Alison Garwood Jones

Why I Love Old TV Commercials

September 1, 2023

If you want to time travel back to your parents’ rec room and hang out with your 10-year-old self, play these YouTube compilations of old TV commercials as you go about your day.

“Nobody can do it like McDonald’s can” 

“Coffee Mate tastes great (repeat) 

“Brush your breath, brush your breath, brush your breath with Dentyne!”

To get you started, here’s a reel from the 1970s.
And another one from the 1980s.

In times of wrenching change, I can’t tell you how fun and comforting it is to hear the familiar Apple Jax jingle, or the the Bits ‘n Bites guy kicking back in his hammock and extending a bowl of munchies my way.

The armchair sociologist in me is amazed to see how far women have come since the time of Love’s Baby Soft and Spic & Spam. If you’re still convinced no progress has been made — the overturn of Roe v. Wade will make you feel that way — this will hearten you.

In the 1970s, girls in commercials were consistently portrayed as pigtailed and beribboned little darlings. They hung out in groups and spent most of their time playing inside with dolls or stirring and loading small cakes into toy ovens. They rarely hoisted themselves up inside treehouses or got out of breath like the boys.

In reality, there were plenty of girls who swung from trees and bombed down hills on their bikes. Some of us made sure the whole neighbourhood could hear the flatulent trail coming from the cardboard flaps strumming against our bike spokes. But to be a biker chick AND the proud owner of a toy oven …  well, that was too many contradictions for most brains.

The sugar-and-spice cutie pies have been replaced by the STEM girls and soccer champs. Thank god.

As for grown women, they were divided into the following categories:

•  Housewife in the cotton house dress who got her hair set once a week and was always complaining about tough stains

•  Bossy manicurist with an eye for great hands

•  The sex kitten with a whispery voice and the killer bod. She was always raking her long, manicured nails (courtesy of Madge) through the chest hair of some moustachioed catalogue model whose musky scent came through loud and clear. Oh, and she could sing and sashay like Marilyn serenading all the presidents’ men.

• And there was the dingbat. Here’s a sample:

From my 2023 perch, none of these women (except for the bossy manicurist) could be counted on to tell the truth. Tell us how you really feel about cottage cheese and lettuce, your middle kid’s personality, bad sex, shitty pay, and your boss’s tongue. Madge balanced her own books, so she could speak her mind without fear of repercussions. The rest of them smiled through everything.

Let’s face it, women in commercials weren’t real women. They were men’s ideas of women, minus anything remotely impressive or nuanced.

But wait, you say, what about all of those commercials about our intimate odour problems?  Or, the wet blankets that kept getting thrown over our weekend plans to go swimming in a white bikini? Those told the truth, didn’t they? Again, those were male advertising execs putting their stamp on our body’s unpredictable blooms, and shaming us into buying products they were inventing and selling to control that stuff.

Talking about the persistence of the male lens in framing the female experience isn’t new. But it’s only been about 20 years since the concept moved out of academia and into popular culture. By the 2010s, words like “manspreading” and “mansplaining started getting tossed around like frisbees on a bright summer day. (Imagine trying those words out on Burt Reynolds in 1977). And while some say “Enough already,” I say, it takes time and a nauseating amount of repetition to actually reverse old cultural norms.

Habits only die and behaviours only change when we highlight the errors of our past ways and explain the new outcomes we’re going for with the same frequency we try and teach toddlers to say please and thank you. Eventually the concepts stick.

Unless, of course, a few bad men decide to deploy tanks and erase it all. I’ll need some fries with that thought.


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