YouTube HOF: Classic Commercials
Bill Simmons: “You already know what they did for me.”
“I walked away with the MVP.”
(“And this awesome blonde perm-afro-mullet. And the closing lines of the worst 30 seconds in rap history.”)
“Mikey Likes It”
Michael Weinreb: In the year of my birth (which shall heretofore go unmentioned), the most popular name for male babies in the United States was the one given to me. That same year, Quaker Oats began airing advertisements for a new breakfast cereal featuring a petulant and discriminating young child who lapped up a bowl full of these sugary little rhombi after being used as a guinea pig by a two-man cabal of older children who no doubt went on to sell credit default swaps to low-income Americans. These ubiquitous 30 seconds meant I spent my childhood faced with a no-win situation: If I said I hated everything, I was a Mikey, and if I let slip my fealty for Matchbox cars or Garfield or fortified breakfast cereals, well, then I was a Mikey, too. The Mikey commercials ran for 12 years, and so all of us Michaels who grew up in this era faced a childhood fraught with complications, which explains Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, and Michael Flatley. At some level, we were all wrestling with our inner Mikeys. As for me, I have never consumed Life Cereal or Pop Rocks in my life.
“Take It to the Next Level”
Chris Ryan: If we’re playing word association when someone says television ad, I immediately think of Nike. I think of the “Courage” campaign with The Killers’ “All These Things That I Have Done,” and “Bo Knows,” and Li’l Penny and Mars Blackmon. The two at the top of the list, for me, are the Saul Williams/”My better is better than your better” spot and this, the first-person-(soccer)-shooter directed by Guy Ritchie that follows a career in the life of Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie.
Mark Lisanti: Would you be at all surprised to discover that Human Centipede director Tom Six spent a considerable portion of his childhood gleefully extracting funny bones and breadbaskets from his red-nosed, helpless victim, cackling with delight each time the “patient” buzzed out in agony? I wouldn’t. This was a powerful advertisement for an even more powerful maniac training tool.
“Be Like Mike”
Rembert Browne: I will never get over “Sometimes I Dream. That he is ME.” It’s the most inspiring lyric of my lifetime. Maya Angelou’s got nothing on that.
“I’m 4 New York”
Katie Baker: Classic commercials? For my money, it doesn’t get any better than this: the original “4 New York” promo that aired during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. If you’re from the tri-state area (or, in the song’s parlance, “over in Greenwich / the Jersey Shore / music and motion / magic and more”) and you’re not familiar with this commercial, then I submit that you may not actually be from the tri-state area. (Another test is if the words “Milford Plaza” mean anything to you.) For everyone else, sorry to get all regional on you, but I think you can still enjoy the ’90s-tastic racial stereotypes, galloping horses, and old-timey Al Roker. If they still made ads like this today I think a lot more people would watch the evening news.
Cabbage Patch Twins
Tess Lynch: It’s easier for me to bend a spoon with my mind than it is to figure out the reason why a 5-year-old child would want to adopt twin babies (with certificates). It’s even weirder than the fact that toddlers love purses, since they don’t need driver’s licenses and cellphones and a zillion packs of Eclipse gum to keep inside: the fact that someone who’s still getting a handle on identifying a strawberry would want to take care of identical fake babies. At least she hadn’t yet graduated to Baby Alive, the toy that’s “alive” only because it eats and shits (!!). It makes you ponder bizarre questions about what makes something “alive” to begin with, and if, when compared with Baby Alive, other dolls can only dream of being Baby Undeads. Where’s the doll that eats its gelatin goop and then produces a tiny purse in its diaper? Christmas 2012? Santa? Anybody?
Jonah Keri: Air travel is infinitely faster and cheaper than ever before, with multiple airlines vying for your business even in the smallest markets. It’s also a giant pain in the ass. The TSA’s security theater has cracked down on deadly menaces ranging from cupcakes to 3-year-old boys in wheelchairs. Things hardly get better on the plane. Checking bags costs extra, but carrying on bags is an exercise in futility, the overhead bins stuffed full on every flight. Shoulder room and leg room are a joke if you’re anywhere over 5-foot-1, 95 pounds. Past luxuries like free hot meals or even basic snacks are long gone, replaced by $14 soggy croissanwiches and $6 stacks of Pringles.
Oh for the days of airlines like Southern. The Atlanta-based carrier billed itself as the “Route of the Aristocrats.” In this ad, we see businessmen swigging champagne and being fed grapes by supermodels who moonlight as flight attendants. The curtain slides open to reveal a veritable gulag, with passengers huddled together in fear, one of them oddly holding a record player, because somebody has to DJ this awful party. “Nobody’s Second-Class on Southern,” the narrator reassures us. The sad thing is that miserable scene in second class isn’t far off from the state of modern air travel. Yes, it would be unrealistic — economically suicidal, really — for airlines to attempt anything close to what Southern offered in real life, let alone in their commercials. Yes, Draconian airline regulation meant regional airlines like Southern routinely forced passengers to stop five or six times on a single flight. Yes, the total lack of security at airports made hijackings far more common in the 1970s, with Southern the victim in one particularly high-profile incident that involved three hijackers, 10 stops, a $2 million ransom, and a final landing in Cuba. And yes, the surging cost of jet fuel plus two major plane crashes ultimately forced Southern to merge with North Central Airlines, erasing Southern’s brand from existence 33 years ago.
Whatever. I’m just going to sit here, imagine a New York-to-L.A. round-trip that runs a couple hundred bucks, provides all the room a 6-foot-4, 210-pound Canadian could ever hope for, includes unlimited poutine and floor-to-ceiling fruit plates for every passenger, and takes five minutes to board from the time you enter the airport. Southern Airways would have wanted it that way.
Dan Silver: Talk about shoehorning a message. I’ll never understand what this early-2000s reality show spoof had to do with selling car insurance, but I honestly don’t care. I love the repetitive and degenerative use of the word “awesome,” and the husband screaming “I just want to make an omelet!” kills me every time. It’s hard to produce a spot that retains its funny, but this one definitely does.
Megan Creydt: “They taught us how to love. They taught us how to live.”
My parents are probably thankful I was too young for loving/living lessons from Bret Michaels & Co., but “Monster Ballads” made quite an impression on me nonetheless. I saw enough of these commercials that I could sing most of their clips consecutively. (“Cool Rock” gets the runner-up award.)
Bill Barnwell: Oh, hi guys! Just about to go down to the Crossfire stadium and watch a Crossfire match. Won’t you join me? Think I will stand in this mass of people around the Crossfire field and — what? Oh, no, there are no seats. Yes, you’re going to want to start pumping your fist soon. That’s the easiest way for everyone else to realize you’re a tourist, Maude. No, I don’t know why the Crossfire court is on fire before the game begins. Oh look! Here come the players! Sure, it’s dangerous for them to be riding through the sky on hoverboards in the middle of a lightning storm, Harold, but they’re Crossfirers. Do they take the hoverboards off before they actually play? What kind of stupid question is that? Of course they don’t take the hoverboards off. Oh, this is enthralling. I hope one of the plastic guns doesn’t break off and turn this into a draw for the 17th consecutive match. I think somebody won! I have to confess, I have no idea how this game is actually played, but I know somebody wins when their hoverboard spins out of control and they’re transported back into another dimension and a little kid in a leather jacket starts pumping his fist and says “Yeah!” one too many times. Now, quick, let’s go before the Crossfire stadium sets itself on fire again.