My friend Allie had to spend part of her birthday cleaning gum off of her brand new car because some careless person threw gum out of their car window. When she mentioned it, it got me reeling. I get very angry when people litter. When I thought about it, I realized exactly what it traced back to. A commercial. The crying Indian. Remember him? I think I was around 10 when that one came out. For you youngsters, or my more senile friends, it was a public service announcement on polluting the earth. An Indian, in full costume, was walking down the interstate where people proceeded to throw trash out of their car windows onto the side of the road, that was already badly littered to begin with. Can’t remember what the commercial said, but I do remember the Indian crying. And it made me want to cry, too. Started me being really crazy about those who litter. Not only those who throw gum out of their windows on Allie’s birthday, but those who throw out cigarette butts on a regular basis. Or fast food bags. Or anything really. It’s ridiculous. Do a bit of road cleanup and you will see exactly what I mean. It reinforces the rage. I am forever the crying Indian’s champion. If you are in the car next to me when I see someone offending, you can read my lips. I am probably yelling “You’re making the Indian cry!!!!!” That commercial (or technically, Public Service Announcement) impacted me for life. (And no, I don’t think the Indian was crying because he needed a ride and no one would pick him up.) And that wasn’t the only one.
Probably around that same time on network TV there was also the V.D. PSA (venereal disease, for the young, the senile and the innocent.) Yep. Really. I think I still remember the words. Something like “V-D is for everybody, not just for a few. Anyone can share V-D, with someone nice like you.” You have to admit….it was bold. Why did they stop airing it? Probably because it was downright creepy. And probably didn’t quite get the message across that I think they intended. Because the nice people (who were all white, by the way) seemed to be enjoying themselves. (Maybe they didn’t know yet?) But still you knew something was off. The person singing it sounded a bit haunted. I don’t want to know her story. I know it was a sad one. Maybe she was the only one with “the issue” and she became a serial killer…..and we were getting a preview of her victims. I would almost prefer to believe that. I don’t want to dwell too much on all of the other possibilities. I could go way darker and it has already scarred me. Though having that tune in my brain, I never forgot the message!
Then there are the sweet commercials. “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” Yeah, there were more lyrics, but we never really learned them and just sang that part over and over. With the “It’s the real thing, Coke is” chorus. They wanted the whole world drinking Coca Cola and it worked! I haven’t been anywhere since that time where there hasn’t been a Coke. And no matter what part of the world you are in, no matter what the language, say Coca Cola with a slight accent and people smile and nod. Hope someone got good bonus bucks for that campaign and today they just travel the world, drinking Coke, smiling and singing. (By the way, I always wanted to be in one of those commercials. I think that means that during that time I was cult-susceptible.)
Let’s see….there was also Mean Joe Green and the little Coke boy. And any Hallmark commercial. And the cute singing and dancing Dr. Pepper guy. Not sure the commercials made me buy the product, but definitely made me go “Awwwww.” And all imprinted on my heart.
And my all time favorite….the one that you probably didn’t see because it didn’t run long and I think I am the only one who remembers. I understand some literal PETA types possibly had issues with it and they might have had to pull it off the air, but still it is my favorite commercial of all time. A little old lady vigorously vacuuming her floor, her cat at her feet. All of a sudden the room goes dark, and you hear the terrible shriek of the cat. And then silence, a pause, and then the peppy tagline “It’s time to change your light bulbs.” OK, it was slightly dark(!), but brilliant. (I would be friends with the writer of that commercial.) But like the cat, it disappeared quickly.
The major commercial fail of all times….at least in my eyes….still makes me cringe. “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever make you forget you’re a man.” I think they were confused in their concept. Were they selling to men or women? Surely it had to have been the men. Who may buy a lot of perfume, but generally only after it has been “ordered’ by the women in their life. Really…did they honestly believe we women would react well to doing all of that? And still dress in that cute dress and spray on the perfume? (OK, maybe some of you do….but let me break it to you. It’s not normal!) A slight tweak would have worked for me. If in the commercial the guy brought home the bacon, cooked it AND bought me perfume, I would then definitely make sure he didn’t forget he was THE man. Especially if he also cleaned and sewed on buttons. And was cute. My concept would have sold a lot of perfume, trust me. (And gotten some actor a lot of dates.) While it hasn’t quite played out in my life’s reality yet, I still have hope. But I don’t want the perfume he brings me to be Enjoli. Which shouldn’t be an issue…because whatever happened to Enjoli? Does it still exist? Do you know anyone who wears it these days? Or ever wore it? Have you ever smelled it? I didn’t think so. The power of the ad. Or maybe the power of the people.
These days I try to avoid commercials. I fast forward through them all, so when asked “Did you see that commercial….” my answer is almost always no. But those were the days when we had to watch them. No fast forwarding possible. (Yes boys and girls, really. Once upon a time we had no fast forward, had to watch shows when they aired, had to get up to change the channel, and had to watch what was on our three networks. That was before the smart people were born.) But those commercials of the past that I actually watched…..they did have impact. Though maybe not the impact intended.
I remember learning in an advertising class in college that the Whisk “Ring-around-the-collar” series of commercials was one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time. We argued about whether the person who wrote that commercial was a sellout, since they were so obviously annoying. I definitely thought they were. I vowed I would never be a party to writing annoying commercials, regardless of how successful they could make me. Until my next class assignment. Which became a really cheesy wine commercial (pun not intentional, but it works!) that got written about 1 a.m. the day it was due. And it was very fun to write because I was tired and punchy and knew it was horribly hokey. I figured my professor (a very successful advertising executive) would see that too and give me a very deserved D. Or maybe a C if he was in a good mood. Which I was OK with, because I would pass my class. I surprisingly got an A for my efforts. He loved it, and used it as an example to my classmates on how to write a good commercial. Read it out loud to them and spent the whole class time discussing its brilliance. One of those embarrassing life moments when you want to shout “Quit looking at me….I know it’s not good!” Humiliating. But only for a while. No, that’s a lie….it is still humiliating. But it led to a lifelong lesson. Advertising and many other things in life don’t necessarily have to be very good to be successful. Or to haunt our minds forever.