In 1994, telecommunications giant AT&T ran a series of television ads in the US created by N W Ayer and directed by David Fincher (!) with the tagline “You Will.” The ads started with a voiceover by Mr. Tom “Magnum P.I.” Selleck asking, “Have you ever…” and then go on to show a whole set of new technology, ending with the kicker, “You will. And the company that will bring it to you is AT&T.” The ads don’t say how AT&T will bring to you all this cool stuff, although we now understand it is broadband pipes and wireless connectivity. While designers fetishize the Apple 1984 ad, I think we should also remember this series as a lost set of classics. I know they had an impact on me.
Here’s what the ads promised would come about:
- “Have you ever sent a fax [!!!] from the beach?” WiFi/WAN. Done.
- “Have you ever crossed the country without stopping to ask directions?” GPS navigation systems. Done.
- “Have you ever borrowed a book from thousands of miles away?” The internet. Done.
- “Have you ever paid a toll without slowing down?” I’d say we’re about halfway there now.
- “Have you ever bought concert tickets from a cash machine?” Hmm, no. Add to the To Do list. Although, buying them online is probably easier.
- “Have you ever attended a meeting in your bare feet?” and “Have you ever learned special things from far-away places?” and “Have you ever tucked your baby in from a phone booth [!!!}?” Videoconferencing. Done. Although phone booths are mostly a thing of the past now.
- “Have you ever opened doors with the sound of your voice?” Nope, although pretty feasible.
- “Have you ever carried your medical history in your wallet?” Not exactly, but perhaps outside the US this is a reality.
- “Have you ever watched the movie you wanted to the minute you wanted to?” Video on demand. Done.
- “Have you ever checked out at a grocery store one cart at a time?” I’m guessing this is via some sort of RFID tags/reader combination. Not there yet. Give it three years.
- “Have you ever had an assistant who lives in your computer?” Software agents. Nope, not there yet either. Again, give it three years.
Aside from the pointed-out technology, what struck me the most re-watching these ads were the touchscreens everywhere. Touchscreen monitors, tablets, medical record viewing screens. Some real forward-thinking devices here, years before they would hit the general public.
All in all, these commercials are surprising in how well they predict a lot of the day-to-day existence we find ourselves in now. This “possible future” they predicted has mostly come true. Even if, ironically, AT&T had very little to do with it.