There’s a lot to love about the 90s. It’s easy to look at the decade with a heavy, romantic sigh, especially if you came of age during that decade. Walkmans, Nintendo 64, Spice Girls and sugary, sugary candy.
But let’s focus on a flop for a moment, a failure so remarkable that it become a write-off from our memories of the decade.
Take, for example, the Philips CD-i. The console was meant to serve as a gaming console while also combining the functionality of a CD player, with a comparatively lower cost than a personal computer (still a whopping $700 at its initial release, which eventually plummeted). Few gaming fans outside of the most hardcore circles will remember some of the games released on the console (while many were categorized as “edutainment,” there was indeed one Mario game and three Zelda games released) because their release was so overshadowed by game giants like Nintendo 64 and Playstation.
But now, let’s talk about the ad.
There were a number of similar spots featuring an overly sardonic Phil Hartman playing the part of sleepy narrator, enthusiastic infomercial host, confused shopper and, most inexplicably, a sleepy-eyed woman lying in bed who seems to really, really love the CDI.
Really? You’re telling us this thing was a flop?
But in a way, we applaud Philips for going for something different. Video game and console ads were often wrought with uninhibited enthusiasm (see: our first Throwback Thursday to the Game Genie commercial). While it works in getting the target audience (kids hopped up on sugary, sugary candy) riled up for the system, maybe you can only throw in so many variations of “woah, totally radical!” before people start to roll their eyes.
It almost seems as though Philips tried to intentionally under-sell the merits of the CD-i, or to promote it as a thing to be enjoyed ironically.
Irony and self-reflexivity do work — and in fact, it’s nice to see brands with some self-awareness and not taking one’s self too seriously. But with the CD-i, these undeniably strange ads did nothing to boost the image of a widely-panned product.
Philips, we get what you were trying to go for. And we really do appreciate it. Not enough to wish we could go back in time and buy a CD-i, but, you know, good try.