A reader/pal who we’ll call “MZ” sent me a huuuuuge pile of old taped-off-television videocassettes, loaded with commercials from the ‘80s and ‘90s. What a score. I’m now armed with enough material to keep the Five Retro TV Commercials series going until 2050.
One of those tapes had a handwritten “Ghostbusters Cartoon” label, and that seemed like a good place to start. Indeed, it was several hours’ worth of Real Ghostbusters episodes, all taped back in 1988, with every last commercial left intact. So much win! Here are five of my finds:
Army Gear! (1988)
Wow, I haven’t thought about Army Gear in ages, and considering that it’s among the few ‘80s toy lines that literally not one reader has ever asked me about, I’m guessing that you haven’t, either.
Shame on us all! Army Gear was a collection of kid-scaled weapons and equipment that could be transformed into miniature action figure playsets, and it was some of Galoob’s finest work.
Like, you’d start off with an appropriately-sized plastic machete, and when you got bored of slashing at pillows, you could turn it into a lookout tower for tiny soldier figurines. It was like buying a Halloween costume and ending up with a Micro Machines playset. Just a totally boss concept.
“Right To Say No” PSA! (1988)
It’s super short and will not be of great interest to the majority of you, but this anti-drug spot used to play CONSTANTLY in the late ‘80s, and seeing it again was a total trip for me.
“You got a righ-eee-yigh-eee-yiiighhht… TO SAY NO!” The song was an absolute earworm, and I distinctly remember using it as my go-to non sequitur back when I thought non sequiturs had something to do with vinyl couches.
As a kid, I had no idea if the singer was anyone famous, and still don’t. It just felt like some actor hired for an old Bubble Yum commercial turned up on the wrong set and decided to wing it. It was fate.
Shinobi for Sega Master System! (1988)
There’s a lot of awesome shit in this one. Almost too much to process! Promoting Shinobi for the Sega Master System, you should immediately recognize Stephen Dorff as the star player.
(An extremely young Stephen Dorff, I mean. Somewhere between The Gate Stephen Dorff and Becky Conner’s boyfriend Stephen Dorff. The dark years, apparently.)
Since the Sega Master System had yet to gain a real foothold in a Nintendo-obsessed market, this commercial was as much for the console as any one game. I love the setup. It’s four kids fucking around in Fred Savage’s bedroom from The Princess Bride. So simply great. Compare that to now, when you can’t see a gaming-related commercial without first mistaking it for a Game of Thrones trailer.
Neatest of all is the brief tease for Double Dragon, with Dorff himself breaking the fourth wall to yap about it. Though I never played the SMS version of Double Dragon, Nintendo’s version was a super huge deal, and was already way popular before Sega got around to releasing theirs. Since Abobo was a proven commodity, it made sense for Dorff to get all Billy Mays about him.
UPDATE: My friend Joey just pointed out that Mr. Dorff was flanked by none other than Kevin Connolly. This ad really did have everything.
Honey Nut Cheerios w/ Winnie the Pooh! (1988)
Here’s a rare treat for Winnie the Pooh fans — a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial that doubled as a Winnie the Pooh cartoon! Pooh and Tigger plot to steal Buzz’s cereal, which sounds weird until you remember the first word of the cereal’s name. Poohs gonna Pooh, y’all.
You’ll notice that Pooh and Tigger never actually appear in the same frame as Buzz, which I assume was one of those weird co-branding workarounds that made no sense to anyone on the conference call, but still effectively ended it.
During this period, specially marked boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios came with an iffy premium: A coupon that got you a free Winnie the Pooh doll, but only after Mom agreed to drive you to Sears to buy ten bucks’ worth of other toys. There were enough catches in that offer to fill a ballgame. Oh, bother.
God, where do I start with Dino-Riders? I guess the simplest summary is that two warring alien races from the distant future found themselves trapped on prehistoric Earth, and decided to make lemonade by gluing missile launchers to dinosaurs. Yeah, it was 100% amazing.
The dinosaurs were exquisitely crafted, and in fact looked so good that the molds would later be reused to make scientifically-accurate dinosaur toys. Course, those later playthings lost a little appeal since they weren’t covered in laser guns and chrome-finished saddles.
As if that wasn’t enough, the tiny action figures that came with the dinosaurs were almost as appealing. It was like someone looked at the cast of M.A.S.K. and thought, “This is good, but it would be better if some of them were mutant hammerheads.” And that imaginary person was right.
Dino-Riders toys now fetch considerable dough, with the largest sets commanding over a hundred dollars each, even without their original packaging. Too rich for my blood, but I’d never say that they aren’t worth it.
Real Ghostbusters TV Promo! (1988)
Figured I’d toss this in the mix, too. Just a random Real Ghostbusters promo. I’m not sure if this aired during the first-runs or the syndicated episodes, but it appears to have been sandwiched between two RGB eps that ran back to back.
What an amazing show! The Real Ghostbusters was so much smarter than we realized as kids, which may explain why it’s soooo easy to watch as adults. It’s not just nostalgia; this series was legit, drawing from spooky lore that dated back centuries, but packaging it all in such an utterly digestible way.
Thanks for reading! There were enough noteworthy ads on this one tape to cover the next few editions of Five Retro TV Commercials, so if you’re especially into ads that just happened to air during Slimer’s escapades… more are on the way!
PS: If you missed it earlier this week, the latest Purple Stuff Podcast pays tribute to 1992. Thanks so much to everyone who listened — we see our numbers rising, and we’re motivated by it!