Nothing’s as nostalgic as old TV commercials.
Old TV shows (and even movies) can shed some light on what the world was like during their time, but the advertisements in between are the truest time capsules that TV can offer.
Sure, TV commercials always present a warped version of reality, but even the ways in which they warp reality can be fascinating.
Commercials for coffee and breakfast cereals might do, but those don’t change as rapidly as some other products. To get a real feel for what society felt like at the time, look no further than commercials for computers, gadgets, and toys.
Here are the best old TV commercials that’ll send you back in time!
1. The Dell Dude Commercial
Dell’s “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” TV commercials were impossible to avoid in the early 2000s.
I could have picked any TV commercial for this first spot, but I figured I’d go for the one where a woman is shopping for a computer—in the TV section of a department store.
2. Windows Infomercial
Microsoft’s long-time Executive Vice President and one-time CEO Steve Ballmer is known for being… enthusiastic. While this faux informercial isn’t as over-the-top as his notorious “developers” chant, it’s not far behind. Take it down a notch, Steve.
3. Apple “Paper” Commercial
The vast majority of Apple’s early 2000s “Switch” ads are now largely forgotten, but one has endured. This is only slightly before Apple’s commercials took on the slightly smug attitude they’d carry for years after this, and the relative innocence is refreshing.
4. Fast Talking Fedex Commercial
John Moschitta Jr—the star of this FedEx ad—was at the time the holder of the Guinness World Record for the World’s Fastest Talker, so that’s what the commercial is about. I guess they’re related. In a barely related kind of way.
5. Genesis Nintendon’t Commercial
This is from the age where Sega really had some of the best marketing in the business. Yes, it’s cheesy now—and it wasn’t much better then—but anyone who saw the commercial never forgot the phrase “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.”
6. “Robot Spelled Backwards” Commercial
When a commercial for a toy very specifically tells you that the toy’s name is what it is spelled backwards, you know you’re in for a treat. This old TV commercial may precede most of us, but it’s the kind that will live on for years to come.
7. Crossfire Commercial
If you grew up during a time when you had to endure this commercial over and over, congratulations! You are now old. Still, this is way over the top even by the commercial standards of the day—and that’s saying something.
8. DirecTV “End of the Internet” Commercial
Okay, I get what this commercial for DirecTV DSL is doing, and it’s a fun idea. At least, it is until you think about some of the awful things that were on the internet, even way back in 2002. But it wasn’t very prescient. Or was it?
9. Palm Pilot Golf Commercial
Before smartphones, we had PDAs: personal digital assistants. They were like smartphones, except they weren’t phones and they weren’t particularly smart. They were also absolutely useless when it came to finding your non-existent golf swing.
10. Jeff Goldblum iMac Commercial
Okay, so maybe that smug tone in Apple commercials was there even before the “Switch” ads, given that this commercial is from 1998. The fact that it’s delivered by Jeff Goldblum makes it sound a little friendlier, if only a little.
11. TRS-80 Commercial
The Tandy TRS-80 wasn’t a cheap computer, but it was cheaper than much of its competition, which used actual computer monitors instead of your TV. I’ve actually had the chance to use one of these, and it’s a marvel anyone ever got anything done on one of them.
12. Atari 2600 Commercial
This Atari 2600 commercial was from later in its lifespan (you can tell from the dramatically lowered price that it’s selling for). This old TV commercial is more fun to look at than most Atari 2600 games, so it has that going for it.
13. Apple 1984 Commercial
It’s nearly impossible to put together a list of retro tech commercials without mentioning Apple’s 1984 Macintosh ad. It only aired once, which was probably for the best—otherwise, people would have realized it’s a commercial for nothing.
14. Legend of Zelda NES Commercial
The strangest thing about this Legend of Zelda commercial is that it’s actually correct. We still talk about the franchise now, which was anything but a sure bet when this commercial was made, no matter how well the game had done to date.
15. America Online (AOL) Commercial
This America Online commercial makes judicious use of the Jetsons theme song and… well, yeah, that’s about it. The company’s ad for its walled-in internet is both a retrospective look at a product that rapidly became obsolete as well as an introspective glimpse of what we’ve allow the internet to become.
More 90s Nostalgia for the Oldies
The commercials we’ve looked at here range from the 1970s to the early 2000s, so they’re sure to make you somewhat nostalgic regardless of when you were born.
If you find yourself feeling particularly nostalgic for the 90s, we have plenty of other walks down memory lane that only 90s kids will understand: