Leapfrogging on last week’s journey into the depths of wine product, The Wife pointed me to an ad she remembered from her youth. In it, Urban Folk are urged to combine their own brand of wine product with grapefruit juice. Take a peek.
Yes, Thunderbird–renowned as the booze of choice for hobos, derelicts, and hopeless alcoholics–mixes well with grapefruit juice. Just pour it straight down the neck of the bottle. You know, just like all normal, non-transient people do. And make sure you shake it up nice and long. That’s not gonna spray everywhere the second you take your thumb out of the opening.
This ad hails from the difficult childhood of Ethnic Ads. Some time in the 70s, companies finally figured out that black people bought stuff and thus merited their own targeted advertising. But since they also didn’t figure black people merited actual jobs at these agencies, you got spots like the weird, quasi-racist one you see above.
Despite being the official sponsor of the DTs, Thunderbird was once considered classy enough to have James Mason for a spokesman. Yes, the star of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lolita, and Heaven Can Wait, shilling for the booze whose very name screams Hey buddy, got some change? Although if you look at his filmography, it’s not too much of a stretch. Apparently Mr. Mason once guested on several episodes of something called Schlitz Playhouse. Of particular note, their performance of Paint Your Wagon (With Vomit).
All this talk of premium malt beverages reminded me of one of the worst ads I’ve ever seen. This ran in the early-to-mid 90s. It opened on a city street, obviously meant to look “ghetto”. And if that wasn’t a big enough cue, the viewer was also treated to a thugged-out guy sitting in a recliner, in the middle of said street. Next to his chair, a bucket of ice.
THUG: Some people, they take the bull by the horns…
[Cut to footage of rodeo rider. Cut back.]
THUG: But round my way, there’s only one way to grab the bull…
[Reaches into ice bucket, pulls out bottle of Bull Malt Liquor.]
THUG:…by the neck…
[Thug yanks recliner lever so the leg rest pops up. After very long pause:]
I couldn’t believe this thing ever aired. It was so racist and almost fear-mongering, I figured it was either written by the KKK or Lee Atwater.
I scoured the Internets for this all last night, to no avail. (I’m pretty sure I have it on a VHS tape somewhere, as I’m almost positive it ran during a late night showing of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I have neither the time nor the stamina to search for it at this time.) Then I tweeted and facebooked about it, hoping folks might no what I was talking about.
No dice, but tweeter DonCheech did point me to this ad, which was in the same category of racisosity. All this ad for Schlitz Malt Liquor needs is someone shuffling off at the end, croaking “Feets don’t fail me now!”
Of course, the gold standard of malt liquor commercials were the smooth moves laid on by one Mr. Billy Dee Williams when he shilled for Colt 45 in the 80s. I shan’t post any of those ads, but I will show you this clip from the AMAZING Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary Special that ran in 1985. In it, various celebrities spoke of Bugs, Daffy, et al as if they were real actors they’d worked with (Bill Murray’s segments were especially transcendent).
In this clip, Billy Dee is clearly playing off of his Colt 45 ad persona. His little hand gestures and quiet smiles at the cacophonous music of Carl Stalling is a triumph of understatement.