The 80s in America was an era of unbridled enthusiasm, joyful exuberance and relentless pep–if you believed everything you saw on television commercials.
For decades, Shasta was solely a West Coast soft drink brand (the carbonated water originally came from a spring near Mount Shasta in Northern California), but went national in 1985. Perhaps in an attempt to woo unfamiliar Midwestern soda drinkers, someone at Shasta HQ penned a little ditty that showcased the word “pop,” a regional synonym for soda. The tune was so infectious, that years later, the ad’s repetitive jingle became a minor plot point in M. Night Shaymalan's 2004 film, “Signs.” Shasta’s still around, but the alfresco dance moves have left the airwaves–and the brand is now euphemistically described as a “value-priced soft drink.”
When marketing companies try to do “ironic” ‘80s style ads (think: pretty much everything Old Spice has done for the past couple of years), they most likely draw inspiration from the long-running series of Zest soap commercials that aired during the Regan era. Aside from making bathers paranoid about the sticky film that “other brands” left behind, Zest made the lowly ritual of a taking daily shower seem like it was a reasonable alternative to snorting cocaine. While the “zestfully clean” campaign–like the product itself–went AWOL for a while it, it’s now back. According to an exec, it “still resonates very strongly with consumers.”
In the late 70s, Revlon introduced “Enjoli,” an “eight hour perfume for the 24-hour woman.” Cribbing some of the lyrics from Peggy Lee’s 1963 hit, “I’m a Woman,” adding politics borrowed from the women’s movement while simultaneously celebrating traditional values, the ad ran for years and became an anthem for proto-feminists everywhere. While criticized by some for suggesting that women can “have it all,” if you start singing, “I can bring home the bacon…” to any woman over 35, chances are pretty good that she’ll sing back the rest of the jingle to you, possibly accompanied by mimed swinging frying-pan motions.
4. Diet Coke
For the better part of the last century, “real men” did not drink diet soda. Coca-Cola’s main diet drink, Tab, was marketed specifically to women who were watching their weight. By 1982, in what may have been one of the most overwrought commercials ever produced, the Coca-Cola Company introduced Diet Coke. The glitzy ad, staged at Radio City Music Hall, came with an endorsement from one of the manliest men alive–Telly Savalas. He drank Diet Coke “just for the taste of it.” Who would dare question Kojak on his motives for drinking a low-calorie drink? Absolutely no one.
When shorts became REALLY short in the ‘70s, women–many for the first time–had to concern themselves with the removal of pubic hair. Nair, a chemical depilatory, happily stepped up to the plate and offered a solution that would permit woman to wear itty-bitty shorts without fear of indecent exposure. The “if you dare wear short-shorts, Nair for short-shorts” commercials debuted in 1975, featuring various quartets of fit, hairless, high-kicking girls. The campaign was revamped in the mid-eighties, complete with cheeky twentysomethings sporting bright colors, polka dots–and of course, short shorts.
6. Massengill Douche
One product that has thankfully disappeared from the airwaves–if not from store shelves–is the feminine disposable douche. Once upon a time, viewers were subjected to countless iterations of mothers and daughter bonding over their choice of commercial douche preparations. Signifiers of the genre included wildflowers, long walks on the beach and, inexplicably, wheat fields. Massengill was one of the worst offenders, featuring ads with cringe-inducing dialogue about something called “Effectal” and the product’s “more comfortable, slanted design.” Women born after 1980, be grateful that you never had to watch one of these commercials with your father and/or brothers present.
7. Dunkin' Donuts
Long before Dunkin’ Donuts became an international phenomenon, with its orange bags of ground coffee in nearly every supermarket in the United States, the Massachusetts-based chain had a long-running series of ads featuring Fred the Baker, who obsessively fretted about making donuts in time for his early-rising customers. To New Englanders of a certain age, “time to make the donuts,” is a phrase as familiar as the Pledge of Allegiance. When Fred was phased out from advertising in the mid-‘90s, both the character and the actor who portrayed him, Michael Vale, got “retirement advice” from Bob Dole, Larry Bird and Sugar Ray Leonard.
8. Cookie Puss
For those who came of age in the ‘80s in New England and the New York Metropolitan area, Carvel Ice Cream’s low-budget ads were an integral part of childhood. Unsophisticated and strange, the ads were narrated by its aged and gravely-voiced owner, Tom Carvel. The Carvel ads touted the store’s novelty ice cream cakes, including “Fudgie the Whale” and “Hug Me the Bear,” but Carvel’s ads for the “Cookie Puss” and “Cookie O’Puss” cakes were legendary for their low-budget weirdness. The Beastie Boys scored something of an underground hit with their 1983 ode to the space alien cake, “Cooky Puss,” sampling audio from of several of their crank calls to Carvel.
9. Mr. Microphone
Decades before karaoke was known stateside, there was a product that encouraged people to sing aloud like fools–Mr. Microphone! Proudly made by Ronco–the same company that inspired Dan Aykroyd’s Bass-O-Matic spoof–Mr. Microphone claimed to “actually put your voice on the radio” in its ubiquitous 1981 TV ad. Along with allegedly helping “professional entertainers” rehearse, the ad suggested that Mr. Microphone could be used in the successful procurement of women. “Hey, good lookin’,” a creepy guy shouted from his convertible. “We’ll be back to pick you up later!” There’s no hard evidence that line ever actually worked, but for $17.88, who wouldn’t want to find out?