Eight classic computing adverts from the 1980s

Grant Powell, Assistant Editor, exhumes some classic computing advertisements from the decade that brought us Yuppies, fluorescent socks, New Romantics and 8-bit computing…

A booming home-computer market meant that technology was more accessible and more wide-spread than ever before, with a new generation of computer users embracing these tools of seemingly endless possibility. The BBC Micro became a staple in schools, and brands such as Commodore, Alan Sugar’s Amstrad CPC and Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum vied to be top-dog in a battle of graphics, sound and speed.

In the workplace, huge desk-sized computers were slowly being dismantled and replaced by smaller and more powerful desktop machines, offering increased power and flexibility. To keep abreast of this new technology, it was essential to make use of the plethora of manuals and software available to the computer user.

Here are eight IT-related advertisements from the era.

1. HCI ‘87
Written as a spoof Samaritans style advert with its ‘Frustrated? Lonely? Anxious? Depressed?’ headline, the HCI (Human Computer Interaction) ’87 event nevertheless provides an interesting glimpse into the very real concerns and anxieties of the era. In a fast-moving technology boom, employees were forced to learn how to interact with these new devices quickly and successfully, so as not to fall behind. The conference boasts that ‘in an effort to help put people first in the electronic jungle’ it offers workshops, tutorials and exhibitions that are designed to make computer systems easy to use and help people realise the full potential of this developing technology. Computing feels like a minefield at this stage, with conferences such as this one dedicated to offering a helping hand to the confused user.

HCI '87 ad (1980s)

2. Softstrip
The idea seems ludicrous nowadays - overcoming the problem of transferring data between incompatible systems by effectively taking a step backwards technology-wise; dumping data from one system on to a laser-printed paper strip and then importing it into another machine. Neverthless, in the 1980’s data transfer options were limited and under development, and this was just one solution in a developing market. An article on the opposite page to the advert reveals that, at this stage, BCS themselves were debating the in-house use of such technologies.

Softstrip ad (1980s)

3. Silicon Graphics CAE workstation
For the first time, an engineer could now work on 3D objects on a screen in real-time, without the need for producing physical prototypes along the way. Was this the future of engineering? It certainly seemed that way. Silicon Graphics offered standalone or networked systems that could be ‘fitted into your existing VAX or IBM engineering environments’. A handy VHS video cassette promised a demo and further information.

Silicon Graphics ad (1980s)

4. Creative Computer Graphics
With its unmistakably 80’s image of a cocktail glass on neon-lit background, this is an advert for a brand new pictorial book from Cambridge University Press - ‘a celebration of the stunning visual power of images created by modern computer technology’. The book combines images from NASA space simulations, computer games, advertising, scientific research and films to showcase the best of the new ‘art form of computer graphics’.

Creative Computer Graphics ad (1980s)

5. Clipper Autumn ‘86
Using Cricket in an advert for a handy network-friendly database compiler program, just so that developers, Nantucket, can put in terms such as ‘leaving you stumped’, ‘howzat for value’, ‘this just isn’t cricket’, etc. Someone enjoyed putting this together.

Clipper Cricket ad (1980s)

6. MC6800 Assembly Language Programming
Programming nostalgia - an advertisement for a learning text designed to aid students in the programming in assembly language of the Motorola MC 68000 microprocessor. A quick internet search reveals that, after firstly appearing in the original Apple Macintosh, Apollo, SUN and Hewlett-Packard workstations, the chip had a second life in the video games market, being used in the Atari St, Commodore Amiga, Sega Genesis and many Arcade machines.

68000 Assembly ad (1980s)

7. Savior - Intelligent Systems International Ltd
Savior is marketed here as a knowledge management system with a list of clients that include ‘the bluest of blue chip companies’. The advert features a computer keyboard bearing the logos of several of these companies and serves as a trip down memory lane. Most, if not all, either no longer exist or have rebranded following mergers within the last decade or so. The invitation to ‘write to Bernard Dodwell’ for a fact pack and case studies recalls a slower-paced age where an invitation to put pen to paper for information was the norm.

Savior ad (1980s)

8. Turing’s Man: Western culture in the computer age
This 1984 advert is not the most visually appealing for a book discussing artificial intelligence. However, Turing’s Man is still in circulation, no doubt given a boost by modern interest in Alan Turing and his work, and this book is also available as a Kindle edition. Amazon.co.uk provides more detail as follows: ‘Trained in both classics and computer science, Bolter considers the cultural impact of computers on our age, comparing the computer to earlier technologies that redefined fundamental notions of time, space, language, memory, and human creativity.’

Turing's Man ad (1980s)

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