The Pitch With mere days left before the dawn of 2008, there's precious little time left to celebrate a geek milestone: the silver anniversary of the incomparable Magnavox Odyssey gaming console. This particular ad, however, aired in early 1973, about nine months after the Odyssey's debut. The oddly unenthusiastic narrator terms the product "the electronic game of the future" as a Brady-like couple sets up their rig—a surprisingly laborious process involving plastic overlays. Man and wife enjoy a few rounds of Magnavox Hockey, Tennis, and (ugh) Geography on their "closed-circuit electronic playground," twiddling the knobs on their toaster-sized controllers. The spot ends with an exhortation to visit your Magnavox dealer ("he's listed in the Yellow Pages," natch). A hilarious fossil of a commercial, but also an early example of how technology companies deal with marketing crises—especially when they're in the midst of pushing truly novel products.
The Spin The crucial moment in this ad comes early on, when the turtlenecked hubby fits the Hockey template on his TV. Both narrator and caption stress that the Odyssey works with any TV, a vital point given Magnavox's earlier bungling. The very first Odyssey spots in 1972 (unavailable, alas) showed gamers using a Magnavox color TV. This created terrible confusion: Many consumers assumed that the Odyssey was only compatible with Magnavox sets, and color ones at that. So though 80,000-100,000 consoles were sold in 1972 alone, Magnavox was actually somewhat disappointed with the Odyssey's performance; the company feared that, having burned through the early adopters, it would be hard-pressed to capture the interest of mainstream consumers. This commercial, then, is all about reassuring folks that, no, you don't have to ditch your beloved black-and-white RCA in order to enjoy a spirited game of Roulette or Football.
Counterspin Despite a quick remark that the Odyssey is fun for the whole family, this ad shows only an adult couple. And while it's hard to understand the mindset of folks who were alive during Watergate, was the Odyssey such a technological wonder that it could hold the interest of thirtysomethings for hours on end? As with the TI-99/4A previously discussed in this space, the Odyssey seems like it would most enrapture gamers in the grade-school demographic—even if we'd been born in the 1940s instead of the 1970s, it's hard to picture my wife and I settling down for a fun evening of Odyssey Geography. Of course, the console's outrageous price made it the sort of item that you probably didn't want Junior messing around with: The Odyssey (including six program cards) cost $100, which is around $480 in today's dollars. And you thought the PS3 was overpriced...