If you were surprised to see Hugh Jackman pop up to tell his bit about juggling his many lives on the Micromax Canvas Turbo, don’t be. He is just the latest in a long list of Hollywood stars who have lent their names to commercials of tech companies and their products. Some have done a very good job of it, others have stuttered just a little. Here’s our look at ten who caught the eye, albeit not always effectively.
William Shatner for the Commodore Vic-20 (1982)
“Why buy a video game from Atari” declares the man famous as Captain James T Kirk as he rematerialises on the TV screen, in a very Stark Trek manner. Shatner did not evoke any Trek terms in the ad, but spoke briskly, and did point out that the system cost less than three hundred dollars and “unlike games, had a real computer keyboard.” Take it away, Mr Sulu!
Kevin Costner for Apple Lisa (1983)
Right, he did not exactly look totally at ease - check out the super-tentative mouse click - with the computer, but a young-ish Kevin Costner did appear in an Apple Lisa ad campaign in 1983, riding to work on a cycle with his dog. The ad was supposed to highlight how some people have a different sort of work day, and that these gems use the Lisa. We are not sure it worked. The computer sure did not set sales charts on fire. The dog did look nice though.
Alan Ada for the Atari Writer (1984)
“You can make corrections, move whole groups of words around and print it out on your own stationary” - well, that WAS a big deal in 1984 when Atari launched the Atari Writer word processor. And it got Alan Ada - of M*A*S*H fame - to help promote it through an ad campaign. It was a straight narration affair, and ended with Ada dramatically declaring “Atari might make the typewriter obsolete!”
John Cleese and the Compaq Portable 2 (1986)
Yes, this is good old Basil Fawlty himself peddling gadgetry. Mind you, he did a very good job of it as well. Yes, some of us might faint at the very thought of a 22-pound computer being called ‘portable’ but those were the mid-eighties, and bytes were in mega rather than giga mode. We don’t know if the ad actually worked but the sight of Cleese comparing the specs of a computer with a fish (yes!) still gives us the giggles.
The cast of M*A*S*H for IMB Application System 400 (1988)
Imagine the cynical, hard-bitten Hawkeye walking around coporate circles in suit, talking about a business’ computing needs? Well, he was not the only one. IBM decided to appeal to the business class by bringing the cast from the classic TV serial to push its Application System 400 series of computers designed for small businesses. Some cheered the arrival of their old favourites. Others frowned to see them toeing the corporate line. You cannot please everyone, can you?
Jerry Seinfeld for Microsoft (2008)
Comedian supreme Jerry Seinfeld advising Bill Gates on how to buy shoes and then helping him ‘loosen them up’ ? Well, he did just that in this ad that Microsoft released for a short while. No, it did not peddle any product per se but well, it did give you the opportunity of seeing Mr Gates looking just a bit bemused and actually smiling. Too bad the crowds did not lap it up, but worth a watch just to see Seinfeld ask Gates “Ever wear clothes in the shower, Bill?”
Catherine Zeta-Jones for T0-Mobile (2004)
“Come to T-Mobile, where families talk free” declared the gorgeous actress at the end of a brief ad spot in which hassled members of a family are trying their best to keep their phone bills on the shorter side by brisk conversations. Honestly, why couldn’t they have just got a routine announcer for the task? Still, the actress looked and sounded sincere enough.
Ashton Kucher for Nikon 1 J1 (2011)
“Huge is a different kind of a Nikon, and it happens to be very very small...” announces the voiceover after a long-maned and bearded Ashton Kucher has been shot through a cannonball and done a fair bit of leaping and jumping around. Nope, he did not utter a single word for the entire duration of the ad, although he did smile a fair bit. A classic case of actions speaking louder than words, then. Slick ad, that said, and better than the older, sassy ones that Kucher did for the brand.
Robert Downey Jr for HTC (2013)
What do you do when you think your brand needs a rethink? You get one of Hollywood’s resident eccentrics - and leading stars, we may add - to redefine the brand. Literally. That’s exactly what Robert ‘Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes’ Downey is seen doing in the Here’s To Change ad, with different forms of HTC emerging in the process, including (our favourite) Hold This Cat.
Jack Black for Pitfall (1982)
All right, we are cheating a bit here. Jack Black was just a thirteen year old when this ad for a run, leap, jump game for the Atari system was made, and nowhere being the superstar he is right now. But hey, we do think it is worth mentioning as according to most sources, this was his first on-screen performance. One of those cases of a tech ad making a Hollywood star?