commercials

When Clothes Shopping Became Cool

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The Kids R Us in the Nassau Mall in Levittown, NY.  Image from siteride on Flickr.

Based on the commercials from the decade, I wonder if today’s youth is under the impression that the 1980s were just one protracted neon-lit dance number.  There are several commercials from the era that were obviously a product of an advertising executive’s viewing a six hour block of Staying Alive, Xanadu, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun while hoovering cocaine because it’s the only way that anyone would think that kids singing and dancing their way through thirty seconds of television like they were auditioning for Starlight Express was cool.  And ridiculous as that protracted sentence sounds, so many of us fell for it, even to the point where we would willingly go shopping for clothes.

 

Now, hitting the mall for clothes at some trendy store may have been a rite of passage for teenagers in the 1980s, but when you’re a kid, clothes shopping can be agony.  I am not going to go through all of the details of what I was put through as a child except to say that I still only trust one person enough to accompany me when it comes to buying clothes, and that is my wife.  Otherwise, I go clothes shopping completely by myself or not at all.  But for a brief period in the 1980s, this wasn’t the case and that’s because Kids R Us opened up across from the Toys R Us in Bay Shore.

Existing from 1983 until it eventually went defunct in 2004, Kids R Us was the Toys R Us corporation’s foray into children’s clothing retail.  This, according to a New York Times article I found from 1983, was already a very competitive market and Toys R Us was taking a big risk, especially since they were going up against huge department stores like Macy’s.  From what I could tell, it worked at first because they were able to undercut their competition by offering some popular brand names at lower prices, and they made the stores themselves attractive to kids.  The NYT describes one of the original Kids R Us stores in Paramus, New Jersey, as “a place that seemed to blend the essential elements of an upscale children’s clothing outlet and a suburban theme park.”

And that much was true–the color scheme of the store was bright with kid-friendly “cool” colors, there were at least a couple of distraction stations where you could play games or look in funhouse mirrors so that you forgot for a moment that you were there to try on clothes and had gotten sucked into those awesome dance numbers on the commercials:

When you watch this, you can see that it’s vibrant.  Moreover, if you listen to it, it sounds like so many of the other commercials of the 1980s–in fact, I’m pretty sure that the “Kids R Us” song from this commercial is the same tune as the “Coke Is It!” ads from around the same time.  This one even has a similar start to the one that I looked at a number of years ago in that it begins with set design.  But then … then … THEN … it gets SO FREAKIN’ COOL.

These images are everything that was awesome about the 1980s:  killer sax solos, wearing leotards 24-7 and Sha-Na-Na cosplay.  People, these clothes weren’t your siblings’ or older neighbor’s hand-me-downs.  Oh no.  These were the clothes that you knew were going to make you be seen on the first day of school–that is, until you actually wore them to school and realized that you looked like a total moron.

Popped Collar Kid

Unless, of course, you are this kid.  I mean, he pops his collar and doesn’t even need to ski the K-12.  He just is.  And I really don’t need to say much more than that.  This, guys, is the impossible benchmark of cool that you will never achieve.  Not back in 1985; not in 2018.

Weep for your lack.

Group Shot

Anyway, the commercial goes on to show more kids dancing and showing off the clothes–there’s even a couple of dressed-up nerdy-looking kids in there because there was always one parent who was always on the lookout for a new place to buy slacks–and we get to the big finale.  Said big finale?  A freeze-frame jumping group shot, the type that leads us kids to believe that shopping at Kids R Us will be this fun, this exciting, and that we will want our parents to bring us there right away.  The reality, of course, was that we would walk into the store while catching a glance of Toys R Us and would spend the next hour wondering why we weren’t getting any toys.  It was all a cruel joke perpetrated by the lies of Corporate America and our parents, who for at least a few years found clothes shopping to be a little easier.

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Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 92: VHiStory

Episode 92 Website CoverBlank VHS tapes. So many of us had them. So many of us still have them. But what happens when you unearth a pile of vaguely labeled blank tapes in your parents’ basement and you pop them into your VCR? Well, that’s exactly what I did. In this episode, I talk about my personal history with VCRs and VHS tapes as well as what I found in a pretty large pile of tapes that I grabbed on a trip to Long Island back in April. It’s an hour of me rambling about Seinfeld, Baywatch, holiday cartoon specials, and anything else I taped in the 1980s and 1990s.

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

After the cut, a few links and extras from this episode …

(more…)

Because rock should make you feel good

RecordsI spent a lot of my teenage summers inside.  Oh sure, there were family vacations, Saturday afternoons playing hockey, and Tuesday evenings playing softball, but there were also entire weeks where I barely left the house, so much so that I knew that the same Craftmatic Adjustable Bed commercial came on every day at 1:00 p.m. on WPIX.

I think it was then that my father would force me out of the house by cranking the dehumidifiers in both the basement and den, therefore making it impossible to watch television.  That, or he’d find some sort of back-breaking manual labor for me to do.

Anyway, among the many types of commercials I watched were commercials for compilation albums.  Put out by companies such as Time-Life Music, these were collections of famous songs that fit a particular theme.  In Time-Life’s case, there were collections for different decades such as the 1960s or 1980s (I personally own all of Sounds of the Eighties), but there were also compilations such as AM Gold and Love Songs.  

The commercials were always pretty much the same.  There was some sort of intro, and then several song titles would scroll up the screen while either a clip or photo of the artist or stock footage of people from a Mt. Airy Lodge commercial was shown.  The song playing would change every once in a while and then you’d get some message about how you could order the albums, which usually came on record, cassette or CD (and later on cassette or CD).

But a select few took this commercial concept to another level.  There, of course was Hey Soul Classics  and its “No my brother, you’re gonna have to go buy your own!” and the classic exchange at the beginning of the Freedom Rock commercial:

“Hey, man, is that freedom rock?”

“Yeah, man!”

“Well, turn it up, man!”

And as awesome as those are, nothing trumps what has to be the most insanely bizarre yet spectacularly awesome compilation commercial of all time.  Dear readers (both of you), I give you Feel Good Rock.

The commercial starts out kind of silly, using old 1950s sci-fi footage in a way that is a pretty common commercial trope, but then takes a turn that just about nobody is expecting when instead of the simple footage of bands performing their hits or the classic stock footage of people being romantic and/or having a good time, we get two minutes–yes, two minutes–of people ridiculously lip-synching the hits contained on the album.  In some cases, there are people who have clearly been waiting their whole lives for this moment (the woman in the waitress uniform clearly is enjoying her moment in the spotlight), and in other cases, the people barely know the words (one of the guys singing “Crocodile Rock” doesn’t fully commit).

Now, until I scraped this off of the floor of YouTube, I hadn’t seen it in a good twenty years and while I remember it being an odd commercial, I can honestly tell you that I had forgotten how flat-out insane it was.  And much like the Coke Is It! commercial and Juicy Fruit commercials from the 1980s, I felt the need to take a look at some of the people in the commercial who are just feeling so good.

I Feel Good“I Feel Good” is the first song mentioned in the commercial and that’s definitely appropriate because the album is called Feel Good Rock.  Here we have two people who are either at a bakery or are getting ready to tape tomorrow’s episode of Supermarket Sweep and they are just really into it.  Either that, or the woman is having a stroke.  Either way, I’m pretty sure that this commercial became famous in the house to the point where every time it was on, Dad would call the kids into the den, yelling, “Hey, the commercial’s on again!”

To which their teenage daughter, who has hanging with her friends in the other room, would storm into the den and scream, “GOD, STOP!  YOU ARE SO EMBARRASSING!” and storm out. (more…)

Why the green M&M’s have always been my favorite

So in searching for an idea for this week’s entry (and admittedly running out of time for an idea for this week’s entry), I was bumming around YouTube and stumbled upon this:

I know that commercials have gotten more sophisticated since I was a kid; after all, Mars has made a fortune off of the licensing of the animated M&M’s that it currently features in its commercials.  But seeing this again for the first time in nearly 30 years, I have to say that is still one of the most perfect commercials because in thirty seconds it encapsulates playing baseball as a kid.

MMs commercialOkay, maybe not for me because I absolutely sucked when I was younger, but I do remember that this commercial came out right around the time I started my first year of “real” baseball (read: not tee ball), and there were times that while riding the bench (which I did a lot), I would talk to my teammates and we’d say that we were going to “take the ball dowwwntooowwwn.”  Plus, I think that every kid in the history of being kids has at some point sorted his or her M&M’s.

Yeah, I know that they all taste the same because they are milk chocolate that surrounded by a thin candy shell (hence it “melts in your mouth but not in your hand”), but the brown ones were so plain, and while the yellow and orange ones were slightly more interesting, the green ones stood out, so they were immediately a favorite.  And during a game, if we had M&M’s, we’d actually save the green ones before getting in the on-deck circle because I think that on some level we thought that the green M&M would lead to a home run.

Of course, that was never true and since then, M&M’s come in many more colors than the ones in the commercial and more flavors than just plain and peanut (the peanut butter ones are a personal favorite); however, I still like to think that there was something special about the green ones, even if there wasn’t truth in advertising.

Coke is It!

One of my favorite aspects of Mad Men is the constant looks into the ad pitch meetings.  Maybe it’s because I used to work in sales support and marketing, but whenever Don or one of the other guys at the company is trying to get new business, I find it fascinating how they not only come up with their ideas but how they present it to the prospective clients.  Sometimes, it’s brilliant, and sometimes they crash and burn, like in this clip that shows the company pitching Pepsi on their new diet cola, Patio:

I think my favorite part of this clip is Roger Sterling summing up why the commercial doesn’t work:  “It’s not Ann-Margret.”

But I love soda commercials.  I don’t think I’ve seen that many from the era of Mad Men–the earliest ones I can remember is probably the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” one from 1971 followed by David Naughton’s “I’m a Pepper!” ads and the Mean Joe Green one from 1978 or so–but I do remember that next to commercials for the phone company, McDonald’s, and Juicy Fruit, nothing in the non-toy category defined my childhood more than soft drink commercials.

And for good reason: they were everywhere in the 1980s, to the point where the last line of the last verse of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is “Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore!”  And by 1989, yeah, you’re right, Billy.  Because over the course of the decade, Coke and Pepsi seemed to be doing whatever they could to up the ante, especially when it became apparent that Pepsi was gaining in market share right around 1985 and Coke decided that its old formula wasn’t enough and launched the debacle known as New Coke.  Plus, you really couldn’t outdo Pepsi’s commercials in the 1980s.  I mean, they almost killed the King of Pop.  That set the bar impossibly high.

But as much as I have fond memories of watching the “Michael Jackson’s hair catches on fire” commercial on my old taped-off-TV copy of The Wizard of Oz from 1983, I have to say that one of my favorite 1980s soft drink commercials has to be this Coke ad from 1982:

Now you can picture this pitch meeting, can’t you?  “So, has anyone seen Fame?” (more…)

The taste that’s gonna move you!

I’ve never been a regular gum chewer.  Oh sure, I have a pack of peppermint gum sitting next to me while I’m typing this but that’s because I had serious onion breath the other day and went out and bought said pack so I could talk to people in a professional capacity without killing them.  But really, I’m not a regular gum chewer.  It might have something to do with the fact that from the third grade on and off until my sophomore year of high school, I had braces; however, I like to think that it’s because I am ultimately disappointed that I never had the experiences that gum companies promised me in the 1980s.

Commercials for gum these days seem to hype the product’s taste, making it seem that chewing a piece of 5 gum will make your entire body shake from its awesomeness.  In the 1980s, however, gum commercials seemed less focused on how great everything taste and more focused on the amount of sex you could possibly have as a result of chewing said gum.  Extra promised that things would last an extra long time, you could get a “little lift” from Wrigley’s spearmint gum, Big Red allowed you to get a little closer and kiss a little longer, and Doublemint … well, they had twins.  But no gum was so focused on getting you some than Juicy Fruit, which had the taste that was going to move you …

Bottom half of this illustration: my “crew” in high school.

It really is the ultimate gum commercial and uses sex for its sales pitch so much that it’s practically a beer commercial.  You have a group of un-loving teens who are going water skiing on a lake somewhere.  And they’re not just any group of teens, but they are the type of group that I’m sure my father would have referred to as a “crew.”  For instance, “Yeah, that’s Jake Ryan.  He hangs around with Andrew Clark, Brad Hamilton–you know, that whole crew.”

I was never part of a crew.  You have to be popular to be part of a crew, and I wasn’t popular.  I did have friends, but the closest we ever got to being a “crew” was emulating the Car of Idiots from that Far Side cartoon.  We certainly never went water-skiing; I don’t think we ever event went to the beach.  I know that I was certainly embarrassed to take my shirt off in public when I was a teenager (although there wasn’t anything wrong with me, aside from my being skinny), and if you ever did catch me at a lake or at a beach, you’d probably find me with my face buried in a Star Trek or Star Wars EU novel.  Yeah, not exactly the type of person who belongs in a “crew.”

Funny thing, I kind of always wanted to be in a crew and I think it’s commercials like this that helped feed this desire.  That and it seemed like everybody water-skiied in the 1980s.  I remember being dragged to what seemed like an endless stream of barbecues, clambakes, and family parties (okay, it was probably two) where someone had a boat and a pair of water-skis and the entertainment for the evening was seeing how long various partygoers could stay on the skis before they completely wiped out.  Here, everyone seems to be an expert skiier and while some of them do wipe out on occasion, it seems that they all know how to  perform the type of stunts that you’d only see at Sea World. (more…)

Fuzzy memories of summer camp

On Monday, my son started summer camp.  Beng that he is a four-year-old rising kindergartener, this was a pretty big deal because it is his first “summer break” after a year of school (whereas up until last August he was simply in daycare).  The camp is run out of his school, so there really is no difference in our morning and afternoon routines of dropping him off or picking him up, even though he is going to spend most of his days going to the pool or making crafts or playing games as opposed to sitting in class and learning letters and numbers.

Apparently, camp around here is kind of a big thing, to the point where every spring, there is not only a huge advertising supplement in the local newspapers about the various summer camp programs offered throughout the greater Charlottesville area, but there is a “summer camp expo” held at a local hotel where parents can stop by, pick up literature, sign up for camps, and meet local newscasters (I don’t know what the appeal is in meeting local newscasters, but there you go).  Where I grew up on Long Island, I don’t remember the ramp-up to summer break being a huge rush to get kids “signed up for something,” because quite a number of my summers were spent sitting around and doing very little.  I know that I sound like an old fart when I say that I was a kid in the days when kids could be left home alone and there was no danger in that, but it is actually true.  Most of the friends I had in later elementary school were kids whose parents weren’t always home and as long as I could ride my bike to their houses and as long as I was home before dinner time and wasn’t committing any criminal acts (and seriously, I grew up in freaking Sayville … the most “illegal” thing I ever did was cut through an abandoned lot and buy smoke bombs from the ice cream man), everything was fine.  Granted, there were days where my friend Tom and I spent time jumping out of trees and body slamming his little brother and I’m amazed that nobody got seriously injured, but we wound up fine.

But for those kids whose parents: a) were sick of their children doing nothing except watch TV all day; b) didn’t want their children unsupervised; or c) had the money, there was “camp.”  I didn’t know many kids who went to a “sleepaway” camp like the type portrayed in Meatballs or Wet Hot American Summer, probably because by the time I was old enough to do a sleepaway camp, those places had become synonymous with machete-wielding, hockey-mask-wearing killers.

Okay, that probably wasn’t the reason–it was probably more like sleepaway camp was a pain in the ass and parents preferred something more local, of which there were plenty of opportunities, some of which were almost like a sleepaway camp but were called “day camps.”  Every spring during my childhood, when I would be home in the afternoon watching G.I. Joe or He-Man and the Masters and the Universe, the local syndicated stations (like WPIX and WNEW/WNYW) would air a commercial for Young People’s Day Camp:

Now I am sure that this commercial ran well into the late 1980s and maybe even the early 1990s because I remember seeing it for years and I am sure that most of the kids in the commercial were in college by the time I was watching it.  I’d say that Young People’s Day Camp is the Mount Airy Lodge of children’s camps–the type of place that if you visited it now, it would be mired in bankruptcy and one skinned knee from being shut down by either the board of health or child protective services–but they are still up and running throughout the New York and New Jersey area, even if they’re not airing the same commercials. (more…)