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…)

Just ‘Round the Corner!

If you watch enough television where I live–Charlottesville, Virginia–you will probably see commercials for no less than four furniture stores.  There’s Kane Furniture (with a kicky cool-jazz-with-flute jingle: “At Kaaaaaaaaane furniture, you’ll have a home fashioned just for you”), Under the Roof (which is a montage of modern-looking furniture set to a ragin’ drum solo), Grand Furniture, and Schewels (who always is having a sale.  They had a Friday the 13th sale last month).  I swear they advertise more than car dealerships these days, although it is understandable because in a recession, buying furniture is one of the last purchases on a person’s mind.

The unfortunate thing about all this is that with the exception of Schewels’ Crazy Eddie-like tendencies (“WE’RE GIVING EVERYONE CREDIT!  WE’RE GIVING EVERYONE EMPLOYEE PRICES!  FOR GOD’S SAKE COME IN AND BUY AN ENDTABLE!”), the furniture store commercials in Charlottesville are kind of boring.  It’s like … yeah, there’s a couch with giant arms wider than most morbidly obese people.  Oh, and a glass table with a marble column for a pedestal just in case someone from New Jersey might shop here.  And a denim loveseat.  I’m so excited.

But hey, I consider myself spoiled when it comes to local television furniture store commercials (yes, you can be spoiled in this regard) because I grew up on Long Island and our local TV spots were nothing short of epic.

While I am sure that there were more stores advertising on television, when I think back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, I think of two stores:  Coronet and Room Plus

Coronet was a family owned baby furniture store located in Old Westbury, and probably did good business for quite a while when I was younger because those were the days before the baby superstores.  In fact, nowadays, I’m pretty sure that if you do not register yourself at Babies R Us or Buy Buy Baby, you get a visit from Child Protective Services.

Anyway, the commercials mostly starred the two owners–a couple of brothers with mustaches who looked like your uncle or older cousin–and they’d usually be doing some sort of gag while their mother (“The Coronet Mother”) did the pitch.  For instance, The Coronet Mother pitches with her two boys in cribs behind her:


All You Have to Bring is Your Love of Everything

It’s been a mild winter, so skiing is the last thing on my mind (granted, I’ve only been skiing twice in my life, so it’s not on my mind very often), and based on what I have been seeing on the local news, it’s been the last thing on everyone’s mind because ski resorts are struggling.  In the same vein, I find myself wondering if any other vacation spots are struggling.  The economy isn’t exactly doing the best, and airfares are insane, so travel to anywhere for a period of time longer than a weekend seems to be costing a year’s tuition at Harvard.

Still, I keep seeing commercials for those ever-popular destinations for people who don’t find hitting the slopes and then curling up in a snowflake sweater appealing–the Caribbean.  Specifically, resorts like Sandals and Beaches.  My son loves the latest commercial for Beaches because Cookie Monster is in it (although I’m not sure that he realizes that Cookie Monster might not be at Virginia Beach when we go in July).  But the Sandals commercials always amuse me because they make a vacation to that resort seem like the most epic romantic time ever imagined.

That’s the best example of a couple frolicking outside on an apparatus that’s not in a Cialis commercial.  And actually, it’s kind of appropriate that the ad agency used “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warrens (but not the version sung by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warrens) in the commercial because the movie it comes from is Dirty Dancing, which takes place at a resort in the Catskills and mentions several times the decline of such resorts as popular family destinations.  Indeed Sandals and Beaches have sort of become the new Catskills or Poconos and the commercials are the perfect evidence of that because that Sandals commercial is very much like a commercial from my youth:

Ah, beautiful Mount Airy Lodge, which was, by the time this commercial was airing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a deteriorating shell of its former self.  What was once a popular getaway for couples in the 1960s and 1970s was by this time (at least according to Wikipedia) hemorrhaging money and wound up going into foreclosure in 1999 before being bought by Harrah’s and turned into a casino.  But this commercial aired before the great decline and if you were watching one of the syndicated channels in the New York metropolitan area (WPIX or WWOR) during the day, you wound up seeing the Mount Airy Lodge commercial at least a few times, enough that you knew the “All you have to bring is your love of everything” slogan by heart. (more…)

Uncool as Ice

For a brief moment in the eighth grade, I thought this was cool.

When you’re unpopular in junior high, pop music can be as cruel as the people who seem to make it their mission to go out of their way to make your life a living hell.  I guess I should clarify that because music itself can’t be cruel–for the most part, anyway–but it, combined with the hormonal awkwardness that can only come from being an early adolescent can make you do pretty stupid things, like think you can dance.

The usual popular culture portrayal of a junior high dance is the image of an extremely awkward evening in a humid gym where girls spend most of their time as far away as possible from much shorter boys, who are too busy trying to gross one another out to notice those girls.  In those movies or television shows, two people eventually dance and it winds up being a rather chaste, sweet moment.

However, the dances I went to at Sayville Junior High between 1989 and 1991 were nothing like the ones we used to see on TV.  I may be exaggerating here, but I remember those dances feeling epic, as if each was one night in my young life when I was in the right place at the right time.  The student council and junior high staff certainly seemed to make it that way, at least by using the building’s architecture to its fullest advantage.  Our dances were never held in the junior high gymnasium; rather, the student council utilized the large commons area that rant the length of the building from the main entrance to the gym hallway.  The commons area floor was carpeted and the second floor was completely open save for a catwalk and a couple of balconies that looked over the rug.  Most importantly, the commons area had an extra-sized stairway that pivoted on a platform, which is where the deejay would set up.  When you break it down from the perspective of twenty years later, it’s a junior high dance, but to an awkward kid who didn’t get out much, turning off the lights in the commons area on a Friday night made the place a dance club.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t much of a dancer.  If you pressed me, I could probably move back and forth to the beat of whatever music was playing but I really didn’t know my way around a dance floor.  That wasn’t a problem in the seventh grade because I spent most of my time in the cafeteria, working the soda table with my friend Rich.  People would give us 50 cents and we would slide a cold C&C Cola to them.  We got a few breaks and were allowed to roam the dance floor, but the two of us were fiercely dedicated soda jockeys, so much so that when a girl whose name I think was Becky asked me to dance one time, I declined because I was going to be back on my soda-serving shift.

My social ineptitude wouldn’t improve much from twelve to thirteen.  I’d blame it on the terrible accident that I was in two days after my thirteenth birthday because it’s not easy to go through an entire year of junior high with two fake front teeth (that you could remove) and a scar under your nose that looked like a giant pimple, but I’d been walking the halls with comic books and once wore a Star Trek pin to school.  Scar or no scar, I wasn’t a superstar.

But I wanted to be, or at least I wanted a girlfriend, which meant that at some point I was going to have to talk to a girl and maybe even ask her out.  This wasn’t happening, though, because I spent most of the year (and pretty much half of high school as well) with a mind-numbing crush on a girl who was completely out of my league and while I am sure she’d engage me in conversation if I tried, I suffered from the typical thirteen-year-old boy issue of acting stupid whenever I was around her.

There was something different about dances, though.


The Yearbook Myth

One commercial that stuck with me from the time I first saw it as a kid until I became a teenager was an ad for McDonald’s entitled “Great Year!”  It features the antics of Central Junior High School’s yearbook staff as they attempt to cover all of the great and crazy things that happened during the course of the school year and then meet at McDonald’s to celebrate their success.

Watch the minute-long ad and you’ll see a portrait of a junior high school that in 1983 or whenever it was originally shot had to be the coolest place on Earth.  Everyone gets along, someone walks through the hallway dressed as a strawberry, and even the high pressure moments are filled with a goofiness that only comes when you are selling hamburgers.  I don’t have to do much to convince anyone that my junior high experience was not really like this.  Had “Great Year!” been a real reflection of what I remember, there would have been footage of a gym teacher cutting gum out of someone’s hair, two guys blowing snot rockets all over the school store while the people who worked there gagged and yelled at them to stop, and one kid looking scared out of his mind while another threatened to beat the ever-loving snot out of him if he did even the slightest thing wrong.  Or maybe that’s just my take.



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.

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:


The Routine

A "fall in the suburbs" shot of a brother and sister that's worth some caption about Americana, but I can't think of one.

In the middle of my sister’s wedding last month, I walked over to her and said jokingly, “Now we are so happy, we do the dance of joy!”  She finished the sentence along with me, as it’s one of the many weird in-joked the two of us have, most of which have something to dow ith the countless hours of crappy 1980s-era sitcoms that we grew up watching in syndication because my father was too cheap to spring for cable. 

It is entirely fitting, by the way, that I turn to sitcoms when I think about what growing up with my sister was like.  I know brothers and sisters who are weirdly close, or have one of those relationships where the brother may as well be another father.  I also know brothers who are perfect confidants and had greeting-card upbringings.  While Nancy and I had annoyingly ordinary childhoods, we weren’t exactly the Cleavers of the Bradys.  On some level I guess you could say we were the Cunninghams, even though my parents didn’t have an older child who mysteriously disappeared (I’ve always thought that Chuck Cunningham was an early anti-war activist and a member of the communist party so Mr. C. drove him to the Canadian border under the cover of night because while he loved his son, he was proud of his country and didn’t want to face the humiliation of HUAC) and none of my friends were cool guys who lived above my parents’ garage.  Besides, we didn’t really grow up watching Happy Days unless WPIX was rerunning it in the afternoons.

No, we were more accustomed to vegging out in front of stuff like Growing Pains, The Wonder Years, Full House, or Charles in ChargeFull House, especially, stuck with us over the yars because it gave my sister her longest-running nickname (unless you count the Wonder Years reference “butthead”).