The infamous Commodore VIC-21 computer
Yes, you read that correctly: there was a Commodore VIC-21 computer, but it’s probably not what you’re thinking. This wasn’t a follow up to the VIC-20 created by Commodore International. No, the Commodore VIC-21 was created by a department store in Boston, MA (USA).
On Sunday, February 13, 1983 Lechmere Department Store took out a full page advertisement in the Boston Globe advertising the “Commodore VIC-21 with Powerful 21K Memory!”. If Commodore didn’t create this computer, how was Lechmere selling it?
Simple – in a brilliant marketing maneuver, Lechmere decided to bundle a 16K expansion cartridge with a run of the mill Commodore VIC-20 computer and sell it as a new model, the VIC-21. The advertisement showed a picture of a VIC-20 computer, but the “20” from the VIC-20 badge was crudely scratched out. Remember, Photoshop hadn’t been invented yet so this was Lechmere’s low-budget marketing solution. To further the ruse, Lechmere also had VIC-21 stickers printed up and affixed them to the original VIC-20 boxes from their inventory to cover up every VIC-20 reference on Commodore’s box.
Surely Commodore was somehow involved in this, right? Not according to Myrddin Jones, Commodore’s Vice President of Marketing at the time. If Commodore wasn’t involved then surely they put a stop to this brand dilution, right? Nope, also according to Myr Jones, “You have to applaud Lechmere’s creativity. I understand their sales are doing quite well.” Similarly, Diane Ottinger, a Commodore spokeswoman said, “No one here seems upset about it. How they sell it is up to them.”
While the VIC-21 made a bit of a splash in February, 1983 and drew the ire of competing computer retailers, they apparently weren’t as successful as the InfoWorld article made them out to be. They were introduced in February at $199, then quickly lowered their price to $169, then $149. By May of 1983 they were selling them for $119.
Here are several pictures of the VIC-21 from my personal collection: