Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why We Still Remember Comfort TV Commercials

“We make your daughters dance…wake you to the sun…”

“From the freezer to the oven to the table…”

“Here’s to good friends, tonight is kind of special…”

If you’re old enough to remember the shows discussed in this blog, you surely also recall many of the commercials that aired between them.

Why is that? We remember the shows because they entertained us, and we not only watched them at the time but for many years after in syndication, and then perhaps on DVD. For some of us they remain as close as our bookshelves.

But those old commercials stopped airing decades ago and you can’t see them anywhere now except YouTube. With few exceptions we didn’t enjoy them – they were annoying interruptions, or bathroom break opportunities.

Sure, a few were genuinely memorable – the series of Lite Beer ads with Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Uecker and a host of celebrities and athletes were always fun to watch. 

There were also campaigns created around a specific theme or character that endured for decades – Mr. Whipple, Charlie Tuna, Tony the Tiger – and some of these corporate icons can still be found in our grocery stores, so it’s not surprising they are more easily recalled. 

But I still remember countless individual commercials that had nothing remarkable about them: Ads for Pepsi showcasing the active and fun-loving lifestyle of the Pepsi Generation; A commercial for the game Connect Four where a sister wins with a diagonal lineup of pieces, and the brother responds, “Pretty sneaky, sis” before spilling all the pieces across the table. A mother in Boston yelling “Anthony!” out the kitchen window, and little Anthony running home because Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day. 

Certainly repetition had something to do why they stuck with us. No one was keeping count but I’d estimate those like me who watched a lot of television were exposed to the same commercials dozens, if not hundreds of times. They were bound to sink into our psyche sooner or later. 

Commercials also used music to break through our barriers, a fact that the geniuses behind Schoolhouse Rock realized and harnessed for the noble aim of education, instead of the mercenary quest to sell more cat food. If you are really bored one day, take out a piece of paper and try to list all of the jingles from the 1970s onward that have taken permanent residence in your head.

“Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us…”

“I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper…”

“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t…”

“I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys r Us kid…”

“When it says Libby’s Libby’s Libby’s on the label, label, label…”

I wonder if, 30 years from now, millennials will get nostalgic when they hear “You don’t have to be lonely at”?

I have one more theory about why older commercials have such staying power. They were better than commercials are now.

By “better” I don’t mean they were works of art – many were dull and many tried to be funny and failed miserably. But for the most part they behaved themselves as guests in your home. They didn’t yell at us to get our attention. They wouldn’t upset the appetite of anyone eating in front of the television. They didn’t contain content that had to be muted if there were children in the room. 

I also don’t recall ever watching an ad from that time and wondering what they were thinking (or what controlled substances they were on) when they put it together. That happens a lot now. I watch a commercial that was conceived by marketing professionals, and I do not understand how they or anyone could believe that assemblage of words and images would motivate anyone to buy something.

In retrospect, we didn’t know how good we had it back then.

What is your favorite commercial from the classic TV era? 


  1. Actually, many classic commercials are available on DVD. I've got a collection of about 20 different TV ad compilations I've bought over the years containing most of the ads you linked to above. Inserting them between vintage TV shows really gives me a nostalgia overload. The Tonight Show Vault series and Featured Guest series of DVDs lets you watch the shows with all of the vintage commercials interspersed within the show as it originally aired, and that is actually touted as a selling point.

    1. Most of the compilations I've seen focus more on ads from the 1950s and early '60s, which also have their charms but do not fill me with nostalgia like the ones I grew up watching.

  2. I was just telling someone in my office about the Prince Spaghetti Kid.
    And I'm sure a decade from now I'll still picture him running home for dinner...

  3. I was born in '68, and the 70's and early 80's commercials and TV shows hold very special memories for me. I still remember the excitement I had a few years ago when I found out that many of these were still available on YouTube. I have spent countless hours reliving childhood memories watch these old clips. Sometimes I see an old classic rerun and can tell you exactly where I was when I watched certain shows....I can remember Beverly Hillbillies at my great-grandmother's house; Name That Tune and Gunsmoke at our neighbor lady's house on her big floor model TV; watching The Mod Squad, Quincy, Barnaby Jones, The Big Valley, and too many others to name at my grandmothers house on her big floor console; and Andy Griffith was a staple in our own home. Andy Griffith and Waltons are my top two favorite shows ever. Oh yeah, and best commercial?? "WHERE'S THE BEEF??!!"

  4. The funny thing is that in the 80s and 90s we spent all our time cutting the commercials form our VHS tapings and NOW they are our favorite parts.

    I always liked the Hallmark commercials. "So I'm giving you his Hallmark, and hope that you will see, what I am really giving is a part of me . . . "