Rewind: Ban de Soleil's Classic 80's Ad Selling Sun-Kissed Skin

Back When SPFs Maxed Out at 15

By Published on .

Ah, to be carefree back in the '80s, when SPFs maxed out at 15, bikini bottoms ran high-cut and implants weren't a prerequisite in beach-themed ads.

That mentality was reflected in this classic piece of advertising from Bain de Soleil, created out of N.Y. agency Rosenfeld, Humphrey, Sirowitz and Strauss. The year was 1987. The television ad starred a tawny sophisticate in a teeny black two-piece lounging poolside in a nondescript location meant to evoke the South of France. She seemed to have not a care in the world -- she wasn't even bothered by that 24-carat collar no doubt incinerating her neck under those sweltering rays.

The Merck brand, which translates to "sun bath" in English but sounds way cooler in French, was at the time owned by Charles of the Ritz.

What was being sold here? Beautiful sun-kissed brownness -- and fantasy trappings of luxury, leisure and wealth. UVA and UVB deflection didn't even enter the picture. (Does SPF 2 even exist anymore?)

But perhaps even more memorable than the images of the lush life was the commercial's tune, arguably one of advertising's all-time most infectious jingles. The original song, featuring the line "Bain de Soleil for the San Tropez tan," was created in the early '70s, by a New York-based composer named Irwin Finger, out of jingle house Warner-Levinson.

"First I tried to write a Beach Boys song and that didn't feel right," he recalled. "The somebody suggested 'languid,' so I wrote two simple chords -- a C and a D -- on acoustic guitar. We had one demo session, with guitar, drummer, bass, piano, percussion and a singer named Arlene Martel. The agency bought the demo without doing anything else."

According to Mr. Finger, that same track ended up running for about a dozen years on the radio -- likely because the brand owned the rights to it. Thereafter Bain de Soleil decided to use a cut-down of the tune -- this time sung by famous soul singer/actress Phyllis Hyman -- on its television spots, ensuring the song's place in the pop culture pantheon. "I think a lot of people hated me because they couldn't get it out of their heads," said Mr. Finger. "It played so much everyone remembers it. Whether it's a good song or not, I don't know."

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