After I selected the ads for this edition of Five Retro TV Commercials, I worried that they were a little blah. Then I started writing about ‘em and realized, OH, shit, I’m actually super invested in every last one.
Sometimes you don’t know how you feel about something until you’re forced to write 200 words about it. Try that out the next time you’re deciding between paint colors or pairs of sneakers.
Jaws 2 on ABC! (1987)
In April of 1987, ABC ran Jaws 2 in primetime. I bet that was intended to rebuild awareness before Jaws: The Revenge hit theaters later that year. (Say what you will about Jaws: The Revenge, but I watched a lot of television at the time, and that movie got a huge push. The kids around here even adopted its tagline — “This time it’s personal!” — as a schoolyard taunt.)
Of the four films, I’ve seen Jaws 2 the fewest times. I remember practically every frame from the other movies, but all I can tell you about Jaws 2 is that it includes a shot of a dead orca. Over the years, this comparative unfamiliarity has morphed into me believing that I just like it less than the other films, but maybe that’s unfair. Jaws 2, you’re next on my Sunday afternoon half-stoned to-do list.
PS: I spent many years working on TV promos. There’s a real art to creating five-second spots. For my money, this one is very effective. You get a fin shot, a Jaws “hero” shot, a reactive scream and Martin Brody. That’s a lot to pack in five freakin’ seconds. My compliments to the producer, who I assume wore a Lacoste alligator shirt while creating this.
Wild Wings at Roy Rogers! (1989)
“Wild Wings” remains my all-time favorite Roy Rogers promotion. Take a mix of wingettes and drumettes, and serve ‘em with *three* outrageous sauces: Firehouse Red, Honolulu Honey and Meltdown Mustard. It felt more like a chemistry set than dinner.
I was a ketchup-only kind of guy, rarely alternating even for stuff as common as barbecue sauce. With Wild Wings, though, all bets were off. That was partly thanks to the sauces’ fetching exclusivity, but mostly because Roy’s gave them irresistibly funky names. Meltdown Mustard?! You’d be nuts to turn that down.
The promotion began in 1988, returned in 1989 and had one last run in 1994. Given how much easier split wings are to eat in restaurants and food courts, I’m surprised that Wild Wings never became a permanent part of Roy’s menu. They weren’t gonna steal every teenager away from McD’s and Burger King, but I think Wild Wings could’ve siphoned a few.
No Holds Barred on WPIX! (1992)
I’ve paid tribute to WPIX many times before, and even at the risk of alienating anyone who didn’t grow up near me, I’m unlikely to stop. My apologies to those living in California or Canada or Costa Rica.
The lifeblood of WPIX was its 8 O’Clock Movie, which, barring more “important” things like baseball games or presidential elections, ran almost every night. Everything from Batman to TMNT to Masters of the Universe to Dream Warriors was a WPIX 8 O’Clock Movie at one point or another.
By the time most of those films hit WPIX, they’d completed their runs on hoity-toity cable channels, and were, to some degree, “old news.” This promo highlights a rare case when WPIX scored a world television premiere.
Course, there likely wasn’t fierce competition for No Holds Barred, the film that reimagined Hulk Hogan as a sort of UFC fighter who got away with probable murder on live television. I maintain my soft spot for this one, which I actually saw in theaters. (It was what made me latch onto Kurt Fuller even before Ghostbusters II.)
Looney Tunes Microwave Meals! (1990)
I was a big fan of Tyson’s Looney Tunes Meals, for reasons that went beyond the fact that there were cartoon characters on the boxes. There were zillions of these things, and they hit upon many foods that were — at the time, at least — pretty unusual to see as microwavable dinners.
Each character championed a different meal. There was Wild E. Coyote’s hamburger pizza, Yosemite Sam’s BBQ glazed chicken and Sylvester’s fish sticks. Speedy Gonzales had beef enchiladas. Road Runner got a chicken sandwich, which on some level was obscene.
My one complaint was that Daffy Duck — my favorite Looney Tunes character — represented the worst meal in the series: A glob of stringy spaghetti with a side of corn. Even the “idealized” version on the box looked gross. I suppose it was on-brand for Daffy to end up with the loser meal that nobody wanted, but picking Tweety over Daffy made me feel like such a traitor.
Mott’s Applesauce: The Trader! (1987)
We’ve gushed about this commercial on the podcast, but I’m shocked that it never became a bigger point of nostalgia across the internet. Around here, the “Mott’s trader” was a huge deal with real world effects!
The concept: Cups of Mott’s Applesauce — particularly the CINNAMON variety — were so desirable that kids would trade virtually anything for them. (In this ad, a kid offers his turtle, skateboard and “magic rabbit” for a cup.)
I was in elementary school at the time, and I firmly credit this campaign for inspiring my whole class to turn lunch into a swap meet. Whether you were offering snacks from a brown bag or morsels from the school trays, it got to the point where we refused to start eating until we’d traded something.
Most of us “cold lunch kids” angled for cartons of chocolate milk, but I was more interested in stuff like string cheese and Fruit Wrinkles. Sometimes I’d even pocket extra snacks before school just so I could make more trades. On a particularly active day, you’d barely have five minutes left to eat by the time you were done wheelin’ and dealin’. Oh, what times!