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Commercials, Jingles, and Tag Lines by Gene Myers

Commercials, Jingles, and Tag Lines by
Article Posted: 09/17/2013
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Articles Written: 209
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Commercials, Jingles, and Tag Lines

I remember when living on the west coast a few decades ago an upstart company with a new concept called cable-TV tried to break into the television market. It got zero traction. Zip. Nada. The over-the-air TV stations and the local politicians put the kibosh on the attempt. Five years or so later, another company called ON-TV succeeded, and we couldn’t wait for the privilege of paying for it. The best feature: no commercials, which was cable-TV’s primary marketing strategy put forth from the get-go. The reasoning of the provider was: If you’re paying for the service, why should you have to watch pesky ads? We fell for it. Did we ever. Talk about bait-and-switch; I’ll wager no one under fifty knows “no commercials” was the original selling point for cable television.

Maybe I shouldn’t gripe because, after all, most programming is rubbish anyway, and there is evidence (from steadily falling cable and satellite revenues) that people are turning off and tuning out. A growing number are cancelling subscriptions and using their flat screens for movie subscribing only. Guess what? No commercials other than the ones they sneak in at the beginning, which one can fast forward through or mute. As for sports, standard free network TV provides enough as it is. Do you really need to watch five guys sitting around talking about the same games over-and-over; and reanalyzing every play ad nauseam? Of course the providers did fake us out by bundling cable-TV, computer, and telephone services. The hook has been set pretty deep.

I grew up in the black-and-white days, and recall the first color sets made by RCA. Even when programming was black-and-white some advertisers (wisely) made commercials in color. Because of the novelty, and our own Pavlovian tendencies, we sat through their spiels with a gaping, drooling, duh-gee-whiz look, and eagerly waited for the next one. Commercials were about one minute long and programming was interrupted (for an hour show) every twenty minutes with station breaks on the hour and half-hour. The viewer would receive at least 50 minutes of programming.

Let’s contrast that with an hour-long show today where a normal cycle is eight minutes of content and four of commercials. There are exceptions, for instance, over the weekend I tuned into a morning cable sports program that featured highlights of the previous day’s activity. Of the 45 minutes I watched, the breakdown was 23 minutes of programming and 22 minutes of advertising including network promotion of coming attractions. (Ladies, that’s the main reason your guy wants constant access to the clicker.) I also timed the No. 1 crime show, which featured 21 minutes of ads over 60 minutes. Average time for the sports show commercials was 47 seconds versus 31 seconds for the crime drama. None of the commercials provided a “hook” to engage your mind upon completion of the spiel. They were mind-numbing, monotonous, and boring. Sometimes I was even unsure of the product or service being pitched.

Back-in-the-day with more limited exposure, the advertisers had to grab one’s attention and get to the point quickly; AND (mainly) get their product stuck in your head like an irritating song that won’t go away. (Uh one, uh two… We all live in a yellow submarine…) They did, with the result that some fifty years later people know when they hear…Plop, plop, fizz, fizz; oh, what a relief it is… it’s that cute little cartoon pitchman, Speedy, hawking Alka-Seltzer.

Alka-Seltzer’s main competitor, Bromo-Seltzer, stuck mainly with radio ads featuring a train-pulling, steam locomotive saying (in locomotive-speak) the product’s name over-and-over. I’d be surprised if many of you remember that one.

Other advertisers used a familiar pitch person to deliver a final tag line for us to remember. Betty Furness reminded us that, “You can be sure if it’s Westinghouse.” As kids we used to say, “You can be sure that it’ll break down.” John Cameron Swayze advised us that Timex takes a licking, and keeps on ticking. Dinah Shore sang a phrase that stuck in our heads, “See the USA in your Chevrolet” then threw a big kiss. For Wendy’s, a sweet little octogenarian lady when inspecting a competitor’s hamburger wondered, “Where’s the beef?” That phrase was adopted by pop culture to refer to anything substandard—even a politician’s platform. Buffalo Bob and Howdy Doody sang what was then a familiar product jingle to wit:

Brush your teeth with Colgate / Colgate Dental Cream / It cleans your breath (What a toothpaste) / While it cleans your teeth

They had a cuddly little character named Happy Tooth who (if you didn’t use Colgate) would be ravaged by the villainous Mr. Tooth Decay.

Remember this one? You’ll wonder where the yellow went / When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.

Bucky Beaver sang, “Brush-a, brush-a, brush-a; new Ipana toothpaste…”

The very first commercial jingle was played over the radio in 1939 and ran unchanged for years to entice buyers to switch brand loyalty from the industry’s market leader. I’ll bet you have the tune in your head. It went like this:

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot / Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot / Twice as much for a nickel too / Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.

At the time soda sold for five cents with market leader Coca-Cola and wannabe Seven-Up (You Like It; It Likes You) offered in six-ounce and seven-ounce bottles, respectively. Pepsi offered twice as much as Coke for the same price. Twenty years later Pepsi suggested those who drank Coke might be a bit long in the tooth as 17-year-old Joanie Sommers sang, “Now it’s Pepsi for those who think young.”

Cigarette brands used to have radio, print, and television ads that grabbed people’s attention. Even though they have been prohibited from advertising for years, you may remember catch phrases like: 1) Winston tastes good like a (clap-clap) cigarette should; 2) Pall Mall: famous cigarettes; and they are mild; 3) I’d walk a mile for a Camel; 4) Willy the Penguin cooing, “Smoke Kool”; and finally 5) a slogan that almost reached Alka-Seltzer’s plop, plop status: L / S / M / F / T – Lucky Strike means fine tobacco. As kids we had another slogan for that too: loose sweaters mean floppy...well, you know.

Beer commercials weren’t far behind. Before Miller Lite’s (Tastes Great! Less Filling!) iconic campaign there was: 1) Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous; 2) What’ll ya have? Pabst Blue Ribbon; and 3) Hey, Mabel! Black Label! Carling’s Black Label Beer.

Cadillac was “the standard of the world”, if you chewed Clorets (the gum delicious) it made your breath kissing sweet, and Lifebuoy soap stopped B.O.

Personal hygiene products had snappy jingles because, well, who wanted to be a dirtbag shunned by the opposite sex? You could look sharp, feel sharp, and be sharp with Gillette Blue Blades, and their jingle went as follows:

How are you fixed for blades? (Do you have any?) / How are you fixed for blades? (You better check.) / Please make sure you have enough, / ‘cause a worn out blade makes shaving mighty tough. / How are you fixed for blades? (You better get some.) / Gillette Blue Blades we mean.

Other jingles included…

Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya / Brylcreem, you’ll look so debonair / Brylcreem, the gals will all pursue ya… / They want to get their fingers in your hair.

Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Cha-ar-r-lie / It keeps your hair in trim / It’s nonalcoholic, Cha-ar-r-lie / It’s made with super lanolin

Rapid Shave out shaves them all (repeat) / No messy brush / No greasy cream / Use Rapid Shave in the morning.

In elementary school another shave cream brand got me in trouble. We received an assignment to write a simple poem. I went a bit over the top and wrote four. The problem was I inserted Burma Shave at the bottom of each. Here’s one I remember:

My rhyming scheme / Is working well / If you don’t like it / Go to … / Burma Shave

I thought the effort was witty. Unfortunately, my teacher did not. It was the beginning of many years of trips to the principal’s office.

Finally, where would we be without breakfast food? Wheaties has always been the Breakfast of Champions. Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice was shot-from-guns, which would probably be illegal now. Kellogg’s used cartoons as pitchmen the most famous being Snap, Crackle, Pop, and Tony the Tiger. Kellogg also had a snappy jingle:

Good morning (repeat) / The best to you each morning / K-E-double L-O-double Good / Kellogg’s: best to you.

I’ll end this rambling discourse with a true story about Wheaties. There was a prisoner of war camp in my hometown during the World War II. When the war ended, one of the inmates named Englehardt remained in the area and became a US citizen. His youngest son and I played together. Anyway, here’s the story: the prisoners were given a bowl of dry flakes they thought the guards called vee-tees, a spoon, and a glass of milk. The prisoners thought vee-tees were terrible. Dry cereal was something of an American invention, and the guards didn’t tell them to pour the milk on the cereal. Englehardt said he and the other prisoners couldn’t understand why the guards hung around and snickered so much. I like to think if the German POWs had an English translator they might have penned the following jingle:

Wake up each morning with Vee-Tees (choke) / Get your daily fiber from Vee-Tees (hack) / They taste like cardboard or an old eraser / Thank God for the milky liquid chaser / It’s Vee-Tees; Vee-Tees for me (gag).

They should be thankful they weren’t given the original size Shredded Wheat.

By Eugen Maijer (Thought I’d get into the spirit and use the old world (Suisse) spelling of my name.)

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