Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Top Five Classic TV Christmas Commercials

Classic TV commercials have become a casualty of the DVR era. Today, so many viewers are able to fast-forward through them, or mute them, that their impact is no longer as profound as it was in the era before such conveniences existed.

When I was growing up, one of the first signs of an approaching holiday season was the appearance of Christmas-themed commercials. Some companies reused the same ads year after year, until they became as much a seasonal tradition as the first quarts of egg nog appearing at your neighborhood supermarket.

Holiday commercials are still around, of course. I’ve already seen the Hershey’s Kisses playing “Jingle Bells,” and the M&Ms having an unexpected encounter with Santa Claus. But when I think of classic TV Christmas commercials, these are the ads that come to mind.

1. Andre Champagne
Today, this ad could be created on a computer in about an hour, at a cost of maybe 20 bucks. But it played for at least a decade in the 1970s and into the ‘80s, and every time I watch it on YouTube and hear that distinctive “ding” of the champagne glasses, I am instantly transported back to the holiday seasons of my childhood. My favorite image is the one of the guy coming through the front door cradling six bottles in his arms. He looks just like that one uncle in every family that you only see on holidays, and that always needs someone to drive him home after the party. I’ve never had a glass of Cold Duck in my life, but I still see Andre Champagne in the stores ($4.50 with a coupon at one supermarket near me, so you know it’s good stuff) and it’s reassuring to know they’re still around. 

2. Folger’s Coffee
This is one of those commercials that pack an emotional punch into one minute. The phone company (back when we only had one of them) used to be masters as this with its “Reach out and Touch Someone” campaign. Some of their spots could move people to tears. This one, first aired in 1986, tugs on the heartstrings as well, particularly in that impossibly cute little girl’s reaction to Peter’s return, and the expression on mom’s face.  Peter was played by an actor named Greg Wrangler, and if you’ve got a sharp eye you can spot him now in a more recent Capital One commercial. The Folger’s ad was so popular that it inspired a 2009 remake, which fared about as well as most remakes of classics. 

3. Norelco
Norelco knew they hit on something after this spot debuted in the 1960s. For the next 30 years, with occasional revivals as recently as last year, the company unveiled slightly different variations of the same concept, with updated products appearing in the shop window that Santa slides by. The original spots have a Rankin-Bass look to them, which could help to explain their popularity among baby boomers who grew up with annual showings of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It’s such a charming perennial that no ever thought to ask why a guy with a full beard is so attached to shavers. 

4. McDonald’s Gift Certificates
From the 1960s through the early 1990s, McDonald’s commercials had a consistency of quality matched by very few other brands. From the colorful McDonaldland spots to a litany of memorable jingles (“You deserve a break today,” “We do it all for you”) the company promoted family fun and happy times, which was still acceptable in an era when society didn’t make you feel like a pariah for eating fast food. Every holiday season, McDonald’s would unveil new seasonal ads touting their gift certificates (“just 50 cents each, or a book of 10 for 5 dollars”), suggesting they would be a perfect gift for your teacher, the mailman, the babysitter, and anyone else you really didn’t feel like shopping for. 

5. Kraft Recipes
While the tradition of television programs having only one sponsor peaked in the 1950s, the practice continued into the 1980s through Kraft’s sponsorship of various TV movies and variety specials, as well as the long-running series The Kraft Music Hall. This set of festive recipe commercials, which originally aired during the 1986 broadcast of Jim Henson’s The Christmas Toy, have all the hallmarks of any Comfort TV broadcast. Narrator Ed Herlihy’s soothing voice was once as much a television staple as a Johnny Carson monologue. If you are curious to try any of these holiday food creations, I can heartily recommend the cheddar crisps and the cappuccino cheesecake.

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