Commercial Appeal: Three TV Ad Tropes That Have Littered My Life (and everyone else’s)

Published on July 30th, 2011 in: Issues, My Dream Is On The Screen, Staff Picks, TV |

By Jesse Roth

Television, for better or worse, has always played a significant role in my life. Its influence, however, did not stop when my favorite shows would “take five” for the benefit of their sponsors. A good portion of my TV-related memories seem to involve the various ads clogging the airwaves, some of which were far more memorable than the shows they were sponsoring. Though I was rarely motivated enough to buy the products they were promoting, the following commercials have found a permanent home in my mind, no matter how hard I try to forget them.

apple auto sales

1. Local Car Commercials

In an age where franchised restaurants and chain stores seemed to have stripped cities and regions of their individuality, the car commercial continues to provide each and every town with its own embarrassing set of ads dedicated to getting residents to come out and purchase a new ride. With a winning combination of low production values, horrible music, obnoxious salesmen, and the always delightful “local celebrities,” car ads seem to stick in our memories whether we want them there or not. I am still haunted by the Caribbean-accented salesman from a small-time used car dealership called Oak Leaf Motors. Shouting proudly “WE OWN THE BANK! YOU COULD RIDE TODAY!” this long-lost cousin of the Red Stripe Beer guy has managed to stick with me to the point that I will randomly shout out this catchphrase when I see other car ads on TV.

Upon relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina during my high school years, I was introduced to a treasure trove of terrible car ads (and even worse infomercials). Some of the more memorable spots involved “Reverend Rob,” the spokespreacher for Apple Auto Sales, who promised to “HEAL!” your credit issues and get you into a fine used ride. According to the company’s YouTube channel, the dealership encountered some grief from the holy rollers in the city, who did not take kindly to the mashup of religion and used cars.

There was also Sampson’s Used Cars, notable for the “We’re Dealing!” catch phrase as well as Spot the dog, who would wander around the lot and was occasionally set apart from the rest of the ad in his own frame. What added intrigue to the airing of these particular ads was a rumor propagated by a school acquaintance, claiming that the lot was actually a cover for a narcotics sales operation. The presence of the dog meant that a new shipment was in, while the “We’re dealing!” catchphrase was a not-so-subtle nod to the true practices of the lot. Though the rumor was likely bunk, it was fun to think that a sleazy used car dealership had an even sleazier underside.

It wasn’t until I moved to the DC area that I encountered the most annoying yet captivating car ad series I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. Eastern Motors, which operated numerous yellow-hued used car dealerships all over the region, has for years run a series of ads with an incredibly awful monotone jingle. Repeating over and over the fact that “At Eastern Motors, your job’s your credit,” the ubiquitous campaign featured numerous prominent Baltimore and DC professional athletes that were all too willing to shill for the company. One of the more memorable ones featured Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who in 30 seconds managed to showcase both his limited command of the English language as well as make an already awful jingle sound even worse. I do warn any readers who dare to check out the dealership’s YouTube page that you may never get that song out of your head. I’ve been trying myself for five years without any success.

crispy critters

2. Product Ads

While car ads can be enticing to youth, nothing has a greater impact on the school-aged mind like a product ad. After all, so many of the great food and toy ads were developed specifically for the simple child mind, a well-orchestrated effort by companies to empty family bank accounts and suck in new consumers for the long haul. Ads aimed at children tended to feature the adorable, TV-friendly version of all your friends and classmates consuming fast food and playing with expensive toy products that your parents always seemed to ignore from your Christmas wish list. While some products were the usual sugary snacks and elaborate toys all children covet, some were strange amalgamations of various childhood favorites. Some of the stranger ones from my childhood included Nickelodeon shoes (fun, funky shoes from my favorite television network, complete with the slogan, “Hey!-E-I-O-U gotta get a pair of Nickelodeon shoes!”) and the truly bizarre Nintendo Cereal.

Just in case we kids ignored the all-important visuals, there was always a catchy jingle included in each 30-second spot, guaranteed to stay in your head long after you stopped caring about wanting to own the product, like My First Sony or Crispy Critters cereal.

the more you know

3. PSAs

In addition to educating us about the various products and services we needed in our lives, television has also sought to educate us about any number of topics. Aimed at keeping us on the straight and narrow, many of these so-called “public service announcements” made us laugh unintentionally, or uncomfortably, depending on their chosen topic.

Some of my earliest PSA memories involved morality lessons from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Eye-catching yet very odd, the ads seemed to be aimed at reminding people to do the right thing and stay positive. Of course, upon hearing the sponsor’s name in the ad, it soon became clear that the real objective was to get you to stop by your local Mormon church and check out their neat little religion. Some of the more memorable ads, from the annoying child chorus of “Never Tell a Lie” to the overly-dramatic “Who Broke My Window?” can be found on YouTube for everyone’s enjoyment (or annoyance).

While the Mormon ads tended to play towards the positive, some PSAs were so overwrought with theatrics that their message was drowned out by the mocking laughter of its intended audience. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America anti-drug ads of the 1980s and 1990s were the perfect example of this phenomenon. While some of the ads from this campaign were rather simple and effective (see the original “This is your brain on drugs” egg ad), others, such as a memorable anti-heroin ad starring Rachael Leigh Cook veered off into the insane.

If the Mormons and anti-drug non-profits were not enough to influence our behaviors, we also had network television to fill in the morality and health awareness gaps in our television-rattled minds. One of the longest-running (and most mocked) campaigns came courtesy of NBC under the banner “The More You Know.” Dealing with a variety of subjects, from staying in school to addiction, the ads featured many popular actors from NBC series and almost always ended with this incredibly catchy jingle (and unforgettable graphic).

Though no particular ad from the series stands out, I’ve found myself adopting the jingle for my own life revelations. Whenever I learn some new strange fact via a regular interaction in life, or whenever I happen to impart some useful knowledge on an acquaintance, I almost always hum out the little tune. I’ve used it enough times that I’ve started to wish that NBC would create a little go-to phone app of the jingle to ease my efforts.

Not to be outdone by their rivals, the other networks have also gotten in on the act, producing their own ads using stars from their network, particularly those that do not mind saying some rather embarrassing lines in the name of awareness. The “CBS Cares” campaign has made an concerted effort to get their viewers to protect their most sacred bodily possession by airing these unintentionally hilarious ads.

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