Commenting on yesterday’s McRib-related post, Brian Dermody had a trenchant observation about the resolute “1991-ness of the 1991” ad. There is something exquisitely early 90s about this commercial. The jittery teal lettering. The man’s Parker Lewis Can’t Lose haircut. His shirt with the Trapper Keeper-esque random geometric shapes. It’s like a heavily moussed time capsule.
Brian also invoked the memory of another ad campaign I had not thought of in quite some time: BoKu, starring Richard Lewis. Thanks to the standup boom of the 80s and a hit sitcom Anything But Love, co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis (well, a sitcom that was on the air, anyway), this was truly the golden age of Richard Lewis.
The neurotic humoredian parlayed his fame into a sweet gig for BoKu, a quixotic attempt to get adults to drink juice boxes. Of course, they didn’t call them juice boxes, and they didn’t have straws, but they were clearly drink boxes to any discerning eye. So who better to emphasize their adulthood than Richard Lewis, that paragon of early 90s grown-up-ness, the living embodiment of the I-don’t-quite-what’s-going-on-itude of this era.
These commercials are prime examples of why I like ads so much: because they perfectly encapsulate the era during which they were made. Ads are not meant to stand the test of time. They’re meant to be consumed, either consciously or subliminally, then discarded.
How could you understand the early 90s, the ennui of the First Bush years, the strange economic nervousness of the post-Black Monday years, the nascent rumblings of grunge, Generation X, and rave culture? An era that, to someone who did not experience it, doesn’t seem to have any characteristics at all? You could read a novel from this time, or watch a film or television show, and you might get a sense of it. Or you could watch this ad and know it in 30 seconds.
See? Now you don’t have to put season one of thirtysomething in your Netflix queue. You’re welcome.