Continuing my pointless quest to digitize every 80s ad I possess, I present this latest collection of commercials from The Vast and Dusty Scratchbomb VHS Archives. The latest batch comes from a tape with material recorded right around Halloween, 1985. Why am I presenting Halloween materials when we’re so close to Christmas? Because many of these ads have holiday relevance. And because I lump Halloween into that Drive To XMas Season. And because SHUT UP IT’S MY STUPID SITE OKAY?!
This first ad definitely has Christmas significance. In it, Alex Karras (aka Webster’s dad) informs parents that they better rush down to their local toy store NOW if they want to get some decent Transformers for the kiddies come December 25. This ad aired very close to Halloween, meaning there were at least seven weeks left until The Big Day. Just in case you thought retailers jumping the gun was a recent phenomenon.
It also features Webster’s dad lip syncing to “robots in disguise”, thus putting it in my top 10 favoritest ads ever.
Perhaps Transformers went hard sell because they felt the pressure from Gobots, who debuted at roughly the same time. Sure, Transformers had the lion’s share of the shape-shifting robot market, but could they boast a character as classy as Tux, the Gobots Rolls Royce?
But the most revolutionary toy of the 1985 holiday season was the Nintendo Entertainment System (even if nobody knew it yet). Here’s one of the first ever ads for it (if not the first ad), in which you can see the short-lived accessory Robbie the Robot.
Kids who loved the outdoor life could enjoy Power Wheels, for off-roadin’. “Power makes it go!” was their slogan. To which I respond: What the hell else would make it go?
This Toys R Us ad ran for a good chunk of the decade, with annual adjustments to account for the latest fads. In this version, Transformers and Rainbow Brite seem to be the hot costumes. And also, the kids’ mom is a witch.
For adults in search for toys, there were board games like Stage 2. In this ad, several couples show up for a weekend getaway with Stage 2. It reminds of the plot to a John Cheever short story. The commercial does not last long enough to show us all the upper middle class ennui, repressed emotions, and bitter regret.
Toys could always be found in the warm, glowing confides of a Happy Meal. As a kid, I was thoroughly jealous of kids who had Happy Meal toys, because my family was too poor to eat out more than a few times a year (and even McDonalds was considered eating out). Seeing these ads as an adult, I’m glad to see that these toys were really just dumb junk. I wish I could go back and tell that to seven-year-old me.
This youthful McDonalds denial, while preventing me from having a heart attack by the age of 17, also made me weirdly obsessed with their ads. Especially the ones pitched exclusively to kids. Like this one which, perversely, takes place in a gym. Ronald definitely needed to hit the gym after a few Big Macs, if his ticker could take it.
Or this one, where the Fry Guys attempt to steal Ronald’s golden french fries through subterfuge and rhyming. Despite their chicanery, Ronald gives them some fries anyway. Great lesson to teach the kiddies, Mickey D’s!
Or how about this one, where Chicken McNuggets cavort in their own little circus, oblivious to the fact that they will soon be eaten. Or maybe they welcome their fate, since they clearly enjoy diving into plastic tubs of barbecue sauce. What are the existential implications of such death wishery?
To be fair, McDonalds wasn’t the only company promoting unhealthy crap for kids. There were plenty of bad breakfast cereals as well. Such as Honeycomb, seen here without the eponymous hideout. Apparently, Honeycomb will make you hallucinate. I didn’t know massive amounts of sugar could do that.
And there was Chef Boyardee, enticing children with pasta shaped like the lovable Smurf characters.
Plus, kids had ads to get them to consume good things, too. Like these Milk ads, aimed at children who were into Monty Python-esque surreality. Although come to think of it, considering all the hormones pumped into cows these days, I’m not so sure getting kids to drink more milk is the best idea.
In 1985, fast food joints didn’t just try to rope in impressionable children. Impressionable adults were fair game, too. McDonalds debuted their McDLT, with the hook being that it kept the hot side hot and the cold side cold, thus addressing a complaint no one had ever lodged. But at least it double the amount of post-consumer waste one burger could produce.
Burger King responded as they usually did: By introducing eight million new products all once, in the hopes one of them would stick. Here’s a promo for a series of quarter pounders with special cheeses and toppings, all of which look incredibly unappealing. I don’t know how long these lasted, but I’m guessing the answer to that quiz question is ‘not very’.
Sweepstakes were also a big part of the Burger King arsenal. They brought out the big gun, Robin Leach, to narrate this $14 million giveaway. I’m gonna guess $13.95 million of the prize money went in the form of free Pepsis.
KFC responded to McDonalds muscling in on their meat-turf by declaring they had the better nuggets, which is a lot like asserting you have the shinier garbage can.
Meanwhile, Wendy’s blasted McDonalds (without naming them) for using forzen beef patties and not using fresh breakfast ingredients. Touche, Wendy’s.
If you weren’t into fast food, you could always destroy your body with cheap, corn-based beer. Here’s two Budweiser ads that celebrate the American worker’s dedication to drive, ambition, and getting shitfaced after 5pm.
For the more genteel lush, there was Soave Bolla. I have no memory of this ad, but I was struck by its obvious attempt to mimic Michael Corleone’s Sicilian wedding. If it went on for another 30 seconds, I’m sure we’d see a car bomb go off.
1985 also marked the beginning of the chocolate-covered granola bar explosion. Suddenly, every formerly bland granola slab was dipped into gooey, syrupy fudge, simultaneously increasing their appeal and plummeting their nutritional value. Here’s an ad from one failed attempt to jump on the bandwagon: Whipps. I believe the name was later appropriated by a chain of S&M-themed strip clubs.
If you wanted more immediate results from a snack, you could try Bubble Yum. It transformed you from a mild-mannered checkout boy to a rad alien in no time! Thanks to that chick who lives inside your cash register.
But if you wanted to be a true badass, you grabbed yourself some Frito Snackers. Like this gang that hung around Main Street USA back in those days. Men wanted to be them. Women devised off ruses just to be with them. They were gods among men.
Here’s another slew of CBS promos, including more failed sitcoms, teasers for animated Halloween specials, a documentary on USA for Africa (aka “We Are the World”), and an ad for the 80s revival of The Twilight Zone, which still haunts my dreams. Don’t believe me? Check out the show’s title sequence. The ghostly Rod Serling alone is enough to make my hair stand on end. Note: This video is a little wonky right, will fix ASAP.
1985 also marked the year that Sylvester Stallone both won the Vietnam War and defeated the Soviet Union. Here is a trailer for Rocky IV, in which Rocky gets his best friend killed, then drags his family to Russia on Christmas for a heavyweight fight.
Here’s a Marines recruiting ads. No fire monsters in this one, but lots of fire goes into the making a sword, you know.
Finally, here’s an ad to promote the purchase of Made in the USA products. In retrospect, they may have rethought their choice for first spokesman.