How many of my previous Internet Gauntlets have been satisfied? Let’s see, by my calculations…ZERO. Someone has to step it up, people, and it seems that someone is me.
My plan was to do a new Internet Gauntlet Thrown for an ad I haven’t seen in many a moon. It was for a line of toys in the late 1980s called Spy Tech. I never played with them, as I was a little older than their target audience by the time they debuted. However, I did enjoy the Spy Tech ads, which were a perfect encapsulation of a very childish, very 1980s brand of paranoia. Here’s an example.
I love this ad so very much, for so many reasons. It taps into a very basic fear/hope that all children have: Adults are engaged in evil, nefarious schemes they must hide from kids AT ALL COSTS. Naturally, when kids think things are being hidden from them, they must try to uncover them. Kids like to think that they may become entangled in a great mystery or adventure which only they can see to its conclusion (see: every cartoon made in the last 50 years).
Spy Tech could only have come from the 1980s, a time when children were told that an endless series of mysterious strangers were trying to capture them and take them away in a windowless van, never to be seen again except on the back of a milk carton. Of course, you were never told exactly why this might happen, so the sensible response was to FEAR EVERYONE. Like in this ad. “There’s a stranger on your block!” That’s all we need to hear! Better follow him to the movies, kids!
The kicker: These kids really have stumbled on something. They’ve so unnerved The Stranger that he tells his contact in the movie theater ticket booth, “Cancel the plan–they have Spy Tech!” The contact, looking more annoyed than alarmed, hastily places a CLOSED sign in the window. Joke’s on her, though; the CLOSED part is facing inward, so everyone will assume the theater is still open.
The universe of the Spy Tech ads has two features that nowadays would at least be questioned, if not banned outright:
- Kids can go off by themselves and shadow potentially dangerous strangers.
- Anyone even slightly different is deserving of suspicion and should be monitored as closely as possible.
There were many Spy Tech ads, all of which followed a similar template. In another commercial, a couple of kids track the new couple who moved next door, who just MUST be up to something. It ends by revealing these seemingly mild mannered professionals have a living room full of surveillance equipment of their own! Gadzooks!
But my favorite was one I’ve been hunting down for years. It has the typical Spy Tech scenario: kids surreptitiously follow a weirdo on their block. Why is he a weirdo? Because he has shifty eyes and whistles loudly on his way to work. Better make sure he’s not in a sleeper cell!
Hounded by a crew of amateur spooks, The Whistler stops at a newsstand. He does not make eye contact with the man behind the counter. He does not even stop as he picks up a newspaper. He simply says, “They have Spy Tech” in an ominous growl and moves on his way. The man at the newsstand, panicked, squeaks out “They know!” And, scene.
The reason this one always cracked me up is because it was so vague and menacing. All the other ads are fairly explicit in some way or another that demonstrate the tailed strangers are spies. This one leaves so much to the imagination. The Whistler just grabs his paper and passes along the bad news to his contact, who tells us nothing more than THEY KNOW! It always killed me.
I’ve been looking for this ad for years. Years, people. Not only could I find no one else who remembered it, but I also couldn’t find anyone who remembered Spy Tech itself. How soon we forget! I began to wonder if I’d exaggerated the memory, or even imagined it altogether.
Well, it turns out, if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself. Deep in the bowels of YouTube, I finally found this commercial again, and yes, it is everything I remembered, and more. The quality is substandard even by YouTube’s yardstick, but I think the essential Spy Tech-iness comes across. You’re welcome, Internet.*
* Keep watching after the Spy Tech ad for an awesome Cheerios ad featuring Bo Jackson, as well as some more relics from this glorious era in the history of kids commercials.