So, uh, Why Exactly?
This is all accurate, or, as the young people say, true dat. Yet I love them. I dust them off and catalog them. I study them. I watch them repeatedly, with fascination and affection. Except the ones I can't fucking stand, such as any spot with singing children. (Maybe that Oscar Mayer kid gets a pass, but that's it.)
I'd estimate that I have between three and four thousand commercials in my collection, mainly seventies through about 1986 (with some 50's and 60's in there, and even some early 90's--not my nostalgia spot, but interesting and fun to watch nonetheless). [2/23/15 add: LOTS more now (this posting was post-dated for higher placement)... I went through my various lists for my collection last night, and I'd now estimate I have about 13,000 commercials at this point, plus numerous old show openings, closing credits and "brought-to-you-by" segments.]
Commercials are designed to sell, and therefore appeal. They make fascinating time caplets which reveal not only how Americans of a particular era were marketed to, but how that marketing was done in its time, with technical effects and styles of storytelling clearly evolving.
Actually, speaking of evolution, it's funny--there seems to be quite a bit of zaniness on display in the older black-and-white ads of my collection, with inventive special effects and playful narratives. In the seventies, however, I find there's something of a step back, with much less absurdity and more trite, insipid ads. This evinces either a lack of respect for the viewer or a lack of inspiration on the production end. I'd guess it was typically a smidge of the former and an assload of the latter. Just as likely, producers just decided to skip the storytelling and focus on the product details to save money, resulting in a less interesting commercial but one that still got the job done.
I have recently been working on several different theme tapes, despite the fact that I can't sell them on eBay anymore because I don't own the copyrights on these ads. Of course, no one owns the rights on these old commercials (maybe the biggies like Coca-Cola or McDonald's retain them forever, I don't know), but anyway that's eBay's policy. I still make collections from time to time because they don't take all that long to assemble and it's fun to notice odd little details that I never caught before.
I made a music-themed tape for my buddy Mike whom I've known since the fifth grade. I included any ads with musicians, plus ads that featured familiar jingles or were highlighted by music. There were tons of disco-influenced ads back in the day, so I included what I have. You haven't lived until you've seen the Duncan Yo-Yo "Disco Duncan" ad. Okay, you've lived, but not well.
Making this tape, I rediscovered a hilarious spot (from around '79 I'd guess, give or take a year) for GWG corduroy pants. It was probably the fifteenth time I'd seen it, but I suddenly realized there's a moment where... well, I'll describe the whole ad for you.
Scene: A very cheap-looking, overly-lit disco set, with glittering ball overhead and about two-dozen twenty-somethings placidly grooving and shuffling on platforms of various heights. It seems there may not have been any music actually playing as they filmed, but we viewers are treated to a generic dance riff with a female singer intoning "Movin' on a dream! Ooh, ooh, ooh! Movin' on a dream!"
A chubby, combed-over fella with tinted shades and lapels rivalling an albatross' wingspan (think a melding of Sam Kinison and Paul Williams) sidles up to a young couple and says, in an afternoon drive-time DJ voice: "Movin' on a dream, gettin' down at the disco! Hey man, how do you get down so well?"
Blond guy (think Christopher Atkins around the time he realized he wasn't getting the Blue Lagoon sequel): "These GWG Cords really let you do it!"
The guy's partner, a thin-faced, mushroom-haired girl (picture Shelley Duvall portraying Toni Tennille) says something about the satisfactory fit of her pants, and we are then treated to several close shots of snugly-waled heinies gyrating.
The detail I had never noticed before comes as the guy's butt is prominently displayed in the foreground of the shot. If you look just past him (to his front), the girl's arm can be seen with her wrist at about his belt level, and her dance moves make it look like... well, like she's doing something for him that is not typically done on a dance floor (unless maybe some ecstasy tabs, dimmer lighting and a bigger crowd is involved). Like she's awfully, shall we say, handy. Upon first noting this, I thought that I simply had a dirty mind. Then I showed it to my friend Jim, who laughed so hard that I briefly wondered about the nearest defibrillator.
Did they do it intentionally? Hard to say. Given the level of competence of the rest of the production, probably not. Too much thinking involved in planting subliminal images. Although they did throw in another odd detail: when the tag line is chyroned onto the screen at the end, the sentences appear upward; that is, the first line pops up, then the second line appears above it instead of below.(Why do I even notice these things?) It would seem a deliberate decision was made to do it that way. So maybe some thought, however facile, was actually put into constructing this after all. Or maybe everyone was just really stoned.
[1/29/12 add: Thanks to my new DVD drive, you can see it here yourself! Okay, so I exaggerated about certain details--but I think I caught the essence pretty accurately. The helping hand occurs around :21.]
It isn't a subliminal message that strangely pops up on the screen during a spot for Michigan's Buscemi's Pizza--it's an absolutely blatant act of sabotage (though one probably unpremeditated, for what that's worth).
Buscemi's t-shirts) cavort on a playground, singing (ugh) of their love for said pizza with varying degrees of enthusiasm and skill, a woman newscaster is suddenly superimposed across the lower right side of the screen.
unflatteringly broadcast live over the ad, poof she disappears. Presumably the heads of some cheeky director and cameraman consequently rolled. Now, I don't know who that anchorwoman is, but I would surmise that, for such a gleefully ill-conceived conspiracy to occur, she probably deserved it. People obviously hate her.
Oh, about those themed collections I mentioned... I concocted a sports tape of ads with athletes, and another one I call "Strange Figgers... Weird Figgers" (after a Groucho line). It features ads with people wearing stupid costumes, bizarre puppets, and creepy stop-motion characters. Characters such as "Li'l Softie," a tiny naked cherub-woman with a large blue hat topping her oversized head, hawking Nice n' Soft bathroom tissue. Li'l Softie has kinda like a regular woman's head, but with a pudgy Kewpie doll body, and it is almost certainly brain-damaged. It yammers on in a breathy voice about toilet paper while standing on a supermarket aisle endcap. The imagining of its everyday existence is bleak and heartbreaking.
Gruff character actor Ron Masak (he's that guy who impersonated Lou Costello, and played the sheriff on Murder She Wrote) plays his role of a regular fella out shopping with his wife with a distinctly Klugmanesque air. He encounters this Softie creature and regards it with a mixture of wariness and disgust. When it squeaks that Nice n' Soft is "softier" than other bathroom tissues, Masak repeats the made-up word with exaggerated incredulity. Soon he realizes the TP is indeed superior to other brands, and although he will only concede that the paper is "very, very soft," his demeanor turns to reluctant acceptance, his new warmth undoubtedly laced with pity for such a grotesque abomination of God's law as Li'l Softie.
For the Strange Figgers compilation, I avoided traditionally animated commercials, as that could make up a tape on its own. I did, however, include Milton the Toaster (I just find it funny to see a little girl talking to a toaster which will later have a cartoon face superimposed on it) and a Pac-Man Bread spot with the cheapest effects ever--I swear the Pac-Man looks like it's made of yellow construction paper. I haven't tested this tape out on friends yet, but I predict it would inspire lots of laughs, even without "enhancement" of any sort. (Oh, I'd recommend it, you understand, but let's call it optional.)
Drop me a line if you have anything I might be interested in for trade, or if you're looking for something in particular. If a commercial for the Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces puppet exists and you have it, call 911 and tell them you must speak to me immediately.
[As mentioned above, here's the latest addition to my mania: a painstakingly-researched-and-cataloged list of celebrities appearing in my collection, as best as I can ascertain. Some are easy to spot (like spokespersons billed on-screen--I'd hafta be pretty impaired to miss those), but for others I can only rely on my eyes--an imperfect method, eagle-like though they may be. So when I say I have a young Adrien Brody in a Hot Pockets spot, take it with half a grain of salt...]