Have you seen recent TV ads in which you have no idea what’s being advertised until a logo or product pops up at the end? Unlike their 1950s and 1960s predecessors, today’s TV ads don’t tell much of a story but rather present a fast-paced montage of videos or images culminating with the projecting of a sports logo or icy bottle of vodka. And where’s the story? Many classic TV commercials were like mini-short stories where actors encountered a dilemma that only the product could solve.
A 1950s ad shows a ballerina who perspires. She dances and dances, searching for a solution, only to realize that a gigantic can of Stopette spray deodorant will do the trick.
Some TV commercials told a story through song and dance. A great example is the 1958 ad for Royal Dreme Shampoo in which a group of teens drives up to a friend’s house. The musical exchange between one of the boys in the car and Kate, who is in her bedroom window, is reminiscent of West Side Story:
Hi Kate/you got yourself a date/the gangs at the juke joint so let’s not wait.
Sorry Joe/can’t tonight/just washed my hair and it’s a fright.
Kate washes her hair with the product and heads out with her friends. Problem solved.
Another staple of old commercials was the catchy theme song. Popular talk show host and singer Dinah Shore had a big hit with “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” promoting the 1953 Chevy line. Trumpeter Herb Albert’s popular 1960s jingle “Teaberry Shuffle”, promoting a popular gum, was also a hit single with his band, The Tijuana Brass.
Maybe it’s true that “some things were better back then.” Not everything, but just some, like commercial jingles that stayed in your head all day or a two-minute story line that made you actually want to run out and purchase a product. Today’s TV audiences aren’t even in the room anymore when commercials run, but just a few decades ago they meant something.