Tech Evolution ‘As Seen On TV’

Posted by Diana Antão

There’s a lot we can learn about how technology has evolved just by watching TV commercials. We’ve gathered some of the most iconic ads from the last 20 years to show you how much tech has evolved. How many do you remember?

 

What’s the Internet?

There was once a time when companies like AOL and ATT used commercials to explain what the internet was, how we could access it and the type of things we could do. Email and chatrooms seemed like futuristic technologies that opened doors allowing us to connect with people, more easily.

 

The Perks of SMS

In 1999, Esat Digifone, one of the first broadband and telecommunications providers in Ireland, explained the perks of texting in a fun TV commercial featuring one of the first Nokia handsets. Now, it’s hard to remember life before SMS and iMessages.

 

Promising Less Spam Since the 90s

Also in 1999, Yahoo, the company who ran the search game back in the 90s, released a TV commercial about its email service. The ad promised to cut down spam and illustrated, in an amusing way, the terrible consequences of unwanted email.

 

Netflix ‘Back in the Day

It’s always amusing to look back and see how companies started out. In 2004, Netflix ran a TV commercial explaining how they offered a better service than their big rival, Blockbuster. Now Netflix rules our TV sets, with its high quality, on-demand streaming service.

 

Old Rivalries

Talking of rivalries, the contest between Mac and Windows goes way back. In 2006, Apple released a series of brilliant TV commercials that would highlight the key differences between the two brands. The “Get a Mac” campaign run until 2009 and in each ad spot they compared ‘Mac’, a man dressed in casual clothes, to ‘PC’, a man in a more formal suit-and-tie combination.

 

New Rivalries

From old to new rivalries, the battle between Samsung and Apple is almost as well-known as Apple’s own war with Microsoft. In 2013, Nokia took advantage of this to produce a hilarious commercial introducing its new handset, the Nokia Lumia. The advert references both Apple’s and Samsung’s previous ads. Can you spot them?

 

“There’s an app for that”

No sentence better describes the past decade of evolution when it comes to consumer tech. In 2009, Apple first used the phrase “There’s an app for that” in a commercial for the iPhone. It eventually entered popular use and is still in circulation today when people refer to the huge number and variety of mobile apps available.

 

Using the Force

Car commercials have tended to focus on the experience of the driver and that continues to be true. However, once in a while an ad comes along that focuses on a more idiosyncratic aspect of automotive technology. That was exactly what Volkswagen did in what subsequently became an all-time favourite TV commercial. The ad they released in 2011 promoted Volkswagen’s ‘remote car start’ function and has had more than ten million views.

 

A Better Web

We started this list of iconic TV commercials for the tech industry with companies like AOL having to explain what the internet was. That was back in the 90s. More than 15 years later in 2014, Squarespace (a platform used to create websites) managed to summarise what the web had become in just 30 seconds.

 

Alexa Loses Her Voice

Early this year, Amazon launched a commercial to promote Alexa, its virtual assistant and Amazon Echo, a hands-free speaker controlled with your voice. In this light-hearted ad, Amazon tried to find replacements for Alexa’s voice! Listen out for Anthony Hopkins and Rebel Wilson. Even Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s own CEO, made an appearance.


TV ads are a powerful archive of what was once popular and disruptive technology. They offer a unique cultural snapshot of how tech has been changing our lives in ways that we often forget. Do you remember any other techy TV commercial that should be on this list?