IBM: Avery Brooks

We’ve had Kirk and Picard…why not Sisko? Here’s Avery Brooks’ ads for IBM. The “Where are the Flying Cars?” ad struck a chord with a number of friends:

Here’s another one, “Epiphany”:

And here’s one on Linux:

Atari “XL” Series Computers

In those “pre-internet” days, there were considerably fewer uses for computers. As a result, there semmed to be many more ads for the computer as an educational tool than today. Here’s Alan Alda talking about how his Atari XL computer is teaching him Italian:

Here’s one demonstrating Typing Attack, a videogame that teaches touch typing. There were a number of apps like that back then:

Here’s an ad featuring “Atari Writer”, Atari’s word processing package. You have to keep in mind that at this point in time, many people still used typewriters:

IBM: The Cast of M*A*S*H

Alan Alda didn’t just do ads for Atari, he also appeared in an IBM commercial, and so did some of his castmates from M*A*S*H. The video below features two ads: Jamie Farr is in the ad for the PS/2 series of computers, and Alan Alda, Harry Morgan and Gary Burghoff are in the ad for the AS/400 series.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mario Herger August 21, 2008 at 2:11 pm

You forgot the famous John Cleese commercials for Compaq
“How to spell Compaq” or COmpaq compared with a dead fish…

2 joey August 21, 2008 at 2:14 pm

@Mario Herger: You are correct, and that oversight has been corrected!

3 Steve August 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm

What about Tom Baker and the Prime Computer ads from the 70’s?

4 joey August 21, 2008 at 2:59 pm

@Steve: I dug up a couple of those Tom Baker ads and added them to the article. Thanks for the heads-up!

5 Danny V August 21, 2008 at 3:15 pm

This is one extensive list. Now would the celebrities know what to do with the computers? To quote Jerry “Not Bloody Likely!”

6 Mike K. August 21, 2008 at 3:29 pm

“Texas Instrument’s incredibly lame TI 99/4″

Huh? I see an education in the finer points of retro hardware is in order.

First, the computer shown in the Cosby ad is a TI 99/4A model (full-sized keyboard, as opposed to the chiclet keyboard of the rarer TI 99/4 model)… but whatever. What’s important is:

The TI 99/4 series was the first personal computer to include a 16-bit processor. It also had an early equivalent of “Plug and Play”. Device drivers were built into the peripheral hardware as ROMs and accessible when the peripheral was plugged in.

The TI 99/4 was also one of the first (if not the first) personal computers to feature color graphics of any kind.

Downsides? The “Sidecar” expansion system meant that if you had a lot of peripherals, you needed a huge desk to hold them all.

Overall though, the TI 99/4 series was a solid personal computer.

7 Tomz August 21, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Excellent timeline of videos!

Here’s a recent one to add:
Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant (of the Office UK fame), doing a training videp for Microsoft
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKyV-l8i5lg
There’s also a part 2 on youtube

8 joey August 21, 2008 at 3:52 pm

@Mike K.: I cut my BASIC teeth on a TI 99/4A at a “Compucentre” store back in my middle school days in the early 1980s. They tolerated me hanging around because I answered customers’ questions free of charge while the staff went for their smoke breaks.

It had some impressive hardware specs — hardly a surprise since Texas Instruments was known for all sorts of tech-fu, from chips to calculators to cool devices like the Speak and Spell — but it was so locked down that for a programmer like me, they might as well not have been there.

The 99/4 was missing several keys including the arrow keys and a question mark. There was no way to save and load programs — not to disk and not even to cassette! The software was pretty sad — can you name any apps of note that ran on the machine? Finally, the BASIC (accessible only as an option on any of the standard app cartridges) was pretty weak in comparison to Apple’s AppleSoft Basic and the TRS-80 Level II BASIC.

Hence my declaration that the TI 99/4 was lame.

Bonus Reading: It hurts me — nay, it shocks me — to say this, but I find myself agreeing with Dvorak!

9 David Gerard August 21, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Microsoft? Out of touch? Never!

10 Hoju August 21, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Very interesting list! It did also remind me of a series of ads that comedian Denis Leary did for IBM some years ago (late 90s?).

11 Hawkeye August 21, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Whoa! You forgot all about the Alan Alda ads for the Atari ST line!!!! HOW DARE YOU!!!

12 gsmith August 22, 2008 at 4:05 am

If PC were to come up with an ad campaign to take some of the cool back from Mac, he would have Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld appear in them.

13 brocaine August 22, 2008 at 4:17 am
14 Phil Gyford August 22, 2008 at 5:35 am

British comedy duo Morecambe and Wise did some ads for Atari in the 1980s. Here’s one, with a couple more linked to from the ‘Related’ section: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LM0gvwJisLc

I can’t imagine many people less likely to play Atari games than Eric Morecambe.

15 Chris Applegate August 22, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Just a quick pedantic correction – Stephen Merchant co-wrote the UK version of The Office with Gervais but did not star in it (a small cameo role in one episode aside). You’re probably confusing him with Mackenzie Crook, who sounds a bit like him and played Gareth.

16 joey August 23, 2008 at 10:13 am

@Chris Applegate: You’re right — I was writing about The Office but thinking about Extras. I’ll go fix that. Thanks for the heads-up!

17 Paul August 26, 2008 at 7:18 am

It must really irk you Mac fans that Vista is still very handily outselling your beloved OSX :-)

18 Stella August 27, 2008 at 7:54 pm

Could have been worse–they could have hired Dane Cook to promote Microsoft.

An even better choice than Seinfeld would have been Denis Leary in my opinion. Only instead of touting Microsoft’s positives (of which there aren’t many…), he’d just rant on and on about Apple: “Apple! What kind of company names themselves after a piece of FRUIT?!!! What the @#$%?!!!”

19 gwafa_darren October 13, 2008 at 5:48 am

thats right…good list

Leave a Comment

{ 9 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: