12 classic computing adverts from the 1970s

Multi-media editor, Justin Richards, struck non-PC gold when trawling through the adverts from the 1970s, which really was the decade that political correctness forgot.

During a decade that brought us a range of new breakthroughs in technology, including pocket calculators, video games, word processors, email, liquid crystal displays, digital cameras and the first micro-processors, ads agencies of the world were coming up with the kind of ads they just don’t create anymore, which is just as well. Here are some of the, err, best?

1. IBM Data Centre Services
Women were flagrantly used as sex-objects in most of the adverts from the 1970s, but when they weren’t being portrayed as eye-candy they were made to look as geeky or academic as the men in the articles surrounding them. Here we have a typical (?) school teacher-type modelling besides a blackboard that rather boringly reveals IBM’s, then, new data centre services, which boast about a new matrix generator; Keanu Reeves will be happy!

IBM advert (1970s)

2. Rank Xerox Copy Bureau
And it wasn’t just women who were being patronised in the 70s. Poor manservants got it in the neck a lot too, as this cartoon-based advert reveals. This was one of a series which saw an elite managerial toff-type talking down to his assistant / manservant. The service it offers though, to reduce reams and reams of print-outs - ever a hazard in the ultra-tree-felling seventies – seems like a worthwhile one.

Rank Xerox ad (1970s)

3. Honeywell - Britain’s other computer company
But not all ads were full of stereotypes and cartoons, some were quite artistic. In fact, Honeywell had a series of ads of various animals made-up out of various computer components, including an owl, a giraffe, and this one, a peacock. Obviously, someone at Honeywell was a bit of an amateur ornithologist! Here they used an elaborate image of the well-known plumed bird to promote their best-selling range of 16-bit computers, amongst other things.

Honeywell Peacock ad (1970s)

4. EMI & SE Computer Peripherals
And from one kind of animal to another more absurd one - a man in a monkey / gorilla suit! It’s not every day that you’re greeted by the vision of a bloke in a cheap ape suit, wearing a white tie, smoking a cigar and carrying a rather fat-looking brief case. But here it is, in stark black and white photography. By the time I’d stopped shaking my head in bemusement, I’d lost any interest in what the companies were trying to sell me - nice going EMI/SE Computer Peripherals!

SE ad (1970s)

5. Computer Technology Limited
And even when advertisers weren’t being creative with animal shapes or getting poor models to make a monkey of themselves they still wanted to mention them, in a more oblique way. This one uses two contrasting animal sizes as a metaphor for their own machinery size range. In the background a bearded engineer-type looks like he’s just thrown up down his tie, although I suspect that was just another wonderfully decorated 70s accessary.

Computer Technology ad (1970s)

6. Memorex
For many of us the 1970s conjures up a lot of nostalgia for everything from toys, children’s TV programmes and funky fashions to more rudimentary technologies and mediums for information storage. One of the forerunners for tape storage was the mammoth that was Memorex, who’s TV ads featuring a dancing skeleton remain etched in many people’s memories. Memorex was broken up and ceased to exist after the 1990s, other than as a brand.

Memorex (1970s)

7. Electric Associates Limited
Probably the most overtly sexist ad I found, whilst trawling though the 70s archive, was this eyebrow-raising offering from Electronic Associates Ltd who use an under-dressed woman as a metaphor for their software; emphasis on the word ‘soft’ here. I suppose you could posit that when the advertisers say: ‘There’s nothing soft about its capability’ they are intimating that women are often thought of as being softer than men, but can be tough and hard too. However, the advert is clumsily handled and in today’s more PC climate it would be rightly quickly rejected as being unsuitable.

Electric Associates ad (1970s)

8. EMI & SE Computer Peripherals
Another company that’s name involved the word ‘electric’ - in this case EMI (Electric and Musical Industries) - was also involved in delivering a series of similarly sexist adverts. These were all probably photographed on the same day, with the same model wearing a short slinky black dress, sittting in front of a SE Video display unit in various provocative poses. In this particular ad, the lady in question is checking her make-up in her compact mirror. Again, the advertisers are focussing on the looks of the individual to reflect the good ‘looks’ of their product; in this case their reputably ‘flicker free, brightness adjustable’ SE Video monitor. EMI was broken up by administrators in 2012.

EMI ad (1970s)

9. CalComp Ltd
And from sexist to, well, just outright creepy. This advert from microfilm specialist CalComp, features probably the most deranged looking model I’ve ever seen. The guy is obviously channelling Ted Bundy in this uncomfortable photograph, and I can’t quite help feeling that the lady in the photograph is silently imploring the viewer: ‘Help me, help me!’ Founded in 1959, as California Computer Products, the organisation was bought by Sanders Associates in 1980, which in turn was purchased by the Lockheed Corporation in 1986. Calcomp Technology eventually shut down its operations in 1999.

Calcomp ad (1970s)

10. London University Computing Services Ltd
The ladies weren’t the only gender to be made to look uncomfortable or silly. London University Computing Services made one unfortunate fellow look a combination of both smug and stupid - quite an accomplishment, I’m sure you’ll agree. Here they’re promoting their computer hire services: Powertime, Powerlink and Powermade, all run by their workforce of 180, which I hope didn’t include Mr sideburn here!

Powertime ad (1970s)

11. EMI & SE Computer Peripherals
EMI were on form in the early seventies; if they weren’t creating sexist adverts featuring bored-looking women, they were humiliating male models with gorilla suits or, as in this case, with arrows pointing to their naked nether regions. To be fair they’ve obviously been thinking about this one a little more than the others, but it’s still capable of producing plenty of bemusement all these years on. I particularly like point 5a - Other cheek: to be turned, as you hand in your resignation. There’s nothing like promoting peace and harmony in the work environment!

EMI & SE Computer Peripherals ad (1970s)

12. The Computer Bulletin
And finally, even The Computer Bulletin itself chose to advertise within its own esteemed pages. This job advert, on behalf of the Council of the British Computer Society, (as it was always known back then), requests applicants for the position of Editor of the Computer Bulletin, which it states ‘reflects the growing importance and role of the Computer Bulletin in its affairs’, and, no, we don’t mean ‘affairs’ of an Ashley Madison variety. It’s always a bit weird seeing job ads requesting would-be applicants to write in only. Today many would response via email. It’s a pity it doesn’t mention a salary scale - I could, maybe, have asked for a raise due to average inflation in the intervening years, if I’d have known what they were paying back then!

BCS editor job ad (1970s)

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