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Official Article

Best Retro 80's TV Commercials

For 30 years I have held on to the original VHS tapes I used to record my favorite childhood TV shows. Everyone from Muppet Babies to The Real Ghostbusters made the cut and luckily so did the classic commercials for cereal, toys, theme parks and more. 


I recently started uploading these vintage TV spots to YouTube, but I thought I would share a few of my personal favorites with my friends on RetroDaze. So here are the best retro 80's commercials from my personal VHS collection.

ALF Doll



Gordon Shumway from Melmac aka ALF took prime time by storm in 1986 and parlayed his success into cartoons, comic books and yes, a stuffed animal. Though there was a talking version, this doll from the commercial was simply a standard plush toy. Despite the lack of bells and whistles, he had a posse of child TV stars to back him up and if you were a sitcom junkie like me, you're bound to recognize these faces.


Most notable of the crew is a very young Candace Cameron from Full House, which would become a mainstay of 80's and 90's TV just one year later. Next is Emily Schulman who was already playing the nosey red-headed neighbor, Harriet on Small Wonder at this time and even went on to guest star on an episode of ALF in 1989. Finally we have Casey Ellison who played Allen on Punky Brewster from 1984-1988 and even voiced the same character on the whimsical cartoon series.

The Wherehouse



Though this one was a Southern California exclusive, I think you can all appreciate the imagery of a classic 80's video rental store. The Wherehouse was my mecca for home entertainment as a kid. The store was gigantic, stocking audio cassettes, compact discs and yes, a HUGE selection of VHS tapes to rent. In fact, I still have a copy of Troop Beverly Hills (which incidentally featured Emily Schulman from the entry above) that I got for a cool $9.95 from their USED tapes section in the early 90's. As you can see that was marked down from the original $89.95 price, what a deal!


What I love about this commercial is the panning shot of customers wandering the aisles to find their movie of choice. Such a throwback. Plus, one dollar a night? That was at least 50 cents cheaper than the rates Blockbuster video would charge for a 2 night rental. Then there was movie critic Gene Shalit, who was a mainstay on NBC's The Today Show, but always played to me like the mad scientist version of Leonard Maltin.

Fruit Corners Fruit Swirl Bars



During my childhood, Fruit Corners were the kings of the fruit snack world with brands like Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit Wrinkles, Shark Bites, Thunder Jets and yes, Fruit Bars. These things were amazingly packed with flavor. Try to imagine 3 packs of fruit snacks melted down, then formed into a granola bar shape that packed the flavor of 1,000 strawberries, blueberries or grapes. The Fruit Swirl Bar variety simply added stripes of "Real Cream" to the mix.


OK, I promise this is the last Troop Beverly Hills connection in this article, but another red-headed star from that 1989 Shelley Long comedy, Jenny Lewis, features prominently in this ad. Eventually Fruit Corners was bought out by Betty Crocker who opted not to continue manufacturing these delicious snack treats and I will forever hold it against that fake corporate mascot. Blast you, Betty!

Crush "Carnival of Flavors"



OK, I'll admit it, I've only recently tasted Crush in the last few years. We were strictly a 7-Up or occasional IBC Root Beer family growing up. That's right, I never got to enjoy the "carnival of flavors" that included Orange, Cherry, Grape, Strawberry, Apple and Pineapple. That doesn't take away from the fact that this commercial features what I assumed to be the quintessential teenage dating scenario as a kindergartner. 


I was convinced that all my babysitters were going to carnivals with hunky guys, riding the Ferris Wheel and throwing softballs at a dunk tank target. What I never imagined was that said hunky guy would be the dunk tank clown. That or he dowsed his head in Strawberry Crush and decided to whip his hair back in a motion usually preferred by Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover models. I'll be honest, it weirds me out. Also, "Peel Me A Crush" as a tag line, doesn't quite hit home does it?

Barbie & The Rockers



Yes, Barbie was a girl's toy, but rock and roll is for everyone! An obvious attempt to give Jem & The Holograms some competition, the glamour gal and friends combined instruments with a whole lot of hairspray and hit the stage. There was even an animated movie, which this commercial hypnotized me into renting. From where? The Wherehouse! (Gotta love a callback.)


This theme song is so catchy, I've literally had it in my head for 30 years. The lyrics also give you a little origin of the group, as a glittery mulleted Ken recounts, "When Barbie asked me to join the band. I said, That's cool." and the rest is history. It's like it was written by the 8 year old girls who would be bringing the backstage drama to life.

Universal Studios Hollywood



Though I told the tale of my 1992 visit to Universal Studios Hollywood in a previous article here, this commercial from 1987 captures some amazing attractions that were a big reason I wanted to go in the first place. The laser eyes of the serpent in the Conan The Barbarian show always got me pumped and I never knew that they had a Photon Laser Gallery at the park during the height of that craze (which I covered here).


The big event here is the Miami Vice Live stunt show, which is no surprise given the popularity of Crockett and Tubbs on TV at the time. You'll recognize the big influence the show had on fashion of the era, but the 2 kids playing the heroes should be familiar as well. Tubbs is being portrayed by Paul C. Scott who played Jamie's buddy, Reggie on Small Wonder, while the kid dressed as Crockett is none other than Brian Austin Green. Yes, THAT Brian Austin Green from 90's super hit Beverly Hills, 90210.

Bubble Yum



If you wanted to see the influence that MTV had on advertising in the mid 80's, this Bubble Yum commercial was a clear example. It looks just like a music video by The Cars with all the colorful 2-D backgrounds and random objects floating by in the foreground. For some reason this "Magic Taxi" makes me think of the Neutrinos from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, cruising around in their flying Corvette.


Confession time, I hate bubble gum. I was glad when I heard that Rowdy Roddy Piper was all out of it in They Live, because blowing bubbles grosses me out and makes me gag. That being said, I feel like bubble gum was such signature imagery for teenagers in 80's pop culture that I can't dismiss the concept entirely. I always imagined every cute girl I saw from 1986-1988 had a pack of Bubble Yum in her purse. Still, why couldn't pretzel sticks have been the choice of a new generation?

Juicy Fruit



Now chewing gum, that I can get behind, especially when the theme song is so catchy. Juicy Fruit was never my gum of choice (I usually just stole my sister's cinnamon Dentyne) but that jingle is another 80's ear worm that never left my mental playlist. Add to that the imagery of hip college students taking part in exciting outdoor sports and the thrilling advertising kept the brand alive in my heart.


In this particular example the group is out for a ski trip, which seemed to be the default activity for the yuppie youth of the 80's. How many sitcom scenarios can you remember where the goal was to earn money for a ski trip, getting caught on a snowy road after sneaking out for a ski trip or wacky physical comedy with skis and poles? It was a national obsession! Of course in the 90's it switched to EXTREME snowboarding, but brightly colored snow suits were so much more memorable.

Kool-Aid



This commercial really shows off the "everything but the kitchen sink" attitude advertisers used to get children's attention back in the day. You get a man in a gorilla suits showing off his Kool-Aid guts, Claymation Kool-Aid men bouncing around a kitchen table and the big guy even lets a little girl steal his wall crashing "Oh Yeah" routine. The classic imagery of drawing the Kool-Aid Man face with the condensation on a glass pitcher really hits the nostalgia button. I remember the day I decided to try it for myself and put my Mom through the ringer. 


First of all, I was adamant that the pitcher had to be the same shape as the one on the commercial, which led to several minutes of digging through our cupboards. Then I kept demanding, "More ice!" as the condensation wasn't forming fast enough in my impatient young mind. When I finally carved the face in the thin layer of water with my finger I was saddened to find that Kool-Aid man's features were barely visible and quickly faded away. Ah well, at least I tried.

Oreos Disneyland Sweepstakes



Commercials from Nabisco were always a big tease to me, since the only way I ever got to enjoy store bought cookies was when I visited a friend's house after school. But this particular ad has a special place in my heart because it led to the one and only time my Mom agreed to let Oreos into our house. I convinced her that it wasn't so much about the chocolate cookies with questionable cream filling, but our chance to win big from The Walt Disney Company.


I specifically remember the excitement of twisting the top off of that fake Oreo game piece and the subsequent disappointment when "The Mouse" failed to fulfill my fantasy of a free trip to Disneyland. Looking back now, I find it very interesting that the animated Mickey model they used is based on the Electronic Talking Mickey Mouse toy (Disney's answer to Teddy Ruxpin) and that the doll even appears in the commercial to show off the mugs or watches all the "losers" could receive as a consolation prize. Talk about synergy!


That's it for this look back at the best retro TV commercials. Which of these ads do you remember? You can subscribe to my YouTube page here for many, many more of these 80's time capsules. You can also follow me on Twitter @hojukoolander where I regularly tweet out an announcement of the latest batch of retro videos from my archives.
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pikachulover Posted on Apr 01, 2017 at 04:48 AM

I happened to find your channel a few days ago by chance. I was looking for local LA stuff on youtube. I usually just put station call letters in to youtube's search function and see what comes up.
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