The Best $9.99 I’ve Ever Spent (Part 1)

A few years ago I stumbled across a product I never thought I’d see — a two-DVD set of nothing but old TV commercials. Now, to most people this probably sounds like the dumbest concept in the history of ever. But to me, finding this was better than finding 10 bucks behind the sofa. In a testament to my bizarre notion of what is entertaining, I think I’ve watched it at least 5 or 6 times already. I don’t know if this could really qualify as nostalgia for me, since the bulk of these commercials originally aired years before I was born, so it’s not as if I’m using these to return me to my childhood.

The set is priced at $9.99 for a reason. The video quality of a lot of these commercials is marginal, which is understandable. A 30 or 40-year old Hamm’s Beer commercial doesn’t exactly warrant the same push for preservation as an original print of Birth of a Nation. But if you have the right sensibilities, there is much enjoyment to be found here. The two discs are seemingly organized into handy categories like “Toys” and “Automobiles,” but like speed limit signs they’re more suggestions than anything else.

Now, these ads are a novelty in and of themselves since cigarette ads haven’t been aired in the US in more than 30 years. And I know all about the evil of the tobacco companies, but damn if they didn’t have some fun commercials. Of course, nothing sold tobacco products in the 1950s quite like dancing cigarettes and cigars! I can just picture Mr. and Mrs. Average American rushing out to buy a pack of Old Gold cigarettes after seeing a pack twirling around in white go-go boots. I mean honestly, cigarettes CAN’T be bad if they dance for you, right??? Here we have three very different dancing styles:

Lucky Strike does a traditional square dance.

Old Gold hoofs it Vaudeville style.

While Muriel Cigars give us a delightful Broadway song and dance routine.

Ah, our first celebrity sighting! This ad for Muriel Air-Tip Cigars features none other than Paul Dooley, one of those great character actors whose name no one ever remembers. He was also in Sixteen Candles and has a recurring role in Larry David’s HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Moving on to household products, this spot for Ajax is one of the catchier ads in history. It features the adventures of three singing… gnomes? Dwarves? Sprites? Well, in any case they are small and they clean your bathroom like nobody’s business. Sadly, they lost their jobs after the Scrubbing Bubbles agreed to work for half the wages.

“Today we spray bugs dead…

… tomorrow Godless Commies!”

This is part of the first campaign for Raid bug spray, launched in 1956. In a great example of anthropomorphic animation, Raid pops off half his head to emit a cloud of insecti-death. I love the animation style of these old spots, and this is one of the best.

Women of the world, rejoice! Mr. Clean is here to shave precious minutes from your daily cleaning routine! Now you can spend even more time contemplating all the ways you can make your husband’s life better! Huzzah!

This Hi-lex Bleach spot still haunts my dreams. Seriously.

“Oooooh, my throbbing disembodied head! Is there no relief in sight?” Only if you take Bufferin! Witness the power of Bufferin as shown in this high school science class film strip!

And what would a trip down the halls of commercial fame be without the obligatory visit from Speedy, the Alka-Seltzer boy?! It would be hung over and gassy, that’s what. Screw all these modern commercials with their slick computer graphics. Give me good old-fashioned stop-motion photography any time.

In another beautifully animated spot, we see the power of Pepsodent! Man, the name even sounds old-fashioned in a Montgomery Burns sort of way, like it should be spelled with a few more hyphens. “Honey, we’re out of Pep-so-dent!” On the other hand, this is one of the earliest examples I can find of a mass market campaign from this era incorporating the language of youth culture.

It’s always interesting to see what advanced-sounding words were used to pitch products back in the day. Pepsodent’s main selling point was Irium. Don’t bother looking for it on the periodic table, you won’t find it there. Irium is basically an irritant (sort of like Carrot Top) used to get all that icky stuff off your teeth.

To end Part 1 of my review we have another celebrity sighting. Years before he was known to you and me as Capt. B.J. Hunnicut from M*A*S*H, Mike Farrell still had to pay the bills somehow. Hence this spot for Schmidt beer. Hey, I think that tie Mike is wearing is back in style now. Too bad we can’t say the same for Schmidt.