Happy December! It’s the month that moves too fast and costs too much, but I love it, and if you’re able to stomach me, I’m guessing that you love it, too.
As is tradition, I dug through my piles of home-recorded VHS tapes searching for more ancient Christmas commercials. Here’s the latest installment of Classic Christmas Commercials, featuring bees, burgers and Blockbuster.
Honey Nut Cheerios & Scrooge! (1980s)
This marvelously melodramatic Honey Nut Cheerios commercial was always one of my favorites, preposterous on its face yet so purely uplifting.
Here we had the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee trying to lure Ebenezer Scrooge away from work with the promise of breakfast. Bee’s motivations weren’t clear — he may have truly pitied Scrooge for working on Christmas, but it’s also possible that Scrooge was just then signing everyone’s houses over to some evil bank, and this was Bee’s cagey way to halt the process.
Scrooge is disinterested until hearing about the honey and nuts. His delivery of the line “…did you say honey, and nuts?” is still studied by budding thespians, who’d gladly settle for being even 1/10th that good.
Between Scrooge’s acquiescence and the goddamned Tallis Scholars singing about Honey Nut Cheerios, this is easily among the most feel-good of all Christmas commercials.
Little Mermaid at McDonald’s! (1989)
Oof, this Little Mermaid + McDonald’s commercial fired on every cylinder. Or at least three cylinders:
1) It promoted those old Little Mermaid plush ornaments, which were pretty high-end for McDonald’s toys. (That winter-dressed Sebastian ornament would’ve cost $12 at Hallmark, easy.)
2) It also promoted McDonald’s gift certificates, which I still idealize as the perfect stocking stuffers. If you’re a kid, what sounds better: An eight-pack of crayons, a toothbrush, or a contractual guarantee that you could demand a trip to McDonald’s whenever you pleased, because you had a GIFT CERTIFICATE and that’s how things worked?
3) There’s an animated sequence wherein Ariel and Flounder swim near a McDonald’s, which kinda/sorta means that undersea McDonald’s restaurants are a canonical part of The Little Mermaid universe. Cut to me in two hours, doodling a version of Ursula’s lair that has cheeseburger wrappers strewn about.
Tl;dr: Good commercial is good.
Memorex Tapes from Kmart! (1989)
I love how this Kmart commercial pitched the gift of blank Memorex tapes as being on the same emotional level as, say, your grandson’s painting in a custom frame. Can we get that cereal choir back in here?
Artistic license aside, blank VHS tapes really were common Christmas gifts — impersonal and never requested, yet still things that everyone needed and would actually use.
Whether employed as stocking stuffers for older kids or as gifts for distant aunts and uncles who didn’t rank high enough for anything better, blank tapes always seemed to turn up on Christmas morning. They were the Stella D’oro breadsticks of electronics.
Christmas at Blockbuster! (1990)
I feel like I know that actress from something else, but I can’t quite place where. In any event, she deserved to be in more things, because girl sold the shit out of the stretch-of-an-idea that you could do all of your Christmas shopping at just one Blockbuster.
The commercial mostly focused on Blockbuster gift certificates, which I assume were good towards rentals and purchases. I would’ve been into those for the same reason I dug McDonald’s freebie coupons: They guaranteed that there would be a day after Christmas that still felt something like Christmas.
Indiana Jane made a big show of finding TMNT: The Movie on VHS, and she was right to do so. That was a total must-have video — the “Batman ‘89” of 1990. Pretty much everybody owned it. It’s why so many of us can’t think about the film without also thinking about the baseball-themed Pizza Hut commercial that started the tape.
Staten Island Cable Nonsense Channel! (1987)
Can’t believe I found a recording of this! It’s a snippet from one of Staten Island Cable’s boring old “billboard” channels, of which I was intimately familiar. (And yes I realize that 99.9% of you never had Staten Island Cable, but surely you grew up with similar channels from your own providers?)
The key point is that this was recorded at around 9PM on Christmas Eve, back in 1987. There’s a fair chance that I was actually watching this channel at that precise time, as Staten Island Cable was fond of running Christmas music over its billboard channels, and we did occasionally use those in lieu of a radio.
This snippet means jack to you, but for me it’s almost painfully resonant. If I could somehow reach through the screen, I’d see my 1987 family on the other side, drinking Slice and wearing bad sweaters. I can almost hear them beyond the YouTube window. They’re saying nothing important, except for every word.
Thanks for reading. If old Christmas commercials make you happy (or happy sad), here are the three previous chapters in this series: