One of my first memories of successful subliminal messaging from an ad campaign was at the ripe age of 7. It was 1993, and Coca-Cola Classic was making its way through the airwaves into every American home with a working TV or radio. To this day, I can still remember the bouncy lyrics to this delightfully cheesy earworm: “The stars will always shine, the birds will always sing; whenever there is thirst, there’s always the real thing! Coca-Cola Classic is always the one; whenever there is fun, there’s always Coca-Cola!” Not only did the simple melody and easy-to-remember lyric catch my attention, but the flashing colorful graphics that came with it were equally intoxicating.
I was hooked. The industry had me in the palm of its hand, and I was more than willing to engage. You would think that growing up with a father in advertising would make me less susceptible to the messages from commercials and radio jingles, but I suppose this factor only enhanced my subconscious but ever present fascination with the idea of creating a need and a solution in a 30-second segment.
Over the years, brands and products would work their way into my world via the TV screen, car radio, and even kids at school. Here are some 80s and 90s campaigns that have stuck with me like chewed Bubble Tape gum on a Sketcher.
Mentos commercials were the Saved By The Bell of 90s ad campaigns. The acting and music left something to be desired, but the boys were dreamy, the tagline was fresh – no, literally the tagline was “Mentos, the freshmaker” – and the commercials always told a clever story: Did you accidentally rip your long formal gown while out on date? Pop a Mentos and everything will be okay! You can turn that sad frown into a mini gown!” Mentos made everything okay.
First of all, the idea that potato chips could come stacked neatly in a can was genius, like sliced bread in 1928. As long as Pringles existed, who would ever want to reach their hand into a sad looking bag of generic potato chips ever again? Greasy fingers? No, thank you. Beyond the actual taste and flavor of these stackable snack chips, the sound was perhaps the most satisfying, and Pringles commercials throughout the 80s and 90s capitalized on this crunch, as well as the subtle yet pleasing sensation of opening the tall container. Commercials featured attractive teenagers popping Pringles cans like champagne bottles, and crunching into stacks of layered chips as if it was a competitive sport. “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” Not just a clever slogan, but the sad truth of an addictive chip.
Salt and fat products were booming during the 80s and 90s, and it was the perfect time to spread the word on the powerful antacid called Tums. Tums commercials were always wonderfully dark, ominous and cringe-worthy, and these ghastly (gas-tly?) commercials worked like magic on the same viewers (victims?) of the McDonald’s and Burger King campaigns. The Tums jingle was reminiscent of the Jaws theme, and quickly became a hit in our household. “Tums-ta-tums-tums.. TUMS!” The Tums jingle is like bad stomach acid, making its way into my memory at the most inconvenient and unnecessary times.
It was the summer of ‘94, and – ironically (perhaps the campaign reached beyond its targeted demographic) – all of the kids at the pool were singing, “1-800-94-Jenny.” This weight loss anthem would become our summer soundtrack. What was this catchy lyric about? It didn’t matter. Jenny Craig was as familiar as an old friend, and the brand forever made its imprint on our young, impressionable minds.
Wrigley’s Big Red
“Your fresh breath goes on and on… While you chew it!” This cheerful anthem was a top 40 jingle hit, unforgettably uplifting, romantic, and heartwarming. The Big Red campaign took our breath away, then gave it back with lasting freshness.
How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Even the wise owl lacked the patience to find out. These ads were simple, inexpensive, and brilliant.
There’s nothing about a Folgers Coffee commercial that I don’t love. The best part of waking up, was a Folgers commercial with Ritchie Havens’ smooth vocals on a Saturday morning. It made me feel warm and loved, nostalgic and needy, like every successful ad campaign should.
Last, but not least…
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many commercials that have stuck with me over the years, Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger “they’re GRRRRREAT!”, Kraft’s Mac n’ Cheese “The Blue Box Blues”, Twix, Skittles “Taste The Rainbow”, Capri Sun, and all the Milk commercials featuring celebrities with milk mustaches.
These commercials and the jingles that came with them, feel like old friends from the past. Over 20 years later, as I watch these commercials on YouTube, it’s like a 30-second window into the year it was made. The music, clothing, hairstyles, and the products themselves, have created a nostalgic time warp into the past, and thankfully we can revisit when we feel like going back. For decades, commercials have reflected societal values, cultural and economic trends, and the history of advertising.