Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Children of the 90s is at a Work Conference...In the Meantime, Please Enjoy this Classic Post: I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!
I trust few enough of you have trudged through the extensive backlogs that this is almost like new. Almost. I should be back in full force by next week. Until then, enjoy the reruns! Hey, it's summertime. I've got to save the good stuff for sweeps. Thanks for your understanding--see you next week!
Looking for a surefire way to guarantee that no one will respect the precarious health of the elderly and to diminish the legitimacy of their tenuous medical state? Well, you're in luck! The Life Call corporation has already done it for you and has made it available in convenient late 80s/early 90s daytime television commercial slots. As the Life Call people sat around musing what was the possibly the way to least seriously depict the grave dangers associated with solo-dwelling senior citizens, they stumbled upon a foolproof formula for endless mockery and derision. How could we make light of such a tragic and serious risk? Well, I'll tell you how.
Yes, the Life Call people decided against working the "this is a serious life-saving product and should be presented as such" angle and instead opted to hire the campiest, chintziest elderly actors to produce embarrassingly low-budget dramatizations for their television advertisement. At least at the beginning, the fine print in the lower right-hand corner reads "dramatization". Whew, that was a close one. I was concerned that that woman had actually fallen and couldn't get up, and we were all just sitting around casually observing her in her dire state. At best, it was as if Life Call had raided a retirement home community theater troupe. Obviously, they had already blown their whole legitimate actor budget to hire concerned-looking family members and friends of the injured party. Thankfully, those characters had no lines or maybe we would have taken this thing less lightly.
Here is the ad, in all its glory:
Less widely mocked was the first guy, Mr. Miller, who acts his heart out (possibly, literally, considering his supposed ailment) describing his chest pains. However, our real heroine was Mrs. Fletcher, oh great utterer of redundant and unintentionally humorous phrases. The fictional Mrs. Fletcher croaked out a line that exceeds nearly any quote out of Bartlett's in immediate recognizability.
"I've fallen...and I can't get up!"
It was probably that second part that did in poor Mrs. Fletcher. Laying on the floor of her questionably empty room, walker askew, we could all clearly deduce that she had indeed fallen. Her apparent need for the Life Call system suggested to us that she was also likely unable to get up. Otherwise, she probably would have called up and said, "I've fallen! ...Oh, no, I'm fine, I'll get myself up in a jiffy. I just wanted someone to talk to because I'm lonely and live alone and can only communicate with my children, neighbors, and doctors through third party Life Call employees." But no, Mrs. Fletcher knew better than that. She had to do more than just explain that she had fallen, that part was clearly evident to any impartial observer. She needed to fully elucidate her situation by pointing out that not only had she fallen, but that she was at the same time unable to get up. Well, bless her heart, she certainly sold that line. Unfortunately, to children growing up in the 90s, it was probably the funniest thing that they had ever seen and/or heard.
We had all been told dozens of time to respect our elders. Parents and teaches explained to us that most senior citizens are viable and capable and deserve to be treated as human beings. We all bought that for about ten minutes, or at least the time elapsed between receiving that explanation and our initial viewing of the Life Call commercial. Though the commercial was marketed toward seniors as a tool to encourage their independence, to us it only cemented their status in our eyes as highly dramatic, accident-prone victims.
As if Life Call hadn't hammered the point home enough already with their melodramatic dramatizations, they also relied on the cheery host of the commercial to explain to us what we had just seen. "See?" She prompted condescendingly. "Protect yourself with Life Call and you're never alone!" For those of us unable to understand the complex plot twists and the nuanced acting of her preceding ad castmates, we could always rely on our Life Call pendant-sporting pal to restate the thesis of the commercial. And wasn't she recently "deathly ill"? Why, she looks great! We can only imagine that if it hadn't been for been those dashing pseudo-cop outfitted Life Call operators, her deathly illness would have led to, well, death.
Obviously at some point, Life Call realized their gaffe and sought a new direction with their advertising campaigns. No longer were they going to be victims of endless mockery. They were going to take a hard line with customers and depict true stories of Life Alert's life-saving capabilities:
Wait a minute. Didn't she just say she wasn't an actress? Well, then why is she being played by one in the dramatization? We thought you had seen the error of your ways, Life Call, but this dramatization of supposedly real-life events featured the same catchphrase as the original. Are we really to believe that this real live woman had seen the Life Call commercial so many times that she instinctively uttered their trademarked line to operators? Also, are to we to buy that someone with the foresight to purchase a Life Call Emergency Alert System was engaging in such irresponsible fall-prone behavior as reading a book and walking? At the same time? And another thing! Aren't those the doctor and telephone operator from the first commercial? Are you telling me we're using stock footage because we couldn't even afford to hire some new actors? You can even hear the choppy way they cut off the "Mrs. Fletcher" part of the operator's line to accomodate this allegedly new true story. Way to go, Life Call. You really caught yourself with that one.
Then again, their intention was not to catch themselves; it was to catch poor clumsy Mrs. Fletcher, or this new supposedly real-life non-actress knockoff of Mrs. Fletcher.
After all, they were the ones who had fallen.
Monday, April 26, 2010
No matter how hip and focus group-tested you aim to make your public service announcement campaign, it faces pretty dire odds of coming off as incredibly, mockably cheesy. It's just the nature of the medium. There's no cool way to say something totally buzzkillish and square, so you may as well shoot for saying it memorably.
This was the strategy these campaigns took, capitalizing deftly on their 30-second moment of influence over impressionable young people. Through the power of incessant repetition and catchy songs or phrasing, these publicly serving commercials took up residence in our malleable juvenile minds. Whether we were young enough to buy into their message or old enough to snark on their relentless harping, they undoubtedly held enough intrigue to be worth remembering fifteen-odd years down the road.
The Incredible Crash Test Dummies
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had a message for us: don't be a dummy. The clearest way to transmit that message? Actual crash test dummies. Sure, their crash-induced injuries were played for laughs, but we soon learned that driving without a seat belt was no joke. Thanks, Vince and Larry. We owe you one.
What easier way to warn non-literate small children of the danger of hazardous noxious household chemicals than with a giant, disgusted neon green grimacing face? I certainly can't think of any. Wikipedia helpfully points out that children may associate the traditional poison emblem of a skull and crossbones with pirates rather than poison, so we definitely need an alternative symbol. Right. I know when I'm trying to break into the yummy candy vials in the medicine cabinet, I'm pretty sure that one with the Jolly Roger on it is full of pirates. It all adds up so perfectly.
I'm still waiting for my opportunity to take a real bite out of crime. I imagine it would be tasty, meaty and substantial, just as McGruff sold it to me in the 80s and 90s. McGruff empowered us to stand up to bullies and engage in healthy behaviors. Plus, we could write him for some free safety-themed comic books and pamphlets. It just doesn't get any better than that.
Smokey the Bear
Smokey's been around for years, so it always surprises me a little that we still have forest fires. I mean, don't these mischievous match-wielding kids ever watch TV? If they had, they would know that they were the only hands on deck capable of preventing forest fires.
The More You Know
NBC really knew how to cut to the PSA core: short, to the point, and featuring celebrity spokespeople. They also threw in a fun shooting star-type logo with a memorable series of tones that I'm pretty sure are supposed to be the instrumental track of the words "the more you know." I've yet to verify this with actual research, but it's the way I've always interpreted it.
This is Your Brain on Drugs
Ah, the classics. Talk about to the point--"This is your brain on drugs" practically invented to-the-pointness in public service messages. This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions? Nope, think I can take it from here. Thanks, ominously sizzling frying pan.
I Learned it by Watching you
"Who taught you to do this stuff?" "You, alright? I learned it from watching you!" Yikes. Talk about a major buzzkill for recreationally drug-using parents. Guess what? Smoke one joint and your kids will turn into hardcore crack addicts. That's just basic science. They learned it from you, alright? They learned it from watching you.
Dontcha Put it in Your Mouth
This one is sort of terrifying. What exactly are those furry things supposed to be? If anyone has any insights, please enlighten me. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when the ad guys were hawking this one to the Concerned Children's Advertisers. What do you think that studio recording session was like? It just leaves me with so many hilarious mental images about the possibilities.
Don't Copy that Floppy
This one truly speaks for itself, though today it would probably need a spokesperson to explain to kids what a floppy was. You know, the archaic giant computer disks from days of yore? Nowadays you can pirate anything online, but in the 80s and 90s your best bet was copying a game you borrowed from the primitive computer lab. If you did, someone would probably rap about it.
In this FOX Kids series of PSAs, the network taught us to check ourselves before we wrecked ourselves while cleverly avoiding copyright infringement on the Ice Cube song. These ads taught us to imagine rewinding our unsportsmanlike actions and replacing them with good old fashioned polite conduct. At the time, we may have thought they were pretty helpful, but watching them now it's clear that they were among the cheesiest of public service ads.
Nickelodeon Orange Apeel
Until I just typed the words now, I'd completely forgotten Orange Apeel ever existed. Now that I've brought the memory to the forefront, though, it's clear as slime. Nickelodeon put its own slant on PSAs, producing a series of brief bumper-like spots teaching us a succinct but nevertheless valuable lesson. If it hadn't been for Omar from Wild and Crazy Kids' plea, I may never have become physically fit. I'm still meaning to do that, by the way.
Saved by the Bell: There's no Hope with Dope
Saved by the Bell - No Hope With Dope
Uploaded by ox-stargirl-xo. -
In one word, would I use dope? Nope. These kids are right! I appreciate Brandon Tarnikoff's hit idea for the new season. I'm not sure how much more of this I can paraphrase of this for laughs without generating any of my own original content, but truly I don't need any. It mocks for itself. From the moment these good looking teens uttered a single word each into the camera with deliberate seriousness, this was pure PSA gold.
How fat did you feel at that moment you realized Gopher Cakes were fictional? Undoubtedly, to many of us they looked legitimately deliciousness, so it was a major let down to find that they were actually just poking fun at our tendency to consume foods that paved the path for our eventual morbid obesity. I still occasionally have dreams of covering one with whipped cream and swallowing it in a single gulp, like a python with a field mouse. Delicious.
These PSAs are certainly corny, but they do for the most part manage to get their point across. Into our teenage years many PSA agencies changed strategies and opted for cold, seriously threatening public service ads in lieu of the beloved lighthearted fare of our childhoods. Scare tactics work sometimes, sure, but we'll never be reminiscing about them in 2024. Stick to what you know, PSA people. Corny cartoons, puppets, and jingles are clearly the way to our still-impressionable hearts.
PS If you're looking for a drug-related PSA that's not on here, check out the full post here. In it I promise to do a part two about something hilarious I must have thought of at the time but have since forgotten, so here's my best shot at it. Not here, really; above. You know. Press Page Up. There you go.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
What impels us to buy something? Is it the quality of the item? The masterful craftsmanship? Maybe our deep sense of brand loyalty? Or, possibly, is it just because we saw someone famous using the product? They're cool and they use it, so my exceptional powers of deductive reasoning would lead me to believe that I too have the potential for coolness if only I would shell out the $19.99 plus shipping and handling for this incredibly handy and definitely not useless item.
The 90s would have most of us believing our reason to buy stems from the latter. Celebrity endorsements were everywhere, with actors, musicians, sports stars, and television personalities picking up side gigs hawking for every imaginable product. We couldn't turn on the TV or flip open a magazine without seeing our favorite stars' testimonials to some product or other that they were certain we had to have. Granted, our voyeurism had not yet reached Perez Hilton 24hour celebrity watchdog level, so it's possible these stars didn't have quite the level of influence and sway over us. That sounds suspiciously like a defensive excuse, though, from someone who bought a piece of junk because a celebrity told her to. Hey, I'm not saying it was me, but...okay, it was me. I'm still kicking myself for drinking milk just because those Got Milk? ads drew me in their catchy celebrity mustachioed photos with accompanying blurbs. I knew I should have listened to Fred Savage and had a Pepsi instead.
This strategy, like any marketing style, has its pitfalls. Recently we've seen companies pull the plug on celebrity spokespeople following some form of public relations debacle, such as in the cases of Kate Moss's cocaine allegations and Tiger Wood's insatiable appetite for questionable women. Having a celebrity as your spokesperson can undoubtedly lend some credibility and clout to your product, but there's no guarantee your chosen celebrity will conduct himself in a manner aligned with your company's public image.
The list below is by no means exhaustive; countless celebrities signed on to promotional deals during the decade. It does highlight some of the more interesting backstories, though:
George Foreman Grill
Reclaiming the heavyweight championship at the overripe age of 45 is pretty impressive, but that feat has since been nearly eclipsed by George Foreman's later success as a fat-busting grilling entrepreneur. Even though most of us knew Foreman as a tough guy boxer, he seemed almost cuddly in these commercial spots. It's tough to say exactly what impelled all of us to purchase these allegedly diet-supporting device from a man whose career was dependent on his maintenance of a heavy weight, but it was pretty fun to watch all of that fat drain off of our burgers.
Kathy Lee Gifford for Wal-Mart
When your PR firm tries to foresee potential damage control situations for a celebrity-endorsed product, it's unlikely they'd come up with something quite as damaging as this one. Kathy Lee Gifford, then famous for her co-hosting gig on Regis and Kathy Lee, teamed up with Wal-Mart in the mid-90s to produce a clothing line. The line seemed to be a mutually beneficial deal until evidence surfaced that the Kathy Lee clothing was being produced at a Honduras sweatshop by young teenage girls. Even worse, the girls received around 31 cents an hour for up to 75 hours of weekly work. When the news broke, it was nothing short of a devastating scandal for both parties.
Paula Abdul for LA Gear
I have to say, these commercials were pretty convincing. Celebrities have endorsed flashy products for years, but perhaps never so literally as the LA Lights sneakers. As Paula says in the commercial, "Nobody tells me what to wear." This probably could have used an amendment like "...except the good people at LA Gear, who are telling me to wear these shoes in exchange for financial gain."
Michael Jordan for Nike
This one is pretty much a no-brainer: find the most successful and talented sports player of your time, and get him to shill for your sports-themed product. Even the least prestigious products can afford a sellout like, say, Shaq, but it takes a special type of product to draw in a Michael Jordan. I loved watching him on the Bulls, but I admit that Space Jam sealed the deal for me. To this day whenever I'm in the market for Hanes tagless t-shirts, I reassure myself of the purchase with a heartfelt, "It's what Michael Jordan would want me to do."
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird for McDonalds
If you take nothing else away from this commercial, consider Jordan's example of bringing a Big Mac along to the gym. It's like smoking a cigarette while jogging. Sure, you're working out, but the second variable is bringing you right back down to health baseline. This was shown in two parts during the Superbowl, culminating in a basketball shooting contest with the ultimate prize: a Big Mac. I'm sure that these professional athletes gain no greater satisfaction from their sport than the thrill of earning their very own two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, on a sesame seed bun.
Madonna for Pepsi
You know you're in trouble when the Vatican is condemning your commercial. Madonna debuted her "Like a Prayer" single in a Pepsi ad, soon after releasing
Bill Cosby for Jello
Anyone who has ever attempted a Bill Cosby impression knows the most immediately recognizable elements to incorporate are invariably a vibrantly hued thick-knit sweater and a solid (gelatinous?) command of his classic Jell-O commercials. They're easily mockable, sure, but they are ultimately memorable, so it seems like the joke's on us: the advertising stuck.
Eric Clapton for Anhauser-Busch
If you want to split hairs, this ad series debuted in 1988, but it's just too juicy to leave off the list. Clapton appeared in the ads shilling for Micheloeb with a version of "After Midnight." Unfortunately for the people at Anhauser-Busch, by the time these ads came out Clapton had admitted himself to a rehab facility and admitted to struggling with alcoholism. Yikes. Not exactly the implied message you want attached to your product. "Drink our beer....until you need professional intervention to stop."
Countless Celebrities for Got Milk?
These print ads were hugely popular throughout the 90s and beyond, with innumerable celebrities signing on to be a part of the mustachioed fun. The list of celebrity endorsers would elongate this post to about four times its legal limit, but suffice it to say most celebrities felt confident and secure aligning themselves with the generally non-controversial dairy industry.
Alyssa Milano, Mr. T, Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Arquette, Michael Jordan, Ed O'Neill, and many, many more for various collect calling services
Services like 1-800-Collect and 10-10-220 (and other various random number combinations repeated daily to us via celebrity spokespeople) were everywhere in the 90s. With the widespread use of cell phones, these functions have slid into obscurity, but back in the 90s they were a legitimate necessity for some callers. To attract callers to use their respective services, companies enlisted the help of many, many different celebrities to urge us to dial their code so they could get paid already. I mean, so we could have cheaper long distance rates. Something like that.
Whether or not we like to admit it, the rich and famous have influence over our daily decisions. Their endorsement of a product or service may not convince us to buy it, but it certainly couldn't hurt. Unless, you know, it erupts in a huge public scandal like some of these did. In those cases, it probably hurt. I retract my previous statement.
Monday, November 30, 2009
An effective and memorable advertising campaign can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, a phrase associated with your product will be forever embedded in your consumers' minds. On the other, they will probably find this mentally inextricable campaign to fall somewhere between mildly irritating and hair-tearingly unbearable. So to review, yes, they'll remember it, but they'll also grow to hate it. Sort of a mixed bag if I ever saw one.
Adhering to the age-old adage of "all publicity is good publicity", these advertising agencies pushed forward with these catchy campaigns that with repeated viewing came to resemble nails on a chalkboard. Regardless, if we're still remembering them a decade later, it must be a testament to their effectiveness. Here are just a few of the ads that populated our favorite TV blocks and haunted our dreams throughout the 80s and 90s:
Where's the Beef? (Wendy's)
There must be something to be said for repetition. By my count, the old broad on the right croaks, "Where's the beef?" three times in a thirty second spot. No wonder we all remember it so well: they were essentially drilling it into our consciousness with these ads.
The ad served to showcase the perceived poor ratio of bun-to-burger we find at most fast food restaurants. Not at Wendy's, though, according to our elderly spokesfriend Clara Peller. She's not sold on that all bun/mini burger combo and is quick to question the relative location of her cow byproducts, and with good reason. Nice going, Clara. You tell it like it is.
"Where's the Beef?" became such a popular slogan that 1984 presidential candidate Walter Mondale actually adopted it for his campaign, accusing fellow Democrat-in-the-running Gary Hart of being all show and little substance. Admittedly, Mondale didn't ascend to the presidency either, but you have to admire his cajones for adopting a fast food slogan as a debate point.
Got Milk? (Milk)
The Got Milk? ads are still circulating, but they premiered and reached their peak popularity in the 90s. Above is the first television spot in which an Aaron Burr fanatic fails to win the $10,000 radio call-in prize about, you guessed, it, Aaron Burr. And why, do you ask, were his noble Burr-loving efforts thwarted? Why, a peanut butter sandwich of course. With no milk to wash it down. All sandwich and no milk makes a very sad boy. Or at least one out $10,000. It seems the message here was fail to drink milk, miss out on valuable contest prize opportunities. You don't have to tell me twice.
The ads featuring the trademark mustache ran in many popular magazines, showcasing milk mustachioed celebrities with a blurb about their calcium-rich lifetstyles. We'll just ignore that many of the young starlets featured in these ads went on to lead drug-addled, eating-disordered, generally troubled lives and chalk their resilience up to milk-related bone strength.
To read the full article about the Got Milk? campaign, click here
This ad is proof that more irritating your ad, the more likely it is to catch on as a general societal phenomenon. These Budweisers commercials feature a group of beer-drinkin', football watchin' fellas greet each other on the phone with the phrase, "Whasssssup?" There was a certain inflection and accompanying head-shaking movement that made the phrase distinctive from its less idiotic counterpart, "What's Up?"
The ad was actually based on a short film entitled True, which was basically the "Whassssup?"-loving premise we see here only with less direct product placement. That film caught the attention of someone over at Anheuser-Busch, and the rest was irritating catch phrase-spewing history. This ad was shown so often and parodied so frequently that it was quickly woven into the fabric of our daily speech patterns. I will admit, I did like the international version of the ad Budweiser put out. When that Japanese guy bellows, "Konichiwaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?" I just melt a little inside.
Yo Quiero Taco Bell (Taco Bell)
There's nothing like good old fashioned animal ethnic stereotyping to bring something fresh and fun to the fast food advertising table. Thanks to Taco Bell, I can't imagine any of my friend's chihuahuas speaking in anything other than a Mexican accent. Granted, they don't really speak so much as yip, but I'd prefer to not feel guilty over my racial profiling-style translation of their yips into requests for cheesy gorditas.
Taco Bell's chihuahua became a very popular advertising icon, and his trademark phrase, "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" quickly rose to catch phrase status. All this dog did was walk down the street, proclaim his desire for Taco Bell in Spanish, and everyone loved him. It seems the second you throw another language into the mix, the ad suddenly becomes exotic and interesting to the general public. I can't imagine we'd have reacted the same to a Staten Island Taco Bell Dog.
I Want to Be Like Mike (Gatorade)
In 1992, who didn't want to be like Mike? We were all in awe of the basketball star's incredible prowess on the courts, and if Gatorade promised to make us just a little more Mike-like, well, then we were going to take them at their word. I drank hundreds of Gatorades and have yet to make a jump shot. How do you explain that one, Gatorade? Huh?
Keeps Going and Going and Going (Energizer)
Though most of us 90s kids wouldn't know it from our own respective childhoods, the Energizer Bunny actually started as a parody of their battery-producing rival Duracell's trademark Duracell Bunny. I know, right? A Duracell bunny? Who knew? The popularity and resonance of Energizer's mascot far outlived its competition, and its Energizer Bunny soon became a highly recognizable character. I mean, he wears wayfarer sunglasses and plays a marching band-style drum. What's not to like?
What Would You Do For a Klondike Bar? (Klondike)
The people at Good Humor-Breyers just knew that we were all gaga for the rich chocolatey ice-creamy taste of their trademark Klondike Bars. So they posed us a simple question: What would you do for a Klondike Bar? According to their commercials, it seemed we'd do quite a bit. The ads were definitely memorable, but they also made me seriously question my candy-coated ice cream intervention. I'm still working on my 12 step program. I'm just about to apologize to my dog in the above ad for mocking him just to get my fix. Sorry, Fido.
Just Do It (Nike)
What exactly is this mysterious "it"? We may never know, but at least Nike dropped us all some helpful hints in the slogan's premiere ad spot in 1988. "It" must be some sort of athletic ball, though its exact specifications are never clarified. I guess we'll just have to keep buying Nike products till we find out. I have a feeling that Swoosh will eventually point us in the right direction, though I can't be sure.
Once You Pop, You Can't Stop (Pringles)
Yes, that's right: not only did this decade's advertising campaigns encourage us to embrace our addiction to Klondike Bars, we were supposed to take on the Pringle fix as well. I'm not exactly sure what all of these addiction-themed ads are trying to tell us about the relationship between advertising and susceptibility to addiction, but I don't think I want to know. I can't even look at a duck anymore without picturing myself in full on Pringle duck-bill mode. That's how far this has gone. Are you happy now, Pringles? Well? Are you?
Pardon Me, Would You Have any Grey Poupon? (Grey Poupon)
When I think class and upper crustiness, the first place my mind usually goes is mustard. I can't help it. I know they must eat caviar and filet mignon also, but my childhood advertising never exposed that side of wealthy living to me. No, all I got was the Grey Poupon angle. Apparently, if you're classy and you drive a Rolls Royce, people are bound to trouble you for some Grey Poupon so you sure as hell better have some on hand. I mean, can you imagine the humiliation if another Rolls pulls up alongside yours and you don't even have any mustard to offer? For shame.
I've Fallen, and I Can't Get Up! (LifeAlert)
Okay, okay. I admit it. This one is such an easy target. It just oozes a corniness and poor reenactment quality that rivals any grainy black and white fake footage I've seen in those Discovery documentaries about unknowing pregnancies. And let me tell you, that's no easy feat.
Despite the fact that our narrator informs us that she was allegedly "deathly ill", she still summoned the mental wherewithal to press her LifeAlert button. Now that's a powerful system. Death doesn't stand a chance against it. Whether it's Mr. Miller's poorly acted chest pains or Mrs. Fletcher's trademark falling/inability to get up, this commercial was really asking to be mocked. If you're trying to convince children to respect the elderly, I'd advise never showing them this commercial. Even after the laughter eventually dies down, they're doomed to forever think of the old as both helpless and in desperate need of acting classes. Not exactly the respectable combination they may have hoped for.
To read the full post on the I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up! campaign, click here
Whether or not you'd like to admit it at this juncture in your life, most of us shamelessly repeated these refrains as if we'd discovered the golden ticket to comedic exceptionality. At one point or another, you probably pretended to be a Rolls Royce patron in desperate need of spiced mustard or a Chihuahua seeking his favored cheesy sour cream chalupas. It's time to embrace your embarrassing youthful slogan parroting and remember these campaigns for what they were: brilliant forays into the realm of eternal memory. Someday we may be old and senile, but we will probably still quip from our adjustable hospital beds about the addictive qualities of Pringles or the basketball skill-affirming powers of Gatorade. Now that's good advertising.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
From infancy, we learn that blue is boys and pink is for girls. Even idealistic parents who seek to give their child a more open-minded experience usually succumb to the plethora of gender-specific paraphernalia in the marketplace. When it comes down to it, your kid is most likely either going to beg you for a dolly or a monster truck, and you're just going to have to deal with it and shell out the cash for different toys for different gendered siblings.
Toy companies are savvy to the fact that creating gender specific toy options gives them double the revenue avenues. They pretty much only have to think up one idea and then tint it either blue or pink accordingly. Figuratively speaking, that is. I don't imagine they actually have an idea dyeing process.
Some of the ideas translated well to dual versions, while others may have been best left to appeal to a single gender. I mean, let's be real here. Everyone knows it's cool for Transformers to turn from a car into a robot. It's fully functional, and now endorsed by Megan Fox. But for a doll to turn into a cupcake? What exactly is the functionality on that one? At least as a robot you can wreak general havoc and destruction. What new power do you gain by disguising yourself as a tasty baked good?
Narrow minded toy producers gave us a clear-cut stance on gender stereotyping, advertising the toys exclusively to the designated gender and thus alienating any kid who may like to play with a toy aimed at the opposite sex. They weren't out trying to destroy individuality, they just wanted to make truckloads of money and figured that appealing to their main audience would probably do that trick. Here are just a few of the stereotypical girl version/boy version dichotomies of toys available to children in the 90s:
Girl Version: Treasure Trolls
Boy Version: Battle Trolls
Let's play a game. It's called good idea/bad idea. It goes a little something like this: troll figurines with rhinestone belly button embellishment? Good. Reinterpretation of that same cuddly figurine to wield an axe and nun chucks? Bad. Don't get me wrong, I understand that trolls are by nature supposed to be gruff and aggressive, but the troll toys available on the market place were generally pretty friendly. The regular ol' trolls were fairly gender neutral until Ace decided to baby dollify them to attract an offshoot group of fawning young girls:
Of course that girl in the commercial would wish for curly hair. She couldn't possibly want a better understanding of precalculus or biomedical science. Nope, its pretty much all about looks. Thanks, Ace!
Hasbro took a slightly different approach in marketing to juvenile male consumers:
Geez, these things are threatening. And we wonder why boys grow up to be so aggressive?
Girl Version: Treasures n' Trinkets Jewelry Making Kit
Boy Version: Creepy Crawlers
Creepy Crawlers have been around for decades, entertaining children with marginally hazardous ovens with the power to nuke gooey bugs. Boys got to do this:
While girls got to do this:
Why exactly young girls would want to make earrings and necklaces out of a disturbingly gummy goo is beyond me, but apparently ToyMax thought they had a real winner here. To be fair, I did own this toy, and I did wear the clip-on earrings. They were sort of cute, in a why-the-hell-am-I-wearing-pink-slime-on-my-earlobes kind of way.
Girl Version: Cupcake Dolls
Boy Version Transformers
I know I've already began a partially-completed rant up top there, so I should just let these commercials speak for themselves.
Boys had this:
Whereas girls had this:
I'm sorry, "she cooks sweet and looks sweet and smells sweet, too"? Boys get killer robots and we get a junior housewife in training? Boy, I just can't wait to rush home so I can practice baking and looking pretty. Who needs global robot takeover when you've got domestic skills?
Girl Version: Barbie Lamborghini Power Wheels
Boy Version: Jeep Protector Team
Yes, you heard that right. We're going to shop, shop, shop, till we drop, drop, drop. Now there's a positive message to send young girls. Let's just hope our young male suitors packed a credit card in their kawasaki ninjamobiles.
Well, isn't that nice? Boys get to be heroes and girls get to go shopping. How enlightened. Thanks, Mattel!
Girl Version: Happy Meal Barbie Toys
Boy Version: Happy Meal Hot Wheels Toys
McDonald's Commercial (1998) - The best free videos are right here
I admit this one is sort of a cop-out. Barbie and Hot Wheels are not really related in any way other than that they are both children's toys and obviously have some sort of lucrative relationship with McDonald's. They're certainly not alternative versions of the same toy. Rather than selecting a universally appealing consolatory toy to offer children as kudos for finishing their McNuggets, McDonald's went the route of giving all boys one model toy and all girls another. The message here was clear: girls should like dolls, boys should like cars, and McDonald's counter employees will scorn and berate you for requesting otherwise.
I'm not all that up on current toys so I really couldn't tell you if today's offerings are any more enlightened. It's pretty safe to say that as long as there exists a marketable demographic of toy buyers, toy companies will employ utterly shameless tricks with little regard to sensitivity or diplomacy. That is to say, corporations will continue to shill pink crap for girls and blue crap (with lasers!) for boys until it stops being profitable. If you can't beat the system, you might as well join on in. Now where's that cupcake doll?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
There were countless fake commercials throughout the years, but the 90s gave us many of our most memorable. If nothing else, this trip down SNL memory line is enough to make you miss Phil Hartman's unique skill at incredibly effective deadpan. Here are just a few of the satirical gems that entertained us between sketches:
Old Glory Insurance
Robot Attack Insurance
Chris | MySpace Video
In a time when many celebrities (Alex Trebek, Wilford Brimley) were out there hawking insurance, it was tough not to poke fun at the incredibly somber and humorless tone of their paid spokesperson delivery. This Old Glory bit definitely did the trick, spotlighting the dead-on deadpan intonation of Law & Order's Sam Waterston. He really had me going for awhile. I was almost certain this was a real ad, until they brought on the robots. Waterston, completely straight-faced, announced that killer robots were among the leading causes of death among the elderly. Without his pitch-perfect delivery, this could have been a dud, but Waterston definitely brought it. I was practically at my phone frantically dialing Old Glory for robot protection, and I was only ten. The robots weren't even after me yet.
First Citywide Change Bank
The voice-over confidently proclaims, "When you only do one thing, you do it better." It seems almost like a legitimate tagline for a bank. That one thing, however, was making change. As in changing monetary denominations. The proud and suave bank manager (Jim Downey) asserts, "We have been in this business a long time. With our experience, we're gonna have ideas for change combinations that probably haven't occurred to you. If you have a fifty-dollar bill, we can give you fifty singles. We can give you forty-nine singles and ten dimes. We can give you twenty-five twos. Come talk to us." And so it went, with helpful examples endless recombinations of change. Every aspect from the camera angles to the lighting to the booming voice-over was so similar to the real thing, you'd almost wish they would give you twenty singles, two tens, one five, eight quarters, forty nickels, and a hundred pennies. Wait, is that fifty? You shouldn't count on my skills, I couldn't even get through 8th grade Number Munchers the other day.
In a time when some pest control agencies were focusing on humane treatment, Bug-Off would definitely have stood out in its approach. As an alternative to the paralyzing poison used by its real-life competitors, Bug-Off tears off the roaches legs, scorches its reproductive organs, beats it to unconsciousness with its own limbs, stuffs cotton in every opening, and torments it with out-of-reach morsels of food. All through a clear viewing window to boot! Now that's a show. It admits that it won't kill the roach, but it will "give him plenty to think about". After all, isn't that what we want from our roach-killers? A thought-provoking experience for our victims. Sold.
During the ongoing cola wars, Pepsi released Crystal Pepsi, a ridiculous attempt to fool people into thinking that clear beverages were purer and less tainted. Never mind that the new product had pretty much the exact same makeup as the original, save for the dark syrupy color. Using the same "Right Now" background music as the original, SNL gave us Crystal Gravy. I know, I know. Ew. It did effectively showcase the stupidity of Crystal Pepsi's premise. Still, though. Gross.
The Love Toilet
Some of these ads weren't necessarily based on real-life products, but were just ridiculous tangential ideas likely thought up by their writers at three in the morning. I imagine the Love Toilet fell into this category. The voice-over asked sexily, "Why not share the most intimate moment of them all?" Again, ew. The Love Toilet was a side-by-side toilet, made for couples to share this, um, special time. It was certainly a novel idea, I'll give you that.
Super Colon Blow
With a rise in health-consciousness, many commercials played to our sense of nutritional superiority. Super Colon Blow did a fine job of mocking cereals like Total, with the voice-over imploring Phil Hartman to guesstimate just how many bowls of his regular cereal he'd need to equal the fiber content of Colon Blow. Correct answer? 30,000 bowls. Yikes. Sorry I'd asked. As for Super Colon Blow? A whopping 2.5 million in fiber exchange rate. Hartman was catapulted skyward on the aforementioned bowls, giving us the visual fright of colon-blasting fiber. Ouch.
Really, who is more prototypically 90s than Janeane Garofalo? Her stint on SNL may have been brief, but she did give us this memorable commercial. Yes, it's silly, but that's the whole point. It looks like an average cleaning product testimonial ad spot but with one twist: the product in question is actually a monkey. Janeane muses, "Idon't know where monkeys come from.. I don't know how they reproduce.. I don't know how they eat. But I do know one thing: they were born to clean bathrooms." With a smile, she continues, "And when it's cleaning power is all used up.. (throws away used monkey)..simply pick up another in any of three decorative colors: Red..(cut to monkey in red diaper)..Blue..(cut to monkey in blue diaper) ..or Orangutan". The voice-over helpfully intones, "Orangutan will not wear diaper". Sure, it makes no sense, but you've got to admit it's funny. Disturbing, yes, but funny.
Bad Idea Jeans
90s Dockers commercials were enough to drive anyone crazy after a few viewings, so the Bad Idea Jeans parodies absolutely came at an opportune comedic time. Like the Dockers ad, this featured casual conversation between regular men. The difference? I don't think any Dockers ad star would utter, "Now that I have kids, I feel much better having a gun in the house". At least, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't.
To avoid lawsuits, more and more ads in the 90s were tacking on every imaginable disclaimer. It wasn't quite at today's levels (today an Ambien commercial told me I might experience sleep eating/ driving and more outgoing and aggressive behavior with memory loss and hallucinations) but it was a growing trend. The Happy Fun Ball commercial aptly pokes fun at these ever-increasing warnings. It could cause everything from itching to temporary blindness, and of course if it begins to smoke, you shouldget away immediately, seek shelter and cover your head. Sounds harmless enough, right?
Oops I Crapped My Pants
I do realize these ads are abundant in bathroom humor, but that's probably why we got such a kick out of them as kids. In this spoof of a Depends ad, we see a kindly old couple with their granddaughter. The young girl asks her grandmother to play tennis, but the old woman looks pained and says she needs to "sit this one out". Up until this point, this could be an actual ad. I was pretty convinced until they revealed the product in question to be "Oops I Crapped My Pants". Other than the name, every other element of the ad is pretty much right on point with a real Depends commercial. How can you not laugh at old people saying "Oops, I Crapped My Pants"? That's like saying you didn't laugh when that LifeAlert lady fell and couldn't get up. For shame.
Yes, many of these ads employed shameless tricks and ploys to get us to laugh, but more often than not it seemed to work. In many cases, the parodies were so on target that it became tough to tell whether we were watching the show or the commercial break. No target was too big or small to be the subject of mocking in these short fake ad spots. Whether our interest was in ruthlessly maiming bugs and leaving them to die while watching through a viewing window or safeguarding ourselves from the inevitable onslaught of giant killer robots, Saturday Night Live was there with a laugh.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
When you watch one of these commercials that is burned into everyone's brains for all eternity, you sort of have to wonder if the people hawking this ad campaign had even an inkling it would go quite so far. Did they know that I can not for the life of me remember how to solve a simple algebraic equation, but I can sing the entire 90s-era Mentos jingle from memory? Or perhaps that I would slowly but steadily forget the names of my former classmates and teachers, but would forever recognize that opening "doo-do-do-do-do-do-doo-waaah" with unwavering accuracy? God, I hope not. It's hard to fathom an ad agency with that level of thirst for absolute power over my dwindling available brainspace.
These guys were lucky they came before the days of fast-forwarding through blocks of quick-passing DVR-ed commercials. Nowadays, it's pretty unlikely many of us even know what commercials are on the air, let alone can recite them with startling astuteness from memory. Someday we'll tell our grandchildren of the days that advertisers weren't using cheap product-placement ploys to get to us but that we consciously absorbed information from a real live ad. They'll look at us blankly, we'll hum a few bars of a jingle for effect, and a generational gap will be had by all.
Mentos commercials were the absolute campiest thing to come out of 90s TV advertising. Many may have assumed we left behind these lamely cheesy commercials in the 80s, but our brothers at Mentos stayed true to the corny tradition of hackneyed ad premises and embarrassingly light and fluffy background music. In some ways we'd like to believe that the good people at Mentos were offering us a sort of tongue-in-cheek, intentionally campy commercial, it's just as likely that they were totally and completely serious. What? Real people brandish a cylindrical roll of chewable mints when they get themselves out of a tough jam. Well, some people. I'm sure at least one person. Possibly.
The Mentos commercials were something of a 90s phenomenon as the jingles had that uncanny ability to lodge themselves forever in our brains and play on a constant, unnerving loop. The commercials all featured the same basic skeletal plot outline with a few variances in character and setting. Typically, they involved a good-looking person facing a mildly inconvenient and potentially day-interrupting situation. Luckily for these fine folks, they've got the power of Mentos behind them, like in this classic take:
Wow, I honestly had no idea that you could simply repeat the same few words again and again in a rhythmic sequence and label it a fully-composed songs. The things I don't know, huh? I suppose these ads were all about the power of suggestion, and their reliance on repetition was supposed to reinforce those messages. Or maybe, more likely, to really, really get under our skin and keep us humming the tune all day long.
In case you failed to take good notes during the above video, here's a refresher course for the lyrics. Get it? Refresher? *Holds hands up to shield face from onslaught of reader-thrown tomatoes*. I can take a hint. Anyway, the words are:
'Doo doo doo doo, doo-doo, do-Wah!'
It doesn't matter what comes, fresh goes better in life, and Mentos is fresh and full of life.
Nothing gets to you, staying fresh staying cool, with Mentos, fresh and full of life.
Fresh goes better, Mentos freshness, fresh goes better with Mentos, fresh and full of life!Mentos, the freshmaker!
I'm sorry, what? how many times did you say fresh and/or full of life? By my count (not necessarily a reliable one, based on my suspect arithmetic skills) some variation of the word "fresh" comes up nine times. Nine times. The commercial's only 29 seconds long! That means nearly a third of the airtime is devoted to saying the word "fresh". Based on my complex algorithm equating a single word with one second, that is.
If the above ad's content didn't do it for you, don't you worry. They had plenty of other farfetched Mento MacGyvering fare to offer. Like this gem:
My favorite part of these commercials has got to be the incredible acting. Or miming, I suppose, considering the lack of verbal engagement. You have to love the way the jerk guy who parked behind her gives her that droll, "Oh, you!" look as the construction workers haul her car from its entrapment. He seems so mildly amused by the situation, as if it were a quickly resolved misunderstanding between friends rather than the more realistic road-rage induced maniacal behavior that inevitably leads to fake neck braces and gold-digging lawsuits in real life.
Or, if you prefer the jazzier remix version of the jingle, you can always go with this version of the ad:
Well, would you look at that! The lady is ingenious, I tell you. Ingenious. There's no way I could have thought of that in a stinky-breath moment. Thank God for Mentos, that's all I have to say.
If you're looking for more of a male-dreamboat featuring awesome Dawson hair and an open-front flannel shirt, then this one is definitely the way to go:
Okay, okay, I think you've got the idea. These commercials were incredibly formulaic yet remarkably successful. I suppose we all just wished the answer's to our everyday dilemmas could be so simple, or at least that we could handle them so breezily while underscored optimistically by doo-wop music.
A decade later, Mentos were back in the spotlight thanks to some enlightening viral video-ry showing us all the hidden danger of Mentos when dropped in soda. Apparently, there's something in the chemical reaction that causes a geyser-like effect, creating a dangerous pressure situation and a minty-fresh bottle rocket. Since I'm about as good at science as I am at math (that is to say, my knowledge extends no further than the notion that the earth is not trapezoidal) I'll let my good friends from MythBusters do the dirty work for me. Well, not so much dirty as sticky. And minty. Did I mention these things are fresh?
Don't try this at home, kids. Or, if you do, don't even think about telling your parents I told you to. A poor unpaid blogger like me can't afford a lawyer. Explosive chemical reactions aside, Mentos are notoriously chewy, minty, delicious, and they had a cameo in Clueless. Really, what much more could a 90s breath mint dream of?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
If you're seeking evidence that times were simpler in the 90s, look no further than the then-mega brand GAP. While the store has done a fair bit of backsliding over the past decade, it enjoyed some serious popularity back in the 90s. I'm not completely certain that our 2000s-era brains can even wrap themselves around the notion of a prehipster era, but there really was a time before ironic poseur stylings a la American Apparel ruled the roost. Once upon a time, simplicity was cool. They didn't try to sell us a mindset or mentality or lifestyle: they just tried to sell us some khakis and corduroys.
In the 90s, Gap developed a well-conceived strategy for convincing young people everywhere to go out and buy whatever marginally overpriced plain-as-white-bread product they were hawking that week. They were wise in realizing that if their product itself was less than revolutionary, they may as well go out and create some highly calculated ads intended to suggest themselves as edgy and representative of youth culture. They recognized that cool in itself was a relatively poorly defined product, so they might as well just swoop in and claim their unwarranted share of it.
They were keen on the suggestibility of young people, so they unleashed a slew of commercials whose end tagline claimed "everyone" to be in some particular item of clothing. The commercials themselves were clean and simple and appropriately over-serious in a way that suggests they were so cool the actors couldn't be bothered to crack a smile. Each of these ads featured the same well-groomed crowd of ethnically diverse young adults all sporting minor variations of the same Gap item. Someone who obviously had experience staging high school plays blocked the cast into well-maintained formations from which they could stare blankly and nonchalantly at the audience.
Each of these commercials featured a single song, but rather than utilizing the convenient ready-made version of the song they offered each semi-surly young person the star-making opportunity to sing a single line of each. I'm not quite sure if these commercials were supposed to be based on any sort of actual real-life organic situation, but my instinct tells me the answer is probably no. My friends and I wanted to be cool, sure, but we never got together in matching outfits to stare pensively into the expansive abyss in well-organized groupings and come in just on cue for our turn to belt out a fragment of our favorite song.
In this spot, "Everybody in Leather", Gap launched the first portion of its 90s trademark ad campaign:
The synthesizers! The bouncing camera changes! The stone-faced expressions of our attractive stars! I don't know about you, but I just can't get enough. The ad had all the critical ingredients for successfully breaking through the cool barrier. If you're thinking you see a few familiar faces, you may be right. The outstandingly attractive Twilight-hairstyled fellow who gets a lot of face time in these slots is none other than Phantom Planet frontman Alex Greenwald. You know, of the OC theme song? And a bunch of other stuff I would have heard of if I either knew anything about the band or was more diligent in my research?
There's another little lady in the crowd who some of us may know, but she wasn't featured so prominently in the leather spot. Once everybody gets to wear cords and sing "Mellow Yellow" she gets a prime spot in the front right.
Rashida Jones! What on earth are you doing in my 90s Gap ads before I knew who you were and you awkwardly interfered with the heavenly alignment of fated Office romances? Who knew?
There was another in this series in which everyone wore cords and got dressed up in love, Madonna style. Rashida even gets her own line at :16, so play careful attention if you're into that sort of thing:
This ad was the be-all-end-all declaration of a generation's brief but torrid love affair with wholly unattractive fleece vests. I mean, you saw the kids in the commercial. Don't you want to be like them? Not necessarily standing staggered with windows to see the people behind you like in a dance recital, but more just hanging out with your ultra-sleek multicultural gang of unsmiling pals? I was pretty convinced. The fleece vest wasn't necessarily functional clothing (what of my cold arms?) but it was certainly popular.
Aside from this campaign, Gap had a concurrent khaki campaign that differed slightly while similarly emphasizing coolness in the simplicity of Gap clothing. They also subtly suggest that wearing Gap khakis inevitably leads to impromptu well-choreographed dance-offs, which certainly never happened to me when I wore mine. I guess I was just never in the right place at the right time. I could have swing danced* my little heart out.
The khaki ads didn't feature as much singing, but there was a lot more dancing to all types of khaki-lovin' music. We had our country:
I mean, honestly. They don't even fit those models that well, nor they seem especially flattering. Regardless, the commercials had us hooked. We were under the Gap spell and no one could shake it off. We needed these khakis.
The khakis demonstrated their dancing versatility a-go-go:
They hip hopped:
But most of all, they swung:
That's right, the Gap actually paid a significant contribution to the swing revival movement of the late 90s. Well played, Gap. Retro purists hated this garbage, of course. If you've ever seen the Daria episode "Life in the Past Lane", Jane actually meets a retro-centric guy who asserts, "I was pre-khakis commercial and don't you forget it!" Sorry, retro fiends. Gap mainstreamed it.
So there you have it. The Gap may be struggling to define itself now, but back in the 90s it had a well-established reputation for coolness largely based on the simplicity of its ad campaign. If any of you with a business plan are taking notes, though, forget it. This would never work today. After all, nowadays we all fast forward through commercials. In the 90s, however, we watched TV to see our favorite commercials. Yes, it was a simpler time. When we could all just sit on in a blank white space and express ourselves through the non-smiling art of song.
*Swung dance? Swung danced? Someone please past tense-icize this phrase for me.