The Greatest Gadget Ad Of All Time?

Here’s Sir Laurence Olivier’s commercial for the Polaroid SX-70 camera. This ad is 40 years old and the entire product category became obsolete over a decade ago.

But be honest: right now, you want an SX-70.

Why? Because you are men and women of taste, it’s a hell of a product, and a hell of a commercial. Sir Larry presents an attractive and compact slab of what looks like fine metal and leather and holy crap it just transformed into a camera! I wonder where the film goes did he just slide ten frames of film into it as easily as putting bread in a toaster?!

(Recall that this was a time when people loaded 35mm SLR cameras by dropping a cartridge into one end of the thing and then pulling the film acrossssss to a takeup reel and carrrrrefully making sure the holes engaged with the sprockets and…etc.)

The SX-70 even sounds great when taking a photo, emitting a satisfying thclack of a shutter followed by a whirring of gears and motors that set about their work with care and precision. But how do the photos you mean that’s not a trick it really does just sort of appear in front of your eyes?!?

More gadget ads ought to be exactly like this. In a short span of time, it puts on a magic show. There’s nothing vague or oracular about it. Nothing smug, no “concept,” and Polaroid wasn’t touting this as an “aspirational” or “disruptive” product. The message is simple. Here’s an awesome camera. If you take pictures, you want to more about the SX-70.

And because this is 1973, this means physically transporting yourself to a place where they have a stock of cameras and the equipment necessary to swap them for your money immediately. This was good for Polaroid. Once you hold an SX-70, you’re kind of doomed.

I know from experience. I own two SX-70 cameras. When I got home from the MIT Flea Market with this prize, I rummaged through my closet to look for a lens brush so I could spiff it up…and then I found the other SX-70 that I bought at another Flea two or three years earlier. Thankfully, I paid flea-market prices for both. But yes, all cower and quake before the seductive powers of intensely-well-designed technology.

And I haven’t even mentioned the perfection of hiring Sir Larry. It was great casting, and speaks well of the company’s faith in the product. He lends an air of affirmation, credibility, and sophistication to the SX-70 through his presence. But his words are straightforward ad copy that anybody could have read. If the camera were a lesser product, Polaroid would have had Larry talk about fine-tooled leather and classical craftsmanship and the feel of superb engineering in one’s hands, like that of a fine timepiece or a hand-built luxury car, et cetera.

My thanks to pal Harry McCracken for bringing it to my attention. I clicked into Technologizer for his tribute to James Garner’s Polaroid commercials (rest in peace) (James Garner and Polaroid) and I was soon engrossed in his tribute to the SX-70. You ought to go read it.