I reference these AT&T ads all the time in my marketing class — despite the fact that most of my students are too young to remember them.
Apart from their historic appeal (seriously: dig that smokey early 90s music video vibe), the ads are great examples of brand marketing. AT&T isn’t selling anything here other than the idea of AT&T. In fact, the campaign’s very premise is that consumers can’t possibly buy or do any of these things…but thanks to AT&T, they will. Soon.
Of course, there are a bejillion other examples of brand advertising I could name. (That weird Shell campaign with the Scandinavians and the bendable drinking straws come to mind.) But for some reason, these stick out.
That’s probably because AT&T’s predictions were so spot-on. Unlike the wild-ass predictions spawned by unfettered suburban optimism in the 1950s and 1960s — robot butlers! cities on the moon! meals in a pill! — AT&T knew what it was talking about. The company saw the technology coming down the pipeline and accurately calculated where it would lead.