Get set for another edition of Five Retro TV Commercials, because I know you’re dying to see Charlie Brown sell life insurance. You’re so ironic.
Nickelodeon Sweepstakes Promo! (1986)
Here we had Nickelodeon bragging about its many on-air giveaways. If you shipped out 6000 skateboards or whatever, you’d brag too.
There are serious treasures hiding in here. Let’s start with the offbeat series of prizes Nick chose to feature, which included a goddamned Rock Lords figure. The fact that Nickelodeon’s in-house graphics team spent two weeks making a Rock Lords figure fly out of a cartoon cash register will forever be my happy thought.
Then there’s a message from a lucky girl who won one of Nickelodeon’s Super Toy Runs, where kids went to Toys “R” Us and took home as many free toys as they could demonstrably eat. Or something to that effect.
(That shot of her surrounded by ‘80s toys is glorious, even if I don’t understand why she wanted 10 identical Lights Alive picture makers.)
We were also reminded that some kids won an opportunity to run through the Double Dare obstacle course, a prize that by 1986 standards may have been even more falsetto-worthy than a toy store shopping spree.
Get Met. It Pays. (1986)
The marriage between Snoopy and MetLife began when I was a little kid and is only now dissolving.
The biggest aspect of that partnership was a series of MetLife commercials starring the Peanuts gang, who’d always mention the company specifically, and even use little MetLife flags as props. (No half-assed endorsements from Charlie Brown!)
I can personally attest to the value of those ads. Not for people who were actually old enough to purchase insurance, mind you, but for kids like me, who loved seeing cartoon characters during terrible shows that we only watched because all of other shows were somehow even more terrible.
Because the ads were really targeted at our parents, they turned up everywhere. Seeing cartoon characters in commercials on Saturday mornings was no big deal, but Snoopy popped up during soaps and news programs and TV movies about money-laundering schemes.
Even six-year-olds knew the difference, and it was a huge one.
Max Headroom for Coke! (1986)
One thing I’d completely forgotten: Max Headroom’s most famous pushes were for “New” Coke.
See, in 1985, Coca-Cola changed its formula. In response, people went batshit in a bad way. This led to the original formula’s return as Coca-Cola Classic, while Coke (colloquially known as New Coke) continued to exist as a supplementary brand.
By the time Max Headroom became New Coke’s spokesman, the initial resentment had passed. His job was to make New Coke as appealing to kids as Pepsi was. (Coca-Cola Classic was killing it with older folks, but at the time, younger customers more often went for Pepsi.)
As a kid, I wasn’t sure what to make of Max Headroom. I was never “afraid” of him, but he made me uneasy. I looked forward to his commercials because I knew they were cool, but I also kinda dreaded them, I guess because everything seemed more cynical when they finished? I don’t know, was it just me?
TMNT on VHS! (1990)
It’s hard to overstate how much the TMNT movie meant to us back in 1990. In some senses, it was as if 1989’s Batman had a younger, hipper brother.
I can’t remember if I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on its opening night or just during its opening week, but I’ll never forget the size of the line outside the theater. It looped around the building for what felt like three miles. That film was SO huge.
Kids run through most of their obsessions quickly, and by the time this movie premiered, we’d already had over two years to freak out about the Ninja Turtles. Under normal circumstances, a film like that would’ve been the coda. Instead, it was so cool that even those of us who were already bordering on “too old” stuck with the cartoon and toys for another two years.
Naturally, the videocassette was a big hit. I’d wager that a whole bunch you owned that tape, and not just because you can still buy it at literally every yard sale. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of those rare films where renting a video just wasn’t good enough. You needed it for keeps.
$4.95 Per Minute?! (1993)
Compared to the last sexy hotline I covered, I think this one was a touch more seductive, what with all of those dimly-lit glamour shots.
It was also a much bigger ripoff, with the company charging $4.95 *PER MINUTE* for you to hear prerecorded flirting. (The first minute was always expensive, but wanting a full fiver for every minute was absolute robbery.)
It might seem strange to include steamy commercials in articles that are mostly focused on toys and breakfast cereals, but these ads were very much a part of our lives. For kids old enough to think about stuff but not old enough to actually do stuff, they were practically dirty movies.
Case in point: This commercial aired during Spider-Man — the 1977 version, that is — on the USA Network. So it’s not like we had to flip through ten channels to find these ads. More often than not, they found us!
Anyway, thanks for reading about life insurance and smut.