4 Out Of 5 Doctors Agree
Nobody likes commercials. We might enjoy individual commercials, of course – the recent Volkswagen ad campaign, for example, or the "whaaaazzzaaaap" ads before the parodies got so played out – but on the whole, we view commercials as an irritation, a three-minute bathroom break in which to refill the bowl of chips while the Mazda woman does her crypto-orgasmic wail in appreciation of Japanese mid-range sedans. Now that I more or less watch TV for a living, I've learned to tune out most of it, with the exception of those hideously self-righteous The Truth ads and their artsy cinematography and their look-at-us-with-the-shock-tactics faux-confrontational "body bags," all trying to out-cool the smokers with their non-revolutionary non-movement that only makes me more determined to smoke two packs a day and force the smug anti-smoking fascists of the world to foot the managed-care bill for my future emphysema, like, yeah, I think we heard that smoking kills, so allow me to direct you to my new Web site, www.don'ttellmehowtolive.com, because your so-called anti-smoking "cause" has roughly the same public-memory shelf life as Andrew Shue's equally dork-ass Do Something, i.e. about five minutes after the door slammed and the bolt shot home on the dank basement of his career, so – and I intend the pun – butt out. God.
Whew. Anyhow. I don't notice commercials as much as I used to, fortunately, because if I did pay attention, I'd probably have to throw a shoe at the TV every time the middle-aged woman with the Southern accent raves on like a drunk housewife about how she's "learning the computer!" and does her whole Barbie-"math-is-hard" schtick about the difficulty of comprehending PC manuals, blah dee blah, thank goodness Computer Training CD-ROMs saved her and her fellow passengers on the short bus, and if Petland Discounts must force their loathsomely ubiquitous and far-too-earnestly-harmonized "for the best care a pet can get" jingle upon me at all hours of the day and CNN-viewing night, could the accursed Petland chain perhaps consider actually stocking Petromalt instead of forcing me to comb through an aisle and a half of designer cockatiel food before learning, compliments of the Gameboy-not-looking-up-from teenager at the counter, that "we ain't got that shit"? Because "the best care a pet can get = birdseed" does not exactly constitute truth in advertising.
So I guess we've come to the part of the article where I admit that the whole tuning-out thing isn't going so well. Still, I feel comparatively lucky compared with TV-watchers of decades past; yes, the priggish stylings of the Partnership For A Drug-Free America make me want to found my own non-profit organization, an organization named Partnership For Heaving The Set Out The Window At The First Mention Of Legislated Morality, but on the other hand, commercials of times gone by bugged just as much, if not more. Over the weekend, I threw in my Teevee Toons "The Commercials" disc and had a listen, and I'd like to take a moment to thank my parents for not letting me watch very much television as a child, because I mean to tell you, a lot of these "classic" commercials sucked.
We kick things off with a musical argument between Snap, Crackle, and Pop over which, uh, Krispie in Rice Krispies makes the world go round. Despite Pop's compelling argument that "you can't stop hoppin' when the cereal's poppin'," I must declare this a three-way tie, because, really, in spite of liberal vibraphone use, nobody cares. The current incarnation of the cereal world's "favorite" triplets is more annoying, but this is pretty damn bad.
On to the Chiquita Banana jingle, in which we receive many helpful tips on the proper storage and disportment of bananas. I've always liked the Chiquita lady, actually, and I used to sing the song when I went to the grocery store with my mom and wear the banana sticker on my cheek until bedtime, but I must disagree with La Chiquita's contention that "you can put [bananas] in a salad," because ew. And what's with those guys booming out "oh sure sure sure" at the end?
Ah, Choo Choo Charlie. During our sophomore year of high school, my friend Red and I had a brief but intense obsession with this song, and we sang it all the time ("toot toot!"). I have no idea why. I love Good & Plenty but had to stop eating them, because nobody else on earth likes licorice, so whenever I buy a box, it's always stale, and the last time I ate one, I chipped a tooth. Charlie says, "Love my Good & Plenty!"
I can only imagine the looks on the faces of the baritones who had to sing, "Oh you need fluff fluff fluff, to make the Fluffernutter," accompanied by tootling flute and snare drum. I hope they got fat paychecks for that. I have never eaten a Fluffernutter, I will never eat a Fluffernutter, and no song on earth could change my mind. "Fluffernutter" sounds like a porn-star name.
Speaking of porn "sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't." Heh. I always liked the Mounds-Almond Joy jingle, and I never understood why they discontinued it, although it might have something to do with the fact that not a single person living does not know the difference between the two candies by now. Or the rated-PG-13 "chewy coconut, ooooh" part. Or the "Peter Paul Almond Joy's got nuts" part. Heh. "Got nuts." Heh. "Mounds." Yes, I promise to stop reading Jean Auel books. I apologize.
"There's nothing like the face of a kid eating a Hershey bar." Okay, kids like candy, but it's not like you gave him a bike. Tone it down. And let's talk about the "Hershey's – the great American chocolate bar" line, shall we? Because "great" and "American chocolate bar" don't belong in the same sentence. Hershey's will do in a pinch, but compared to Cadbury? Please. I know this aired during the Cold War, but come on.
And now, the faux-Everly Brothers rendition of the Oreo song – you know, "the kid'll eat the middle of an Oreo first, and save the chocolate cookie outsides for last" – with a voice-over interlude from the kid about how much "frosty creme" Oreos have inside. Yes, we ate the middle first, but I don't recall waxing poetic about the frosty creme, even about Double Stufs. Then a creepy VO from a grown-up: "Aren't Oreo kids lucky? Aren't Oreo mothers wonderful?" Again, I must remind everyone that it's just a cookie. Let's save the hyperbole for when the Oreo mothers give up a kidney, shall we? More singing about "well, to do it, you unscrew it" and whatnot. I think we get it – buy the kids Oreos, or they'll hate you and turn into juvenile delinquents and the rest of the PTA will talk a bunch of trash about how poor little Oreo-deprived Johnny tried to burn the house down.
Of all the children in the world, the makers of Cracker Jack selected the one with the most nasal voice and the worst pitch, threw him into the sound booth, and instructed him to sing a lot of nonsense syllables about the oodles of "zilliga-lackin'" fun contained in the average Cracker Jack box. "Zilliga-lackin'"? You don't need to talk down to kids to get them to nag their moms for sweets; you just have to imply that the product is, in fact, sweet. It comes with a prize, people. Your work is done here.
"I'd like to buy the world a Coke." How very sixties. I loved these ads as a kid.
Newer Coke ads – newer than the Ali MacGraw clones with the candles, but not so new that they call it "Coca-Cola Classic" yet – bugged me then, and they bug me now. First of all – and I know I keep pointing this out – it's just a soda. It's a damn fine soda, I'd drink it all the time if I didn't want to keep my teeth, and nothing whips Hangover Mouth better, but it's a soda, not the cure for cancer. Second of all, dig the "subtle" pro-democracy agenda. What the song says: "That's the way it is, with a bottle of Coke, and the way it will stay, Coca-Cola, what the world wants today, oh yeah." What the song means: "Goddamn Olympics-boycotting Soviet fucks."
Next, a peppy fifties-vintage jingle for Coca-Cola, "the refreshingest." Quaint, but if I'd had to hear it every ten minutes while watching "21," it would have gotten old fast.
The "come alive – you're in the Pepsi generation" ad cracks me up, not just because the jingle implies that only old fogies drink Coke, but because, forty years later, Pepsi has not changed their marketing strategy one iota. Substitute the Spice Girls for the Connie Francis clone singing here, and presto – Generation Next.
Thank God in His heaven that the "I'm a Pepper, you're a Pepper" ads went the way of the dodo, because they really bug. I hate the guy who sings them; he's one of those guys who kept wearing the Mork suspenders about three years too long, one of those "Up With People" performers who hauled you out of your aisle seat and made you dance despite your protests. I hate guys like that. I like Dr. Pepper, too, but "us Peppers are an interesting breed"? Yuck. The ad is so late seventies, but in the ickiest, most Jonathan-Livingston-Seagull kind of way, implying that drinking Dr. Pepper makes the consumer a rebel. Whatever, Mime Boy. Shut up.
"Rice [doodle dee doo] A Roni, the San Francisco treat." Does anyone actually buy this product, or does it exist solely as a game-show runner-up prize? Seriously, I want to know. It's like the Hootie & The Blowfish of pre-fab food – you see it in the store, but you don't know anyone who actually owns it.
Again with the kids with crappy voices singing the Armour hot dog theme song, which details in fine honky-tonk style what kind of kids like Armour hot dogs. "Fat kids, thin kids, kids who climb on rocks! Tough kids, sissy kids, even kids with chicken pox!" "Sissy kids," eh? No way would this ad ever make it to air today, and believe me when I tell you, that's a good thing. "THE DOGS KIDS LOVE TO BIIIIIIITE!" 1. Ow. 2. Ew. Arterial blood is spouting from my ear right now. 3. Do kids who do not climb on rocks dislike Armour hot dogs? I don't get it. Oh, wait. I do. Buy the kids Armour hot dogs, or they'll hate you and you'll spend the next seven years in family therapy.
Ah, Hawaiian Punch. According to the ad, "Hawaiian Punch is made with seven kinds of fruit." Translation: "It's pulverized crack cocaine with food coloring, but we may have waved an apple over the vat at some point. No promises, though." The ad goes on to say that Hawaiian Punch contains ten percent fruit juice. Hawaiian Punch ads don't make quite so much of that claim these days. Go figure. Anyway, no mom in the history of the world has ever fallen for the ten-percent-fruit-juice lobby. My own mom "compromised" by buying us Juicy Juice, or, as we soon began calling it, "Ass In A Can," thus not only missing the point but also inflicting a baby-poo-and-apricot-extract cocktail on her own children. How could you do it, Mom? HOW COULD YOU?
Just kidding. Seriously, though – never, ever, ever buy Juicy Juice. It's pureed hell.
All righty, then. Continuing in our series of ads for kids' drinks that try to appeal to moms by touting their nutritional value the strangely dirge-like ditty for Nestle's Quik, which also contains a somber VO on the "energy drink" properties of Quik. Moms clearly didn't buy this line either, so the marketing team brought in that odious rabbit, but Quik and Quik ads both suck and they always have. It's chocolate milk. Just leave it at that.
Millions of kids – and parents – fell for the lovingly crooned "it's Slinky, it's Slinky, really wonderful toys," but I have yet to see a Slinky successfully descend a flight of stairs outside the Slinky-commercial set. Once you get bored seeing how far it will stretch out and still hold its shape, the fun is over. And did anyone buy the Slinky train set, or any of the other Slinky paraphernalia designed to combat Legos' domination of the toy market? No? Exactly.
"Hey, meet the Swinger! Polaroid Swinger! Meet the Swinger! Polaroid Swinger!" Oh, my. Simpler times. The rest of the lyrics: "Swing it up / It says yes / Take the shot / Count it down / Zip it off!" I mean damn. I don't remember the Swinger commercial at all, probably because my parents clapped their hands over my ears and hustled me out of the room if it aired in my presence. And we thought "plop plop fizz fizz" pushed the envelope.
Vaguely militaristic-sounding baritones tell us, in song, that "new Ajax laundry detergent is stronger than dirt." Then they tell us again. And again. In the background: "[Biff! Pow! Blam!]" And, for good measure, once more. Wait, Ajax laundry detergent is stronger than oh. Right.
Before the American public spotted Mr. Clean as a Village People refugee, a man and woman sang the praises – literally – of Mr. Clean's all-purposeness. Evidently, Mr. Clean can clean jewelry, but I did not find this out until sitting through a Wagnerian-length litany of household uses both obvious and obscure. For Pete's sake – the product is called Mr. Clean. Mr. CLEAN. We GET IT.
Another ad that would never have survived in the closing hours of the twentieth century, mainly because of its nyah-nyah overtones: "My dog's better than your dog, my dog's better than yours, my dog's better 'cause he gets Ken-L Ration, my dog's better than yours." The song, sung by kids who even sound bratty, goes on to say that a dog who eats Ken-L Ration is smarter, healthier, and – again – plain better than other dogs. Another obvious ploy to get kids to nag their parents to buy a certain brand, packaged as annoyingly as possible, not to mention willfully ignorant of the fact that dogs will eat their own shit and thus don't merit such jingoistic treatment.
Do I have to explain why the Meow Mix chorus grates my nerves? Must I type the word "meow," complete with stanza breaks, three dozen times? Good.
You have to love Anheuser-Busch's refusal to accept the fact that Budweiser basically sucks. The "When You Say 'Bud'" song, an operatic composition complete with four vocal parts and a string section, proudly equates ordering a Bud with the height of taste and cultured appreciation of the finer things in life. Here's the jingle's heart-stirring climax: "There is no other one! There's only something less! Because the king of beers! Is leading all the rest! When you say Buuuuuudweiser! You've said it all." Well, yes. Drinking a beverage that resembles urine in almost every important way does pretty much say it all.
The Lowenbrau ad – "here's to good friends, tonight is kinda special" – takes a similar tack, marrying the sharing of a Lowenbrau to friendship and occasions of note. Sadly, Lowenbrau is the German-brewed equivalent of Natty Light. Toasting a friend with Lowenbrau is a backhanded compliment at best.
"If you've got the tiiiiiime we've got the beer. Miller Beer." An ad classic. Crappy beer, great song. (We'll just ignore the part where they insist that it "tastes too good to hurry through," since we tended to save Miller for emergency shotgunning purposes.)
"Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one." If MADD didn't kill this dead, I don't know what did, but the line rings true – as long as you've already had five or six beers to start with. I've drunk some nasty-ass beer in my life, and no beer reaches room temperature faster after opening than Schaefer. We're talking seconds here. It's a chugging beer. So, kudos to the ad team; everything they say is true.
"When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer." And you're happy about it, too, because if you wanted a beer that tasted like fish, you'd have dunked a Maryland crab cake in your Sam Adams. The smugness of the Schlitz ad really gets to me; I mean, if you've resorted to drinking Schlitz, and you look in the fridge and you see a cold Meisterbrau you drink the Meisterbrau. The implication, both here and elsewhere, that beer drinkers would stand on brand-loyalty principle to the point where they would stop drinking for the night if they could no longer drink a particular variety is absurd.
The ode to Rheingold, sung by a suspiciously Third Reich-y men's chorus, proves my point. "Join the millions who buy Rheingold beer, extra dry!" Um, okay. Danke, Bierkorps Gehirnwâ€°schen, but the Rheingold Nation will have to carry on without me.
Now, on to the delusional TV ads for cigarettes. I kind of like the Kent jingle, because the rhyming is clever but not overly so. I've never smoked a Kent, but I can attest that Winstons do not "taste good, like a [clap clap] cigarette should." Winstons taste like the formaldehyde solution in which high-school-biology dissection frogs marinate. My dad used to smoke Winstons; I stole one once. Once. But the Marlboro theme – also the theme from The Magnificent Seven – rocks. Yeah yeah, the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer, but at least he had a good theme song.
A relic of the gas-guzzler era, the "see the USA in your Chevrolet" song smacks of "Buy American" xenophobia at its most deluded and unattractive. An American car! Yeah! It's ugly, it's going to fall apart before you finish paying for it, and a Shetland pony gets better gas mileage, but at least it's not Japanese, so buy a Chevy, you pinko traitor! Go America! Yeeeeeehaw! Ugh. Pass the Honda catalog.
Add the "we are the men of Texaco" theme to the list of casualties of a more knowing age. The song starts off innocently, extolling the virtues of Texaco service stations and their employees: "We've got wipers for your windshield, belts and plugs and tires too." Fine. Great. But then it veers into dangerous territory with the mention of "lubricants and batteries and polishes for you." Not "for your car," mind you, but "for you." Hmmm. "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star – the big, bright Texaco star!" Note the allusion to law enforcement. Also note that they don't tell us what exactly goes on in the Texaco restrooms after sundown.
I used to hate the Chock Full O' Nuts jingle, because my parents drank Chock Full O' Nuts, and every time I saw the can, the jingle would get stuck in my head. "Chock Full O' Nuts is the heeeeeeeavenly coffee, heeeeeeeavenly coffee, heeeeeeeavenly coffee," and so on and so forth. But it's heavenly coffee, all right, especially if you go to an actual Chock Full O' Nuts franchise, and nobody makes a better muffin, so I'll give them that. Still, the coffee isn't called Heavenly Coffee, or Angel Brew, or anything even remotely celestial, which might explain why the jingle finally died. I wouldn't mind a jingle that explained the whole "nuts" element, frankly.
For years, I thought the Sara Lee jingle said, "Nobody does it like Sara Lee." Made sense, right? I hated this one too, because my classmates used to sing it to me endlessly. My name is not spelled "Sara." My middle name is not "Lee." Still, they sang it. And I hated it. But I found out yesterday that the jingle actually says, "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee," like so: "Everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee." Ohhhhh, okay. (Well, except for Chock Full O' Nuts, Inc. But still.) I still hate the jingle, but it's like finding out Jimi Hendrix actually said "'scuse me while I kiss the sky" and not "'scuse me while I kiss this guy."
The old ads have their peculiar appeal. Some make me laugh ("and now, a public service announcement from Brylcreem!"), and others remind me of childhood. But after you've heard them a time or two, they'll get on your nads just as surely as modern-day ads. It's the nature of the beast, and the picturesque Beat-generation bebop of the Dippity-Do ads wears thin after one listen – just like "ice, ice, Dentyne Ice" did.