Putting Atari to Work
by Carly Kocurek — Illinois Institute of Technology
June 27, 2012 – 00:00
Many early video games and game systems were produced by companies best known for products ranging from jukeboxes to televisions. However, startups, including Atari and Exidy among others, also characterized the early video game industry. Atari remains the most recognizable and arguably the most influential of these early game companies as the company’s coin-op Pong (1972) became the first hit video game. However, by the early 1980s, Atari was working hard to diversify its product line away from an increasingly crowded games market.
In the midst of the industry crash from 1983-1985, Atari hired Alan Alda as a spokesperson. Alda, then well-known for his role on the television series M*A*S*H, demonstrated Atari products such as phone systems and home computers. The computers were Atari’s greatest hope, as evidenced by the advertisement featured here. Unlike the Alda ads, which employ familiar, domestic settings and focus on utility, ease of use, and practicality of various Atari products, this spot relies on a futuristic ethos. Beginning with reference to Atari’s success in the coin-op game market, the advertisement quickly moves to the company’s success in the home game console market, and then transitions to the company’s home computer products. The rhythmic electronic music is intertwined with game and computer sound effects. Throughout, the camera lingers on the games’ and computers’ on-screen graphics. The computer is shown both as a business tool and as a home system, which is useful not only for games, but for creative pursuits such as music composition, and practical ones like managing finances.
For an advertisement that declares Atari as a gateway to "a world beyond your wildest dreams" and invites viewers to "discover how far you can go," these practical and business applications seem almost out of place. The relative newness of home computing during this period offers a partial explanation, but the necessity of attracting new consumers is even more central. While an easier solution for compiling financial records may not be the stuff of the average consumer’s dreams, the average consumer using Atari computers to compile financial records was absolutely the stuff of Atari’s marketing dreams. Video game companies’ computer advertisements from this period reveal not only a past vision of computer-based technological novelty, but also an industry in flux with its best-known makers flailing.