Wednesday, May 11

TV Month 2016 - The Commercials.

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I'm going to make a brief observation about Pop Culture, and then I'm going to post a bunch of cool commercials that drive my point home. Then we're going to go back about our business.

In my opinion, the most accurate snapshot of Pop Culture at any given time is viewed through the advertisements, more specifically the commercials. Where most film, TV and music strives for some sort of shelf life or timelessness (even the shitty stuff), the commercial is absolutely disposable after no more than a few weeks, which means it needs to tap into the voice of the nation at the exact moment it airs, without as much as a forethought of how it will be perceived in the future. The albums and shows only go so far for me when it comes to true feelings of nostalgia; it’s the humble commercial that truly takes me back to that exact moment in time, reminding me of just what I was doing and who I was.

If you want to break this down a little further, I will propose this theory: The more disposable the method of media, the more specific it is in pinpointing a specific moment in time, and the more instant nostalgia it taps into when viewed years later. Doesn't mean it's 'better,' I just think it's the most effective for nostalgia-only purposes. I feel that it flows like this: Movies - Music - TV - Ads.

I'll give you an example.

Saving Private Ryan is one of the greatest movies ever made. However, when I watch Saving Private Ryan, I'm not instantly nostalgic for 1998. In fact, I couldn't even remember that the film was released in 1998 until I looked it up. This was never the intent of the movie; its release date was irrelevant to Spielberg, as it should have been.

When I hear the song 'Believe' by Cher, it sort of reminds me of being in High School in '98, but you could have told me it was released 2001 and I probably would have believed you. We're getting closer though.

If you showed me a '98 episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, now I'd start to have twinges of a flashback. Late 90's, spending a lot of time in my room, generally being a dork. I'm being transported back to a far more specific point in time than I was with Saving Private Ryan, and ain't nobody gonna tell you that Celebrity Deathmatch was the superior product.

Now, if you showed me this:

Woosh. It's the Summer of 1998. I'm transported right back to my friend Dale's house, and we're wasting away our Summer vacation by watching TV in his non-air conditioned, sweltering barbecue of a house, calling friends to see if they can come over, playing with his dogs and making flamethrowers out of insect repellent cans. The memory is clear as day.

All Pepsi was looking to do was make a commercial that sold soda for six weeks in 1998, tops. And for that reason, they created a time capsule of a Summer that far better captured the feeling than a Spielberg movie, a Cher song and an MTV show. And because it never needed to be aired again, the commercial just hangs around in this 1998 purgatory, while 'Believe' and Saving Private Ryan will continue to move through the years with us on TV and radio.

So which of these four examples best represents 1998? I'd argue the Pepsi commercial.

Nickelodeon aired the above commercial a hundred times a day, every Summer for at least five years. Despite not having seen it in well over a decade, I could recite every word and subtle inflection. Now, I never asked my parents to buy me a Kenmore central air system from Sears, so would it be considered an 'effective' commercial? Hard to tell. The fact that it's stuck in my brain where more important memories should be residing (home address, basic fire prevention) leads me to think that it did its job nonetheless.

This was probably my favorite commercial at the time, and it was effective in that I still remember (and laugh at) it, but also because I purchased several pairs of Airwalks in the 90's as a result of their ad campaign. I also liked the Gen X style of making fun of the very culture you were a part of (and attempting to profit from).

For YOU. Not THEM. This was a picture-perfect example of 90's teen marketing. Adults, parents and authority figures don't get you. They'll never get you. But Bubble Tape gets you, homie.

Cinn-A-Burst basically did the exact same commercial:

And on the other hand, it can all go very wrong...

For all the things that McDonald's gets right with their marketing, we sometimes forget when they pee a campaign directly down their collective legs. The Arch Deluxe was supposed to be McD's version of a 'grown up,' boutique-style burger, and it was advertised as such. In a 90's culture rife with 'parents don't get it,' the Arch Deluxe campaign was all about 'kids don't get it.' They even had a commercial where Ronald McDonald shot pool in an upscale tavern. Not kidding.

What McDonald's forgot was that children were the main reason anyone ever ate at McDonald's. Also, the way McDonald's marketed to kids at the time was so pervasive and ingrained that the Arch Deluxe felt akin to treason. More importantly than anything, the burger was kinda gross. The entire campaign tanked within months, and lore has it that McDonald's lost over a quarter billion dollars overall thanks to the ole' Arch Deluxe. I'm assuming someone got really, really fired.

Ads today sometimes make fun of kids, because my generation continues to be marketed to for some reason, and we're now at the age where we have kids of our own. I guess it sells minivans to 35-year olds.

It was unavoidable then, but we skip commercials now. Ads need to be more sneaky in order to circumnavigate all the technology in place to keep us from having to watch them. They show up before YouTube clips. They appear in the lower-third during every TV show you've ever watched in the last five years. They pop up before you get to listen to another song on Pandora. They're clever at times, but we live in a current climate that scares the shit out of companies fearing a boycott, so it's much more important to be visible in the broadest sense of the term than to swing and miss.

The good ones take me back, though.



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