Advertisements as Entertainment

I know that people seem to really enjoy advertisements on TV. Sure, they complain that they are too loud, and too frequent, and that you’re paying to watch more commercials per half hour than of tv show, but they also talk about funny or amusing ads that they actually enjoy seeing. They do this all the time! And it’s not just my parents’ generation doing it. I have encountered people younger than me being like, “Have you seen the commercial where [some thing happens]?” Of course, I have not seen it. I seldom watch television, and since 1999 I have been muting all commercial breaks when I do watch it. I watch streaming services and YouTube, thank you, and have been using adblockers the whole time.

Perhaps this is why I have found myself enjoying YouTube compilations of advertisements, mostly from the 70s and 80s. I will only expose myself to the horrors of marketing in half-to-full hour blocks if the products no longer exist, and only if I am syncing the view with either Cchris or Erica. These syncs strengthen our bonds of friendship as we make each other pause every five seconds just so that we can absorb the surreal things our eyes are seeing. Our brains can never keep up with the onslaught of the commercial past.

A cigarette ad from the 1970s of a woman throwing her head back in pleasure while bring an unlit cig up to her parted lips. The words I added to it say, "selling good times like unlit cigarettes."
Maybe ads became slightly less sleazy feeling when they forbade cigarette companies from advertising anymore.

Sometimes I wonder about the ads of the present (but not enough to seek them out myself). Do they still have moms speaking mom-to-mom knowingly about products? Are the commercials still palpably sleazy? Or are they all like dad jokes or incomprehensible humor and bizarre fast clips that leave you confused and uninterested in buying — if you could even decipher what it was selling? Maybe it is worse than that. Maybe it is only one minute long infomercials about different beard and body hair grooming trimmers for men.

The 1970s

Helmet hair on men and women and children, every 30 second slot playing out like the beginning of an exceptionally sleazy porno, misogyny, grotesque products which are now known to be toxic, koolaid with four heaping cups of sugar per pitcher, cars as long as boats, casual appalling racism — these compilations cemented the fact for me that I thoroughly despise the 70s.

Sometimes you are treated to the PSAs about societal problems that still haven’t been fixed, not even a little! In forty more years, come back to sneer campaign so that I can just update the links and replace the decade names with “the 2010s” and “2020s” aboohoohoo.

The Sleaze

From cheap Italian wines to household cleaners to Volkswagons — everything being advertised was being advertised with a layer of filth. Was it intentional, or was that all they knew back then? Maybe John Waters was not as shocking as he wants us to believe! It was just in the air around them, a thick layer of vaseline over the lens of the whole world. Even when house moms were wearing frocks that resembled place mats and heavily patterned lampshades, they still had the aura of being swingers who abuse quaaludes.

There is a terrible James Bond movie that was made in the 70s, I believe, and the skanky Bond Woman in it called everyone “lover” and it drove me insane to hear it. Every other woman in these commercials probably called everyone “lover,” too. Sidling up to the camera while holding a box of Borax, calling the viewing audience “lover” while talking in a slow motion voice like she had just taken barbiturates after being hit on the head. There. That’s the Perfect 70s Ad.

Also, if you told me that every woman in these ads was an extra in Debbie Does Dallas, I’d believe it. Sleaze Glamour was the Look.

The Unbelievably Big Cars

I can’t believe how huge these cars were. They were all hood and trunk! Back then, your car was the entire length of your house. Yet they loved to speak of the luxury, and of how this preposterous car would “hug curves” — like an orca hugging a beach, maybe! Every car manufactured in the 1970s seemed to be about nine inches shorter than a full limousine. Yes, there were so many car advertisements in these compilations that for the second time in my life, I formed Car Opinions! “No wonder there was an oil crisis!” I shouted.

Photograph that has been stretched out to emphasize the length of this hideous golden yellow 1974 Lincoln Continental.
The Lincoln Continental, measuring in at one mile long.

For the record, my first Car Opinion was just that I hated the Hummer vehicle with an unquenchable fiery passion, and still do.

Perhaps most outrageously of all, there was even an advertisement for a car that was a more manageable size, “about one foot trimmer.” Oh wow, a whole foot?? “It still runs like a big car!” Yes, because it is a big car! God, I’m exasperated all over again!! Yet another instance where I am wishing for a Time Machine specifically to just rant angrily at people who still won’t care!

The Insecurity

Most of the products seemed to be aimed towards women, generally the categories were “make your kids happy” (snacks usually), “make your mom happy” (cleaning products), or “make men happy” (beauty products).

Photograph of woman with closed eyes, 70s style make up, seems to be glistening? She looks about to be in ecstasy. The ads words say, "Your glow... His delight."
Important ambitions.

For that last one, they would say such things as “for your over-25 skin” and “how much have you aged in three years?” They would also pit women against each other with the shadiest of comments. Frenemies would smile while saying, “Can you believe Darla keeps David happy with those dishpan hands?” And the other would be like, “and that dishpan face.” They would sneer and cchris and I would cheer, but we would Think, too.

Hooray for the increasing support of body positivity movements. I am glad that we are now people who, if we are not spending $40k per year on vanity fillers and botox, we are well aware that dishpan bodies are the least of our concerns.

Wait that isn’t body positivity at all. That’s just exhausted body acceptance! I have to go Think again. D;

The 1980s

These commercials were from my lifetime, and yet they seem so incredibly ancient! I promise I won’t stop to think about that for too long. Compared to the previous decade, the 80s were bright and chipper and even more focused on hyper-cleanliness — probably a necessity in order to scrub away the intense scummy film of the sordid 1970s.

Women seemed to be image-obsessed, as usual, but it was somehow not so shamey about it. Everyone was an athlete and clearly on uppers — the 1980s designer drug cocaine, instead of the 1970s burnout drug cocaine. There was still plenty of leftover 70s cheap porno set sleaze, and uncomfortable depictions of anyone other than fit gleaming-white-under-that-tan people.

It seems to me that the 80s had a surprising amount of soap opera story commercials, little dramas that were encapsulated in 15 or 30 second blasts. It was kind of like the 1950s! Did the generational pendulum swing back that way in order to antagonize the now-grown hippies of yesteryear? Suddenly business suits and the Cold War were back in focus. Anyway, the coffee, the butter (or not-butter), any housewife thing, the need of laxatives — all delivered like a small play for the screen. That reminds me to ask, though: for decades, apparently a need for laxatives is a very absorbing concern for adult Americans — is this still the case? Being out of touch with the last twenty years of advertising spares me from that depressing fact, leaving room for other kinds of depression to flood into its place!

The 1990s

We rarely delve into the 1990s (the nostalgia for that decade is more the expertise of omgjeremy), but we have studied enough to know that the biggest issue kids of the time had was getting kissed by their fat dotty aunts. Aside from that, breakfast cereals were pushed like they were drugs and suddenly video games were on the scene, too, also being pushed like drugs. But also, there were a lot of anti-drug PSAs. “Don’t do those drugs, do THESE drugs for kids!”

I realize now that we have only watched commercial breaks taken during the Saturday Morning Cartoons.

However, like all of our crazes where we sync old things, like Sightings or In Search Of, or reading Weird Tales from archived magazines, we no longer watch these old commercials. We probably haven’t for months now. What do we do instead? We took it back a bit farther, dear readers. We have gone back to the golden era of radiovision!

Nothing is a good use of time quite like listening to tinny old unsophisticated radio advertisements and making pithy comments about it when appropriate.

Sneer Back

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