Negative Tech Ads: A Short History in Video

More Microsoft Bashing

Apple has made by far the largest number of anti-Microsoft ads of any competing company, but other software purveyors occasionally chime in. Longtime Redmond bête noire (and recent Oracle purchase) Sun Microsystems created this Jacques Cousteau satire--I'm not sure whether it ever aired on TV--showing the Blue Screen of Death at its deadliest. Unfortunately, like Bernard, we never get a glimpse of "ze raire Sumatran sea badgaire."

On a similar note, when Microsoft launched Windows XP with an ad showing XP users soaring to Madonna music, networking company Novell responded with a parody showing a poor lad crashing (get it?) to earth.

Much more recently, Google promoted its Google Apps online suite with intentionally cryptic billboards in major cities. Some played up the disadvantages of traditional software in general. But in case you couldn't figure out which traditional software company the Google was talking about, check out the reference to Patch Tuesday in this online ad showing all the billboards.

Target: Atari

In the early 1980s. Atari's VCS 2600 console dominated at-home videogaming to a degree that no company has equaled since. Not surprisingly, a sizable number of ads for other manufacturers's systems attempted to make the case that they were better than Atari.

At the time, Mattel hired Out of My League and Paper Lion author George Plimpton to serve as spokesman for its Intellivision game system. Presumably the company sought out Plimpton because of his writing about real-world sports. (It surely wasn't because he was a videogame expert--I doubt that the guy could tell Donkey Kong Jr. from Dig-Dug in a police lineup.) Plimpton spent much of his on-air time snarking at the low-grade graphics of Atari's 2600 games.

Here he is comparing Intellivision's sports games to Atari's. A quarter-century later, a viewer's immediate reaction to the ad is likely to be "Geez, all of them look abysmal!" But if you weren't playing videogames back then, trust me: The Intellivision versions were impressive.

In this spot, George interrupts a nerdy kid doing an Atari pitch to extoll the virtues of Intellivision's space games, including the faux Space Invaders game Space Armada and the "incredible" Astrosmash.

ColecoVision had better graphics than either the Atari 2600 or Intellivision, but the point of this ad was that it was more expandable than Atari's consoles. You could, for instance, convert it into an Adam home computer--a system later reviled as one of the worst PCs of all time.

By the mid-1980s, the Atari age was over--and with it videogame advertising's most intensely combative era. Here's a Nintendo-mocking ad for 1989's popular Sega Genesis console with an insanely catchy jingle. Verizon's recent Droid Does/iDon't ad was practically a remake of this one.

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