Retrofuture: IBM’s 1999 Forgotten Receipt Commercial Imagines RFID Matrix-Style

May 12, 2015 Ben Myers

The trenchcoat, the sideburns, the late 90s!

IBM’s 1999 ad depicted how RFID (the radio frequency technology now commonly found in cell phones and credit cards) could make shopping as convenient as shoplifting in the not-too-distant future.

The amazing thing is, despite reeking of 90s motifs, the ad is still good! Unlike other ads that tried to explain the possibilities of connected devices with clunky dialog and strained metaphors (when simple dial-up internet penetration was around 40%), there’s barely a piece of hardware or software on screen. Like any good ad, it demonstrates the benefit of the product with barely a word.

Someday we’ll simply be able to walk out of a store without some bumptious security guard getting all up in our faces about it. Step off, man!

The Matrix was an obvious influence on the ad: pumping techno, green tint, and a skinny trenchcoat anti-hero. I guess the sideburns were a creative choice to add a bit of criminality to the culprit.

Now 16 years removed from the famous (to me) “Excuse me sir… forgot your receipt” commercial, RFID, Bluetooth and other invisible payment methods certainly play a role in modern shopping under uniquely capitalized names like Mastercard PayPass, Visa payWave and American Express ExpressPay.

The airport security-style walkthrough checkout never caught on, but self checkout lanes are now a very common way to get out of the store without someone asking whether you want paper or plastic.

These days, we still have to scan individual items at checkout rather than just stuff them into your shopping bag/trenchcoat, but perhaps someday we’ll simply be able to walk out of a store without some bumptious security guard getting all up in our faces about it. Step off, man!

IBM (and trenchcoat sideburns dude), we salute you!

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