Saturday Mornings: The Commercials
Saturday morning commercials in the 80's and 90's were really trying to compete with the cartoons and kid's shows they ran between. There were so many awesome toys and snacks that needed to make a statement, to stand out against the colorful characters of the shows. I think it is a tremendous feat when an advertising slogan or campaign is so memorable that you can recall it in great detail years and years later. Many of these commercials were the total package, I am talking branding, action, humor, suspense, melody, absurdity, all factors that might make a mediocre product come to life! What follows are some of the best Saturday morning commercials that I still think are awesome today.
Skip It – Kind of an obvious choice, I know, because this song and this commercial is already legend. Heck, they are still making the toy today and the jingle still pops up in commercials every few years. I think as a kid I got the off-market version of this toy for my birthday; it created abrasions on my ankles in mere seconds. The name brand Skip It might have been a good product, especially with the counter built into it allowing for competitive play. But again, the commercial was the really special thing. The melody that rises and falls giving a playful energy that makes it so fun to sing, and also acts as a devastating earworm!
Milk – The “Got Milk?” marketing campaign was a juggernaut. In the 90’s, celebrities were sporting the milk mustache in printed ads, and commercials would show people eating dry or sticky foods, desperately needing a tall glass of milk in crucial moments. Back in the 80’s however, we were all about “Milk Does a Body Good” Milk marketers began this commercial campaign in attempts to reverse falling sales, positioning milk as necessary for strong bones and to prevent osteoporosis. There was a string of commercials, the most famous one was about an awkward young boy trying to impress a beautiful woman. As he drinks milk, he starts to mature into a handsome man. There was a version with a girl doing the same thing, and so on. The commercials weren’t flashy, just straight forward with its message, with a little humor thrown in. It was so popular and so iconic, that even the many parodies of it were memorable!
Teddy Ruxpin – Some people may be a little freaked out by a talking animatronic teddy bear, but I found him to be friendly and comforting. The commercials for this lovable storyteller were nothing extra special, but it was the voice of Teddy that I can still hear clearly to this day. And that was what made the product equally as special, his soothing voice, played by Phil Baron who voiced Teddy on all tapes and on the TV show. Teddy Ruxpin became the best-selling toy of 1985 and 1986, and a cartoon based on the characters also debuted in 1986. I remember a friend having Teddy and I always wanted to sit down and listen to his adventures, but my friend was always out of batteries.
Lite-Brite – This is an old toy that I did have as a child, and I remember losing those little plastic pieces so easily that I could never make the pictures in the right colors, because I lost them all. But this commercial would come on, and it would make me want to grab my dusty old toy and get to creating again! It’s a gentle and spirited little melody that makes you feel good. And the things they are creating looked really cool and were designs that I knew I could make too if I played with it more. The jingle lasted for years and years as the Lite-Brite evolved.
My Buddy & Kid Sister – Probably one of the most iconic commercial jingles of the era, here you get a two for one blast! My Buddy was made by Hasbro in 1985 with the intention of making a doll to appeal to little boys and teach them about caring for their friends. This idea was both innovative and controversial for its time, as toy dolls were traditionally associated with younger girls. Hasbro then introduced a companion Kid Sister marketed toward girls. So we have oversized dolls for both boys and girls, instant success. This was around the time of Cabbage Patch dolls, so the baby doll market was seeing an overall resurgence. Now kids had a life-sized friend to take on adventures, and the commercial reinforces that message. It is sing-able, playful, and tells you everything you need to know. Wherever I go, you’re gonna go!
The Noid – In 1986, Domino’s Pizza wanted all of us to Avoid the Noid. Clad in a red, skin-tight, rabbit-eared body suit with a black N on his chest, the Noid was a physical manifestation of all the challenges inherent in getting a pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less. I guess he stood for being ANNOYED by bad/cold/soft/soggy/squished pizzas. These commercials ran like 30 second mini-cartoons where the Noid entered the situation, found a pizza, and tried to destroy it in some cartoony fashion. Of course, he would be thwarted every time, but much like Looney Tunes legendary Coyote, you sorted rooted for him to win due to his unwavering tenacity. In 1988 a Saturday morning cartoon series called The Noids was planned by CBS, but it was scrapped amid complaints that it was merely an advertising ploy and not a show for children. Such a fun series of commercials, highly memorable, and I think the Claymation was a huge part of that, much like it was for our next entry.
The California Raisins – These dudes were all over the place. A marketing stroke of genius created for Sun-Maid in 1986 for a commercial on behalf of the California Raisin Advisory Board when one of the writers, came up with an idea saying, "We have tried everything but dancing raisins singing 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine.’” This anthropomorphic musical group was catapulted into dozens of commercial projects, even used to endorse Post's Raisin Bran cereal and Hardee’s Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits. The Claymation in the commercials was impressive, but what really made them stand out was the true rhythm and blues music. Lead vocals were sung by musician Buddy Miles and the California Raisins released four studio albums on Priority Records between 1987 and 1988, and their signature song, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," landed on the Billboard Hot 100.
After These Messages – Have you ever wondered why cartoons in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s often had bumpers between them and the commercial breaks? The FCC and the Action for Children’s Television (ACT) non-profit created a set of standards for children's programming, including that television shows must be clearly separated from commercials because “children cannot distinguish conceptually between programming and advertising”. Channels were not limited to what these bumpers had to be, and so some of these were much more memorable than others. Perhaps the most infectious commercial bumper ever created was for ABC's Saturday morning lineups in the late 1980's, which mostly featured the hijinx of Claymation characters, like a fire hydrant that hoses down an unsuspecting dog or a cowboy bursting out of a brick wall. Nickelodeon and Disney Channel had a few good ones too, but ABC's bumpers had this short little jingle, where the characters sing out the words. Bright and lively imagery with a swift swinging lyric, and you have a recipe for a long lasting memory that encapsulates the fun of Saturday mornings.
Crossfire – This was epic beyond epic! The special effects were uncommon for the time and the gritty post-apocalyptic imagery really sells the idea that this game is an all-out war. It is a simple ball bearing shooter game, which takes somewhat of an old school arcade shooting concept and brings it down into a playable surface. The song is pulse pounding, and the cheers for the game help drive the adrenaline. I remember hearing this commercial play out in my head every time I would go to a friend’s house and play this game. We were usually tired of the game itself after about 10 minutes, but I never tired of the commercial!
Did you have a favorite commercial as a child that you can remember vividly to this day? What advertising jingles could you sing on command if asked, and what tunes still echo in your mind even if you do not want them to? Please share your stories with us in the comments section!