Last week, I took a chance on a very large lot of homebrew VHS tapes, and my God, it really paid off. I’ve been at this for 20 years, and this was probably my best-ever score. I’m now sitting on more ancient TV commercials than I could ever hope to write about, which I suppose is a good problem to have.
Below are some recent acquisitions. May watching them on YouTube bring you as much joy as finding ‘em on dusty videocassettes brought me.
New Coke at McDonald’s! (1985)
We just talked about New Coke on the latest Purple Stuff Podcast, so this was a lucky find. In summary: Back in ‘85, Coca-Cola changed its flavor to more closely mimic Pepsi’s sweetness, in the hopes of grabbing back lost customers.
It didn’t quite work out that way, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Here we had McDonald’s celebrating New Coke’s arrival, and you can tell that McD’s was confident about the soda, because they practically married it to their Big Mac in this commercial. That was a pretty major endorsement.
The commercial seems to imply that McDonald’s had New Coke even before many stores did. I so love the idea of people enjoying a night out at McDonald’s just so they could sample New Coke. (Bonus points if McDonald’s actually used those swank Coke-themed paper cups.)
Million Dollar Movie Intro! (1980s)
I don’t know if what we called “WOR-TV Channel 9” existed in other forms across the country, but you can think of it as a less-exciting version of WPIX. While the station had some first-run hits, it was mostly a channel for old movies and long-dead sitcoms.
This was the intro for Channel 9’s Million Dollar Movie, which was essentially a “movie of the week.” By the late ‘80s, the once-celebrated event was demoted to a terrible weekend time slot, and only existed to help Channel 9 fill out its schedule. Naturally, that’s when I started watching.
…or more accurately, that’s when I started half-watching. I can’t remember a single “Million Dollar Movie,” yet I must’ve seen several, because this intro is permanently burned into my brain. I even recall humming the theme music as a kid.
Given that I only would’ve watched those movies as a last resort, the intro makes me think of only the most boring and lonely weekends of youth, when I couldn’t even count on television for companionship. Thank God for potato chips.
Talking Pee-wee! (1988)
I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the most popular Pee-wee Herman toy of all time. Back in the late ‘80s, it seemed like everyone had a Talking Pee-wee, and certainly not just kids. I knew several adults who’d been given the dolls as novelty gifts, I guess because Pee-wee was such a phenomenon that even people who never saw his movies or TV show knew his entire schtick.
It was a simple pull-string doll that invariably broke after extended use. After a while, my Talking Pee-wee condensed his phrases into single syllables. You could only make out the individual words by holding onto the string and slowly letting it retract, which made Pee-wee sound something like a demon in mid-exorcism. Depending on my mood, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Crash Bandicoot at Pizza Hut! (1998)
I’ve noticed a lean on absurdist irreverence in my collection of late ‘90s TV commercials. While it often just seems like brands being “random” for the sake of it, sometimes they hit upon something so brilliant — like a guy in a Crash Bandicoot costume yelling about how to eat stuffed crust pizza — that I just sit back and mentally applaud.
This Pizza Hut ad speaks for itself, but I do have some questions:
1) Pay close attention to the dad in this commercial. Was that Paul Giamatti?!
2) Do people really eat stuffed crust pizza backwards? It was a memorable pitch for marketing purposes, but in practice, that sounds weird.
3) Is stuffed crust even still a thing? I know it is, technically, but do people still choose it by default? To be honest, I was never a huge fan. The cheese never feels enough like “pizza cheese,” and biting into stuffed crust feels like I’m popping alien zits. If you’re on Team Stuffed Crust, sell me on it.
Freddy’s Nightmares TV Promos (1989)
Above are four promos for various episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares, the Freddy-led anthology series that played out like a dark and trashy version of The Twilight Zone.
I never sampled the show as a kid, but I certainly remember the promos, which were peppered all throughout the day on Channel 9. Under the right light (or lack thereof), even they were enough to leave ten-year-old me in a state of panic.
Based on everything I’ve seen and heard since, the charm of Freddy’s Nightmares lies in how rough it was. The show looked cheap because it was cheap, and the various directors — apparently unburdened by the usual standards that governed network television — were game to try anything, even if that “anything” was incredibly weird and/or bordering on distasteful.
In look and tone, it felt like an odd fusion of Freddy’s Revenge, The Dream Child and late night MTV. Which… wasn’t such a bad place to be?
Thanks for reading. More old commercials are on the way!