I was multi-tasking recently, surfing the net and listening to TV, when I glanced up to see another bland, unimaginative commercial hawking the latest in video games.  Now don’t get me wrong, like most guys, I like video games – I have spent more than a few hours with my Xbox – and the game play footage was spectacular.  But as a commercial, it sucked.

Then it got me thinking.  While I can remember a handful of commercials I have seen in the past few years, it usually takes someone to ask, “Did you see the last Brand X commercial?”  and some careful cajoling, like, “C’mon you remember.  The car one; the one that had the girl with the big….”,  before I remember.

But, you know which ones I have never forgotten?  Yep, the ones from the heyday of commercials – the 1970s. The 70s were a happy time full of promise and optimism and great fashion.   I still look back at those days with a great deal of fondness – even if no one showed up for my 7th birthday. Life was  simpler back then; I was a simple boy who enjoyed simple things.  I was not worried about iPhones, or iPods or iPads or any of the things that vex kids today.  I would play street hockey until I was numb with cold; I would have great fun shouting “Olly Olly All come in free-oh” when I gave up the seek; I would stay out all day and my parents never once felt anxious about my safety.

And I remember the commercials – the bread that sandwiched the peanut butter that was great TV shows. Shows that had manly characters like John Gage and Roy Desoto, or Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman. Holy Childhood heroes, Batman – that is a topic that could lend itself to a whole other blog!  Great TV shows…note to self.

Let me get back on track…

The products, like the commercials, were simple too.  Some would say cheesy, but really, wasn’t the whole decade of 1970 cheesy? I mean we listened to songs like “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille (enjoy the muskrat fart solo at 2.25).  But, I liked cheesy – I remember cheesy; cheesiness had a charm.

So, in honour of the period and as a backlash against the sophistication of today’s adverts, You Tube and I will offer you a few of the classics. If you are my vintage, I am sure you will be saying, “I remember that one, I loved it!”

Canadian Tire had lots of great icons…Funny Money that still passes as currency in other parts of the world, Teddy Ruxpin and Playmaker Hockey equipment are but three.  And they have had some great advertising campaigns, “Albert, Albert, Albert” and the always annoying Canadian Tire Couple who owned every Canadian Tire product imaginable (and who probably made their monthly mortgage payments in Canadian Tire Money).  The first one is a cheat, as this was from the mid-1980s, but it is still one of my favorites…Give like Santa, save like Scrooge (PS check the system on offer!). This ad was smart; and how perfectly Canadian – thoughtful and cheap – the classic Canuck combo.  I have no doubt that the ad exec that came up with that slogan is rolling in the dough.

To channel Mr Spock, “Now Captain, with that temporal anomaly dealt with…”, how more 1970s Canada can you get than good old Pop Shoppe soda pop – with 26 great flavours such as non-alcoholic Lime Rickey, black cherry, blue raspberry, pink “something-or-other” and my favorite, ginger’s ale. With refillable glass bottles, and the crate deposit, it was so ahead of its time. (You may be happy to hear it is making a comeback.) It is funny how the strangest of pitchman made deals to become the face of the products.  And one of the most memorable tag lines from my childhood came from The Entertainer himself – Number 23 in your program, but number one in your hearts, ”Clear the Track for Edddddddddddddyyyyyy Shack!”…and “do I have a nose for value!” (Was he drunk?) With the cool kids in their Detroit Red Wing wannabee uniforms and the smokin’ cashier with the Dorothy Hamill hair  (remember I was only 8), I so wanted to be in one of those commercials drinking free pop.

Now while that commercial was Mom and Poppe (forgive the pun), there were some expensive and slick commercials, too. Take for example, another soda classic…this company had more money, a better ad company and offered a subtler and more idealist notion that never really said anything about the product, but it was still very cutting edge and memorable. I bet you even remember the words – c’mon, sing them with me…

“I’d like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love…buy apple trees and honey bees….”  (Bet you’ll even sing the unwritten lyrics )

Got it?  “What is the Real Thing? for $200, Alex”, is correct.  Now if that commercial wasn’t flower power and a symbol of everything that the 70s was – globalism, multiculturalism, bad clothes-ism – I don’t know what was…

Well, thinking about it, maybe there was one thing that was more 70s…before Kyoto or Save the Seals or Ban the Tar Sands, there were the Hippy Environmentalists who were telling us we were all headed down the path to destruction.  We were evil consumers who just didn’t give a shit about Mother Earth…and even though Society had moved all the First Nations to the Reservations, and I had never seen a birch bark canoe in Toronto, nothing quite conveyed how much sadness I felt than when I watched The Crying Brave.  The sound track alone was epic!  Shame on us…I am so glad we have mended our evil ways since then.

Now at the start of this long blog, I mentioned it was a video game that got me thinking. But, before the game console, or the internet or the AAA battery, we young kids had to rely on good old kinetics and physics to play our games.  Think of all of them, Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, Bing Bang Boing, Pop-o-matic Trouble, the list goes on and on.  But as a boy, I was like most – I had a fascination with cars and destruction and mayhem and collisions…what better than the Goler-themed Smash Up Derby commercial to appeal to my XY chromosome? How many hours did my brother and I play that game, feigning Deep South accents and calling each other names like Billy Bob and Jeremiah? All i can say is that when that SSP Smash Up Derby is coming on to you like that, what’s a feller to do?

Ahem…moving on then. Another area that ads perfected was the art of pushing kids’ breakfast cereals.  All those sugar-coated confectionaries were guaranteed to send kids into insulin shock or spinning around the house bouncing off the walls. Frosties, Cocoa Puffs, Cap’n Crunch, Honeycomb, Alpha Bits, Apple Jacks are just a few off the top of my head.  But my favorite was the Monsters – Chocula, Frankenberry and Boo-berry.  I just loved the names…they were so cool!  Now don’t get me wrong, I never got to eat any of these cereals – well maybe Frosties, as they were only sugared corn flakes – but the commercials offered the promise of so much kid joy, how could you not want them?

I am now guilty of droning on, so it is time to finish off this blog. Happily, I have saved the best for last.  I must admit that my most favorite “commercials” had nothing to do with selling a product. These ads were probably the start of what we would now call “edutainment”, the precursor to the flash card.  In retrospect it was subliminal teaching of A Clockwork Orange proportion…and it was something all kids enjoyed watching mixed in with the entire Saturday morning gang – Scooby Doo, The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, Josie and the Pussycats.  In hindsight, the ads were cleverly insidious: a classroom lecture right in the middle of my Count Chocula cravings.  And dammit, I sang along! Surely you remember Schoolhouse Rock with great ditties such as  Conjunction Function , My Hero – Zero, Three is a Magic Number….aaahhh good times!  Of all the “commercials” these were the most brilliant. It was the medium being used for good – and we did not have a clue we were being schooled! Why couldn’t real school be like that?

So if you have stuck with me for this long, I hope you found looking back on the commercials of our kid-hood as much fun as I did.  If you are like me, all the commercials dredge up a lot of happy memories.  When I think about it though, maybe it is isn’t the commercials that are any better; maybe it’s the nostalgic warm and fuzzy feeling I get when I watch them that makes me think they are better than today’s .  You know the feeling… the sense that I was safe and cared for and that life was pretty great.  Perhaps that is it – I was a happy kid and these commercials remind me of that.

I hope that my kids will remember that feeling when they are my age, too.  Perhaps in 2040, they will feel the same about the Grand Theft Auto 3 commercial, the Axe Body Spray spots or the Calvin Klein underwear ads  Sadly enough,  comparing the ads of yesterday and today,  I do not think they will.  And that is just kinda sad.

Looking forward to hearing about your favorites!  Drop me a comment and share a thought.