There was a time when commercials were rather simple; maybe they were tailored to those of us who watched them. Betty White would stand up in front of a Kelvinator, or Westinghouse or whatever refrigerator, looking prettier than the product, open it’s door, show you how much space was inside, and tell you with utmost sincerity, to buy it.
Beautiful women stood in front of beautiful cars and said pretty much nothing. Every guy with salivary glands thought, “If I had that car, I could have that girl”–even if he was married. And there were no shortages of cars and therefore no shortage of beautiful models to stand by them. This was before Japan made cars, only toys, so all the cars were American. We had General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Studebaker and American Motors. They produced: Chevy’s, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles Fords, Mercurys, Chryslers, Dodges, Plymouths, Ramblers. And there were of course models of each: two doors, four doors, convertibles, six cylinders, 8 cylinders, power windows, roll down windows and so on. In those days cars were like Mr. Potato Heads. You put on them what you wanted. According to “Retrowaste.com” Americans had 266 models of cars to choose from in the early 1960’s!
And just in case you’re interested, between 2005 and 2017, Statistica.com says that number has plummeted to 237 models…with more than two dozen new models on the drawing boards….
Food commercials were very straight forward. “Eat our stuff, its better for you.” We hadn’t gotten to the point where we were being told, “Eat our stuff, its better for you than their stuff.”
If you ate too much you took “Alka Seltzer, Speedy Alka Seltzer,” sold to you by a smiling Alka Seltzer Tablet holding a pointer like a teacher, or “Bromo Selzter, Bromo Seltzer, Bromo Seltzer.” It sounded like a freight train and reminded you of the pounding in your head from your over indulgence.
Some could be pretty funny, like the next generation of Alka Seltzer commercials. One had a terribly stereotyped Italian man who in one commercial announced, “Mama Mia at’s a somah spicy meat-a-ball!” Or in another, standing in the kitchen he announced, ” I can’tah believe I ate the whole thing!” Then as the commercial went to the Alka Seltzer pitch, the door of the oven fell off. Not relevant, but very funny.
If your breath smelled you knew to grab some Clorets and never be without them “because only your best friend would tell you.” What? That your breath smelled like the hoof of a cow.
Doctors and dentists and hospitals didn’t advertise. Neither did pharmacies. So you took what the doc prescribed and were pretty sure it was the right stuff for what was wrong.
As I said it was all pretty simple. But was it? Simple or sinister? Those were the days when kids were still reading Dick and Jane books and the American dream was a house with a white picket fence around the front yard. In other words, fantasy, mostly. The products were pitched to sound like they’d fit right in the dream. And of course the world was white–the models, the pitchmen, almost every star on every show that displayed life in America. Maybe that’s why they call them white lies…. I don’t know.
Of course, Jackie Robinson couldn’t sleep in the same hotels his team did. Nat King Cole couldn’t buy a house in the suburbs for his family and when he did a cross was burned on his lawn. Beer was for white guys, mostly in T-shirts, but Colt 45 Malt Liquor? Why you couldn’t hardly buy it in a white neighbor store and all the bill boards for it were in the ghettos of America. Suspiciously enough there was about a third more liquid in the can and it was stronger than beer.” You know how those people like to sit out in the street and drink, don’t you?” would whisper white America. Marketing. At least that’s what it said to the rest of us.
So were were being set up as a society to believe what we knew was not true, eat things we knew could not be good for us, buy cars we knew we couldn’t afford, fight against safety regulations that were good for us because they made things more expensive and in those already expensive cars they weren’t cool. Much better, one supposes, to crack your head open on a steering wheel as hard as rock because there was no seat belt to stop you, nor any padding–on anything but the seats to soften the blow than be a goody-two-shoes and live through the accident.
Every parent reflexively put their arm across their child’s chest who was sitting in what was called the “shotgun” or “suicide seat” (front passenger side) as the car came to a sudden stop. No one ever explained the physics involved, that in order to actually stop a 40 or 50 pound child from hitting the windshield you’d need–well, a seat belt, because the force of the body moving forward at 30 or 40 mph would rip your arm out of the socket long before you could actually stop your child’s forward motion.
So there it was. We were fed the big lie and we lapped it up. By the 21st century, oh brother what wouldn’t we believe? That’s for next week.