This is the last batch of vaguely-holiday-related ads for the season, I promise. They all come from yet another tape in the Vast and Dusty Scratchbomb VHS Archives. This one was dominated by a CBS airing of The Wizard of Oz around Christmastime of 1985.
Again, very few of them have actual holiday content. But since they all come from Christmastime broadcasts, they remind me of spending a wintry evening indoors, watching network TV because, hell, what else was I gonna do on a December night?
1985 marked some of the heaviest fighting of the cola wars. Coke and Pepsi faced off in a no-holds-barred battle which left no one unscathed. Brother fought against brother. Millions were left homeless (but refreshed). You can find out more in Ken Burns’ 19-part documentary.
Coke’s commercials tended to be dismissive, rarely mentioning Pepsi by name and emphasizing the ubiquity of their product. Pepsi was more directly confrontation, as you can see in this ad. Some time in the distant future, an archeology professor and his students tour the ruins of a 20th century home. He seems well versed in the mores and folkways of this era, except for one object which stumps him.
Quite a big eff-you to the folks at Coke, as was their snagging of Michael Jackson, biggest pop star in the universe, to promo their beverage. Unfortunately, he suffered serious burns while filming an ad for them, due to faulty pyrotechnics. So Pepsi had to turn to another big artist. He didn’t have quite the explosive stage presence as Jackson, but he could dance on the ceiling.
Pepsi also put on some thrilling action sequences, as in this ad for Pepsi Free. Notice the weird banging cans at the end of the ad? I seriously tried to do this eight billion times when I was a kid. I did not succeed in recreating it, but I did succeed in spilling tons of soda.
Lesser soft drinks found it difficult to compete with such firepower. A&W did so by insisting it could attract you with pure root beer magnetism.
Santa Claus: The Movie is a legendary flop. I’ve never seen it, so I can’t truly judge whether it deserves this mantle or not. But it does feature Dudley Moore as an elf, which does not take a huge amount of suspension of disbelief.
Do you remember the movie Rad? You don’t?! And you call yourself a cineaste! Rad was only the Citizen Kane of BMX movies! Enjoy this trailer, along with a rare non-terrifying CBS-2 news teaser.
Riunite on ice? That sounds like a great idea! Almost as good as idea as skiing and drinking and grilling hamburgers at the same time.
Here’s an odd relic of a commerical: A professor in some unspecified discipline likes cable TV, and so should you! I can’t imagine cable TV needing to advertise its mere existence on network TV nowadays. If anything, the reverse is probably true.
I had a Speak and Spell when I was a kid, which constantly frustrated me. Its pixelated voice was so hard to understand at times, I would misinterpret what it said and get a question wrong. Then I would curse the stupid thing out and throw it across the room. I was an angry child.
The Speak and Spell was also responsible for the funniest thing I have ever seen, or ever will see. After several years, either because of leaky batteries or too many tosses against the wall, it began to behave erratically. Right in the middle of a game, it would spit out a bunch of nonsense, and I had to shut it down and start it back up again to get it working properly again. Then one day, it conked out forever in the most awesome way possible. It raved like a madman, almost as if it were speaking in tongues. Then it stopped for half a second, and very clearly pronounced its final words: POTATO…POTATO…INCH. My brothers and I laughed for hours thanks to this.
After that, the Speak and Spell never worked again. It didn’t have to. It had already given me so much.
Teddy Ruxpin was the hot toy of the 1985 Christmas season. Well, at least one of the hot toys of that season. Or at least, they really wanted it to be. My tapes from this era are jam packed full of commercials for it. Here are two examples. I believe Teddy did enjoy his 15 minutes of fame before being totally forgotten. Except for kids who wanted to see if they could make him lip sync to their Van Halen tapes.
The 80s was perhaps the last era of unabashed sentimentality in ads. Like this one for Crayola. A young girl is tortured over what to get her dad for his birthday. Seriously, she seems torn apart by the decision. Then mom gives her some crayons and voila! Problem solved, and a heartwarming conclusion reached. My question is, why was this girl so terrified of this dilemma? Did she think Dad was gonna throw her ass to the curb if she didn’t deliver on a good gift?
I have no memory of this toy, but I’m not gonna lie: It looks kinda awesome. Preschool awesome, but still awesome.
Polaroid has more or less disappeared, sadly. But once upon a time, it was so photographically advance it could actually capture Santa!
No matter what toy you got your kids for Christmas, it’s sure to require a buttload of batteries. So why not get them Energizer batteries? They’re the only brand that can subdue an alien civilization.
Toys aside, the 80s were tough on kids. Why? Well, for one thing, they had to wear clothes like this.
McDonald’s was quite fond of big production numbers back in the 1980s. This ad, called “Dancin'”, was filmed in a billion different locations and obviously required quite a bit of choreography. Cost in 2009 dollars: $354 million.
They also had a big hotness awareness campaign, as I covered in a previous post. This ad is clearly aimed at the nascent Blossom audience. Other spots had more, um, ethnic communities.
As I said in another previous post, Burger King’s method of combating McDonald’s was to throw a bunch of crap against the wall and see what stuck. In this case, they tried to make different double quarter-pounders with various sauces and crazy cheeses (covered by an ad in the post linked above), and promote them with The Pointer Sisters. Well, not really The Pointer Sisters. Just a trio of singers who looked and sounded virtually identical to them.
in contrast, Wendy’s goal was to have the funniest commercials. At least it seemed like that was their goal. They were all done by Sedelmaier, an ad agency responsible for some of the best ads of this era. They usually featured silly tuba music, subtle details (like the buttons that say “HY!” in this ad), ordinary looking characters (rather than Hollywood-pretty actors), and an unfortunate consumer desperately trying to make him/herself heard against an unfeeling bureaucracy.
Pizza Hut’s strategy was to hire the Mackenzie Brothers as spokesmen. This ad, clearly improvised, is a true winner. Pizza Hut’s food, somewhat less so.
I can’t imagine a nutritionist these days recommending Chef Boyardee for student athletes, or couples looking to lose weight. But back in the 80s, “healthy” was an extremely relative term.
Yes, back then virtually any snack food could claim to give you energy, which was technically true. Snickers had a whole ad campaign based around this premise, featuring blue-collar types who said Snickers gave them the power they needed to get through their busy day. That, and diabetes.
Then there were Combos, which not only gave you boat repainting power, but also “cheesed your hunger away”. Was that supposed to be a pun on “chased”, or a neologism that never caught on? Scientists still wonder, but we may never know.
The healthiness of foods wasn’t seriously debated, but their overall merit was. In this ad for Crispix, a hard-working farm family is torn apart by the eternal corn vs. rice debate. This is actually a scene from one of Eugene O’Neill’s lesser-known plays, “Milk for the Misbegotten”.
“I only buy Kraft cheese! Sure, I guess you could get some generic cheese, as long as you don’t LOVE YOUR CHILDREN.”
Obviously, generic cheese had to respond to such charges, as it did here. This ad really make me wish that Jerry Lee Lewis had written more songs about snacks.
Of couse, not all snack foods made dubious claims of being healthy. Kit Kat, for instance, simply said its candy bar would turn you into a snarling beast.
And still others insisted their product would demonstrate your wisdom, as Almond Joy did here. Of course, NASA discontinued its candy-based testing program in 1989.
Then there were the candy bar makers who seemed to double as pornographers, like these folks. This ad is made especially naughty by the fact that it’s for a bar called MOUNDS.
Americans couldn’t be counted on to regulate their own candy intake. That’s why the government secretly replaced all sugar with Nutrasweet late one night, as shown in this recreation. Demand the truth about artificial sweeteners! KEEP WATCHING THE DIET SODAS!
If you were really concerned with health, who did you turn to? Why, CBS-2 News of course.
“Honey, how come we have nothing but frozen dinners in the fridge? Man, that’s the last time I send my six-year-old to do the groceries!”
The jingle heard in this Juicy Fruit commercial was used for many, many years. Long enough that I finally began to hear some dirty innuendo in it once I got older. If you can not giggle at lyrics like “Take sniff, pull it out/The taste is gonna move ya when you pop it in your mouth”, you’re a stronger man than I.
What’s more terrifying than an anthopomorphic glove? An anthropomorphic glove wearing a beak. Thanks, Chicken Helper!
In the 80s, companies didn’t license original recordings for their ads. They bought the rights, then rewrote them within an inch of their lives. Case in point: This spot for Duncan Hines cookies, which repurposed “Love and Marriage”. To this day, I can’t hear that song and not think “cripsy, chewy, crispy, chewy…”
Speaking of deathless jingles, Oreo used the one featured in these ads forever. Sadly, I could not find any examples of the special Christmas version (which was special only because they shoehorned the word “Christmas” into it).
This Dunkin Donuts ad features the same baker who was in their commercials for roughly 73 years. They worked that poor bastard to the bone, and what’s worse, he didn’t even make that much money. Why, he had to take a second job making Breakstone’s cottage cheese!
This ad maintains that Pringles found a way “to put the dip in the chip!” Which got me to thinking: How has no snack food company found a way to literally put dip into its chips? Like you bite into some Lay’s and it squirts your mouth full of sour cream and onion? Perhaps like jet packs, technology has yet to catch up with our dreams.
John Houseman: The Peyton Manning of stuffy authority figures. There was literally no commercial he would not do. Like this one for Puritan cooking oil. Why was he asked to promote this? He didn’t care, as long as the check cleared.
“Excuse me, would you consider flying Delta Airlines? No? Perhaps you’ll be persuaded by this stirring chorus of pilots and flight attendants. If you don’t wanna cry about their dedication to flying, rendered in song form, then you’re a damn robot!”
Where should your family go on vacation? Just ask the Micro Machines guy. He knows everything.
Take the Nissan Challenge! If you can find a car that doesn’t look like a VCR with wheels, you win! Seriously, car design suuuuuucked in the 80s.
Here’s an ad for CBS Storybreak, a Saturday morning cartoon that featured animated versions of kids’ books, hosted by Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan. Sadly, it didn’t last long, then was revived with Malcolm Jamal Warner as host, which I did not appreciate.
Finally, a few more network promo collections. This one from CBS contains ads for many failed sitcoms and dramas, plus a series of PSAs called An American Portrait (compiled for the impending Statue of Liberty centennial), a few specials and made-for-TV movies (including a “star-filled” adaptation of Alice in Wonderland), and a teaser for the NCAA tournament.
And here’s one from NBC, featuring its own failed shows, the 900th season of Diff’rent Strokes and some more specials, including Bob Hope saluting soap operas at the tender age of 342.