OMG, It's Elle MacPherson and Urkel: What Seven Spots Say About Our Changing Culture

Ad Age Hits Rewind to Show How Much TV Commercials -- and Consumers -- Have Evolved in 30 Years

By Published on .

Three decades ago, TV ads were silly but really catchy, surreal but ambitious. And most of them would never fly with consumers today.

In honor of the TV Issue, we felt it important to rewind and reflect on just how much TV advertising has changed over the years -- and what those changes say about us as a culture. Thirty years ago, it was common for marketers to use jingles that aimed to lodge themselves in little children's minds. And hawking sodas and fried foods claiming they were both tasty and good for you? Yep, we saw that , too.

To take you back in time, we selected seven ads that ran in 1982. They'll give you a laugh, but watch them and you'll immediately notice how much advertisers' messaging and images have evolved in the past 30 years.

In that time, consumers have made it abundantly clear that they don't appreciate being marketed to. Our culture is skeptical, and advertisers' claims are constantly questioned. Families are focused on health and wary of advertising to children.

We also possess technology that we couldn't have imagined decades ago, and the ways we obtain our information today have shifted largely online.

If there's one thing that 's still a staple of TV ads, it would be that trick marketers use when they put actors of different races in ads to target them all at once. View the spots on and let us know if you remember them.

Commodore 64
What was once the most successful home computer of all time is now a clunky relic. In 1982, the makers of the Commodore 64 would never have imagined the sleek desktops, laptops and tablet devices available today. The ad [shown below], with its flickering green pixels on the computer screen, alleges that what the Commodore 64 offers based on price and memory is so good, even the competition, including Apple, agree. "What nobody else can give you at twice the price," says the spot. It was a dramatic ad meant to promote very expensive computers: They cost more than $500, but as many as 17 million of them were sold.

Vegemite is thick, dark spread made of brewer's yeast that would be considered unpalatable most places except Down Under. The 'Vegemite Goes On Forever' spot goes over the top to demonstrate how much Australians love the product, depicting construction workers packing Vegemite sandwiches and kids eating it right out of the container, in between shots of the famous Ayers Rock and Australian flag. A silly song in the background says: "It makes you want to wrestle with King Kong ... 15 million people can't be wrong." (The Australian population has grown to an estimated 22 .8 million.)

"Tab cola helps your beautiful shape," coos the ad for the diet soda. The spot [shown below] opens with a very young, brown-haired Elle MacPherson strolling along a beach in a red bikini holding a Tab. When she passes a young couple, the guy gawks at Elle in a most unsmooth manner (that now would lead to cries of objectification of women). So his girlfriend dumps a cooler of water on his head. But she forgives him, collapsing in a pile of laughter because everything is OK when you have a can of Tab.

Toys 'R' Us One of the most blatant ad campaigns used to target children was by Toys R Us, featured Geoffrey the Giraffe. A multi-ethnic gaggle of kids were shown on their three-wheelers, singing the theme song's lyrics: "I don't wanna grow up, I'm a Toys R Us kid ... from bikes to trains to video games, it's the biggest toy store there is ." Between the jingle, the toys and the child actors Jenny Lewis, Lindsay Price and Jaleel White (who would become Steve Urkel on "Family Matters"), we can only wonder how many parents were harassed by their children to visit the nearest Toys R Us after this spot [below] aired.

The fast-food chain is so focused on peddling healthful fare like smoothies, wraps and salads, it's hard to believe there was a time when nuggets were considered a product innovation for McD's. But this ad [shown below] was used to introduce Chicken McNuggets -- with a choice of four sauces -- to U.S. consumers. And by their ear-to-ear grins and hilariously feigned enthusiasm in ordering, dipping and chomping them, you'd think those nuggets were made of gold.

Yellow Pages
AT&T's move last week to offload its Yellow Pages business was the nail in the coffin for the directory service, once a staple in every household, that couldn't find a way to transition its business into digital or mobile channels. Back when this ad aired, Yellow Pages was owned by Bell. A salesman visiting an Italian restaurant says, "The food is great!" and persuades the family-run business to buy an ad in the book with the slogan "Mama Does All the Cooking."

Miller Lite Beer
This is a spot that reminds us how entertaining ads were when they were vehicles for surreal stories. We see a crowded bowling alley with a bunch of guys -- in this case, famous ones -- playing a tournament while drinking Miller Lite. Among the faces are John Madden, pro footballer Bubba Smith of the "Police Academy" movies and Rodney Dangerfield. The spot closes with the tagline: "Everything you always wanted in a beer."

In this article:
Most Popular