One of my favorite things about looking at old commercials, especially those from when I was a kid, is how someone thought that their idea was what kids back then thought looked cool. Granted, in 1988 this wasn’t very hard. I mean, this was the decade where you could put a bunch of random cartoon characters on screen for thirty seconds and tell us there was a toy involved and parents would be beating one another down in parking lots for the toys.
But those were toys. How did you sell something that wasn’t a toy, or say a movie that looked like it would have cool toys? How did you sell, for instance, food?
A few weeks ago, I took a glance at an old McDonald’s commercial, which was this sappy brother-sister number where the brother is obviously stalking his sister but it’s supposed to be all cute because he offers her a french fry or something. Phone company commercials from that era are noted for this type of syrupy fun, and soft drink commercials? Well, I’ve already talked about the epic nature of Dr. Pepper’s early 1990s ad campaign and at some point I’m going to get around to Coke.
But a lot of those commercials weren’t specifically geared towards kids, mainly because kids weren’t the only people going to drink Coke or go to McDonald’s. However, we were the people most likely to eat Chef Boyardee.
Canned pasta has been around for what seems like eons (I think that’s its shelf-life, too) and there have been quite a number of products geared towards kids, such as Franco-American’s Spaghetti-O’s and Chef Boyardee’s Tic Tac Toe’s (yeah, I know it’s a misused apostrophe … it was their mistake, not mine). The former is somewhat of an American institution because even those of us who have never eaten a single Spaghetti-O know the jingle “Uh oh, Spaghetti-O’s!” Tic Tac Toe’s, however, don’t enjoy the same iconic status. In fact, they’re not even made anymore, or at least called that, as Chef Boyardee now makes “ABC’s and 123’s” instead.
But back in the late 1980s, the pasta company tried to break Spaghetti-Os monopoly on kids’ pasta consciousness and unveiled one of those commercials that I have never been able to get out of my head since:
This may be an inoccuous ad to most people and probably well-forgotten, too, but when I was ten years old and watching television in my parents’ den every Saturday morning, I would see this kid dance around X’s and O’s about a dozen times a week and I have to admit that it had an effect on me. Just not the intended effect. Because you see, this commercial didn’t make me want to eat Tic Tac Toe’s, it made me want to dance.
I don’t recall exactly what I was doing or how I reacted the first time I saw this commercial but I do distinctly remember at some point noticing that the kid in the commercial was wearing a yellow sweater that was exactly like a blue sweater I owned and had been forced to wear for school pictures and family functions. Plus, he owned the same type of Converse in radical colors that I wanted and he had great hair, so I thought he was really cool.
Looking back, I suppose I should have noticed the fact that the kid in the commercial is smiling like a maniac and has amazing flexibility that I never possessed, but it didn’t matter. Soon after I began to think this was cool, I started trying to copy his dance moves in my living room when nobody else was around. I pulled off a perfect moonwalk and could walk around the living room and point at the coffee table and lamp with a crazy smile on my face (I never got three “O’s” on my spoon and WON, though. I didn’t see the point of that. Was eating that stuff a game? What did I “win” exactly? Could I have challenged my sister or other kids for bragging rights to Tic Tac Toe’s supremacy? ).
But I never could really pull off that awesome split he does at the end. He gets some serious air, reaching about to the middle of the giant Tic Tac Toe’s can and then lands with a seriously awesome “Ta-Da!” I would stand in front of my television and wait for that moment so I could try it, but while I could jump pretty high, I could never get my legs to split to the point where I touched my outstretched hands, then I would land with a resounding thud on the floor and pant heavily while I gave the “Ta-Da!” gesture. Then my father would ask if something fell or tell me to knock it off.
Sadly, my ability to dance never did improve, which is something for a later date, but at least it wasn’t for a lack of trying … even if I didn’t have the best examples to follow.