That 'Free U2 Album With Purchase of Cassette Player' Ad? It's Bogus

Sometimes history repeats itself—like when a vintage ad that pops up online seems too good to be true.

Behind the web’s seething stream of new things, there’s an enormous archive. It's the old and the (often) interesting—the pre-digital newspapers, magazines, catalogs, photographs, prints, advertisements—that have increasingly found a home online.

Sometimes from this trove of oldness, something rises up that seems so relevant, so hilariously apt, that it travels in the new stream for a while itself.

Such seemed to be the case this week when Twitter users started swapping around what appeared to be an old ad from a magazine. It advertised that, with the purchase of a new cassette tape player, consumers could get themselves a free copy of U2’s War.

Amazing! In 2014, every Apple device owner had gotten a free copy of U2’s new album—though they haven’t taken kindly to the gesture—and that’s just like this thing which happened three decades earlier. Bono and the Edge, technology pitchmen yesteryear and today!

The only problem? As Internet fact-checkers Snopes first reported, the U2 image is Photoshopped. The source material comes from a 1986 catalog from the British retailer Argos. That page, as it first appeared:

There were a few give-aways in the U2 spread. The font seemed to resemble Verdana, for instance, which wasn’t released until 1996 and thus postdates the War era (not to mention the denim vest). The way that the U2 pitch is centered in its area, too, doesn’t match the design of the rest of the page.

This isn’t the first time that something new has claimed to be old. After bin Laden’s death, Facebook and Twitter users shared a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that turned out to be mostly fiction. It’s a good reminder that everything that looks old isn’t necessarily—especially when we can’t even judge a page by the brittleness of its paper.