For many, ads are annoyances. I find them refreshing, and they turn out to be an invaluable tool to understand an era better. And if like me, you are in retro-computing and retro-gaming, they are full of information, and are often quite funny and creative. Now, as the excellent Pierre Desproges said once “on peut rire de tout, mais pas avec tout le monde” – which translates into: “we can laugh at everything, but not with everyone,” – many of these ads may come across as offensive under modern standards. To avoid misunderstandings, I will try to filter those out.
No worries, there is plenty of material available to our scrutiny and entertainment: I have hundreds of magazines, ~19K scanned magazines using ~1TB of storage space. But how are these ads useful? Well, as I said previously, some of them are funny. Some are real art pieces. Finally, some are so obsolete that they become oddities. But all of them tell us something about their era. For example, when I write up a note about a computer or a service, I always scan through the relevant magazines of the time, to fill a gap, fact-check a cheesy Wikipedia page, or find a piece of missing information.
For example, when precisely in a given year, did a system launch? Easy: read through the New Products section of a related magazine, and once you found it in an announcement, search in the following issues related ads by the manufacturer or resellers. Another one. Even if I used or had a given system, I didn’t have access to everything available to customers. Price lists – the least appealing ads – are treasure troves! Pick a price, plug it into your favorite inflation calculator, and you will get a better idea of how much that 0.9MB HDD did cost in 1975. The answer is two kidneys and an arm! If you have the chance to read and understand multiple languages, then using international variations of a given ad, opens up an extra dimension to explore: did the manufacturer adapt the ad to the local market? Or is it a copy-paste approach (maybe that market was not attractive). Was the ad even published there? To my introduction note about humor; this makes things more complicated, humor doesn’t cross cultures easily! In short, we will learn a lot and have fun in this section! For this announcement post, I did a quick pick of computer ads with no specific topic in mind, besides to illustrate my point. Enjoy and stay tuned!