Live-blogging the commercials from Super Bowl '85
Advertising in all forms has not only become boring but downright aggravating over the past 20 years. Even when it's not all in-your-face, "you only wish you were as extreme as us," it's so detached and snarky that you just want to reach through the TV or magazine and choke the life out of those smug dorky faces.
As an antidote, I thought I'd intersperse the usual posts here with some videos from the "80sCommercialVault" channel on YouTube. Mostly it's just to provide some relief from the irony, over-the-top-ness, and gloppy earnestness of today's world.
But I'll also scribble some notes for each commercial to highlight the differences from today, just for the record, and to provide a catalog of '80s design themes and motifs. Like for instance, why aren't there dark backgrounds anymore? -- that dark/light contrast looked pretty neat. And back in the '80s it was common to combine the primitive with the futuristic, neither of which you see much of today, let alone in striking juxtaposition. Like, when was the last time you saw neon signage across from an indoor jungle or oasis at the mall?
Lots of little and not-so-little details like that really gave the '80s a footloose, playful, shape-of-things-to-come kind of vibe -- the choice of a new generation.
To start, let's have a look at vol. 79 of the commercial vault, which shows ads from Super Bowl XIX in 1985. My, how our culture has decayed. But let's focus on what was good, not what's bad, and get on with it.
1. KFYI 1310 AM
On-the-go lifestyle, dark-light contrasts, a grid pattern on the coffee cup (the grid was everywhere in the '80s -- it was the future).
2. Eastern Airlines
Customers wanted to breathe free while walking around buildings, not have to focus on navigating an obstacle course of kiosks, island displays, sales bins, etc.
Nice inoffensive jingle, an '80s background sax.
4. Hormel Chili
Hint of the expressionist revival with a dark inside and smoky light coming from outside, shadowy figures.
A Super Bowl ad that isn't bombastic...
6. Parents United PSA
People who get tired of hearing me use the phrase "rising-crime times" forget how the threat of predation formed the background to the zeitgeist, including sex abuse of kids. Children are worth celebrating because you never know if something bad might happen and rob you of that chance. You didn't need to hear that message constantly, just often enough to remind you. It's like the "negative visualization" that the Stoics used to appreciate what they had, only in the '80s it was natural rather than artificial.
See, that background made parents not take their kids or families (husbands) for granted, and value them more. Remember how when you got off the plane, the people waiting outside were family members eager to see you, and not uppity passengers on the next flight waiting for you guys to GTFO already? Dark-light contrasts.
8. Promo for "Police Story"
Do they make these short-and-sweet promos anymore? Or are even bumpers extended out to Lord of the Rings length?
A grid, a broken / fallen pillar, bright light entering a dark room, a printer that looks alive with moving parts, though still using paper. Futuristic-primitive.
10. Almost Home Cookies
Bright smokey light entering a dark room. Even a dull ad could be saved by a catchy jingle at the end -- Na-biiis-co *ting!*
11. Diet Coke
Another dull one saved by a memorable catchy slogan -- "Just for the taste". They made a catchier jingle later, "Just for the taste of it ... Diet Coke!"
12. Promo for "Inauguration '85" presented by ABC News
Real old-timey colonial fifes (or whatever) playing in the background. Simple enough: going forward while being rooted in the past.
13. IBM Assistant Series
Too retro-looking for a computer company in the computer age. Needs a white grid in the background and a neon logo.
14. Goodyear Vector
Dark-light contrasts. Tires were hyped up for their performance qualities, not as part of a tell-the-world-your-lifestyle statement.
15. Classic Lite
The return of Jazz Age glamour. Sadly the whole low-cal, low-fat, sugar-free theme is pervasive in food ads even back then.
16. Promo for "Good Morning America"
17. Promo for "Hardcastle & McCormick" and "Scandal Sheet"
The '80s had its trashy and lurid shows too, although I wonder how many younger people watched them. I'm guessing the audience was more Silent Gen types in their 40s and 50s, raised on a diet of mid-century luridness. Remember, the Boomers were in their 20s and 30s.
18. Wesson Oil
Like everyone else, homemakers weren't very self-conscious -- like, "Hey, look at me viewers, I'm a homemaker." There were no "mommy wars" back then. And the African-American isn't the Sassy Black Lady.
Hawaii has been in the popular imagination since at least the '50s, but in falling-crime times its image is more about rest & relaxation. This ad from the '80s plays up its wild and sublime aspects. "Bring Hawaii alive" sounds like the island has a force of its own, not a domesticated, constructed playground.
Bright smokey back-lighting of a scene in darkness. Nice jingle at the end with the word "feeling". Also, back when "a friend you can count on" was a major selling point.
21. Promo for "Cruise Into Terror"
Horror movie craze, the Egyptian Revival (also found during the rising-crime Jazz Age and Romantic-Gothic Era).
22. Toyota and Burger King Commercial Bumpers
Burger King's ad is boring -- "Aren't You Hungry?" -- but at least it wasn't the 21st century's over-the-top drag queen masculinity for castrated beta nerds.
And those were the commercials of the 1985 Super Bowl -- when the game was the spectacle, and not the ads. Come to think of it, these ones were pretty low-key and conservative compared to the typical '80s clips I've seen at the commercial vault. Maybe they were going for restraint during the Super Bowl. I'll get to the more rockin' and gut-bustin' ones later on.