Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do You Feel Fresh?

"What were the worst commercials on TV back in the '60's and '70's?"

A female coworker asked me this question after witnessing one of the more inane ads for a feminine hygiene product in master control. In our line of work, you can't hit the MUTE button, and you can't change the channel; it is our professional duty to sit and stare at the horrendous blunders ad agencies often make, especially when it comes to sensitive personal matters. This comes between the frequent acts of murder and mayhem necessary nowadays to make a TV crime drama believable; if one is of a squeamish nature, and one is snacking on peanut butter crackers, one learns a hard lesson to look elsewhere from the Fox program monitor during the first five minutes of "Bones."

Prime time stopped having The Family Hour back when "All in the Family" moved to Saturday nights at 8, and during the late night schedule all the gates are wide open. Nothing surprises us. Ads for boner pills stopped offending us years ago. K-Y jelly spots are rather entertaining, and since there are no children working the night shift, questions about a woman's "big moment" don't arise. In fact, considering the preponderance of the Geico gecko versus Progressive's Flo 24 hours a day, and the never ending tit-for-tat warfare between mobile phone companies, the occasional humorous spot about sexual enhancement is a breath of fresh air. Still, somehow ads for feminine hygiene products just haven't caught up with the times.

Click here to see one of the Summer's Eve spots that recently did nothing but cheese off a lot of people. I would rather you read about it via AgencySpy than link the video direct, lest I give someone the impression this spot is gaining popularity. I can see how someone would feel this is racially insensitive: the voice actress is about two shades way from Mammy Two Shoes in a 1940's Tom and Jerry cartoon. And by the way, why do ad agency creatives think all African-American women have linguini hair? McDonald's spots aren't much better at this. I have never met a woman of any race who wears her hair like a potted fern. Some Ad agency creative saw Whoopie Goldberg on "The View" and thought that must be how all black women look. (Here's a clue, dear CD... the woman's name is Whoopie.) Wow. It's still a long way from Madison Avenue to Harlem.

There were commercials for such products back in the '60's and '70's, and one in particular is legend. I don't remember the exact line, but it had to do with a woman feeling "fresh." It's been lampooned more than once in comedy skit shows. Why are the women out in a sailboat? I dunno. Of course, back in those days commercials like that aired pretty much only during the four to five hours of daytime "soap opera" dramas carried by all three networks. They weren't very likely to pop up in the middle of an episode of "Lassie" or "Bonanza" or "The Wonderful World of Disney." (Hey Mom, can we buy some of those napkins and put them on the kitchen table?) When women's products did start showing up in prime time - like the fresh girls in the sailboat - it drew snickers and criticism, but everyone had to admit it dealt with a quality product that dealt with a legitimate health issue. Guys may have rolled their eyes, but the intended audience - women - respected the honesty, such as it was. The spots may have been unrealistic, but no less so than Mrs. Olsen walking up to her neighbors with a can of coffee, and certainly more down to earth than the portrayal of women in Hai-Karate spots.

Which brings back to the original question... what were the worst commercials back then?

Feminine sprays?

Loud jingles for laundry detergent?

Toys that encouraged violence or anti-social behavior?

Super sugary breakfast cereals?


After some thought, it occurs to me that the worst commercials are the ones for products you don't see on TV anymore... not since they were banned starting in January of 1971. Before that kids like me thought the Theme from The Magnificent Seven was the Marlborough theme. We knew before the coming of the metric system how long a millimeter was because it was oh so important to the enjoyment of a Winston. Filtered, menthol, less tar (I still don't know what that means) were all common phrases spewing from the television in the corner day and night. At least they didn't run during children's shows, but that hardly made a difference. If they had been around back then, the omnipresent Flo would be lighting up a Virginia Slims to the tune of You've Come a Long Way, Baby, and the gecko would sport a black eye while drawing on a Tarryington because He'd Rather Fight Than Switch.

Yep. I still remember them. Do you? That's what I'm talking about.