Sunday, July 5, 2015

The best TV ad you'll probably never see

First, a warning – a caveat lector, if you will:

I am about to describe something that I saw at least 45 years ago, so there’s a good chance – a 110 percent chance, I would say – that I won’t get all the details right.

Understood? Then here goes…..

We fade in on a typical living room – typical for the 1960s or early 1970s, that is.

Dad is in his easy chair, reading the paper.

Mom is on the couch, possibly knitting.

Just another quiet night at home.

Until the door opens and their teenage daughter walks in.

She is dressed for a date, but she is in tears.

Both parents, alarmed, go to her.

“What’s wrong, dear?”

The girl can barely get the words out.

“It’s Herbert … he says … he says … we need THIS!”

And she holds out the sponsor’s product – a deodorant! Or maybe it’s a deodorant soap. Whatever.

Mom bursts into tears, but Dad’s Irish is up as he looks out the window.

“Is he still out there? I’ll tell him a thing or two!” And he storms out, determined to settle Herbert’s hash.

Quick dissolve to shot of sponsor’s product, which the announcer quickly but smoothly describes in glowing terms.

Then back to the living room, where Mom and the girl, just barely able to hold themselves together, are looking at the door.

Dad walks in, defeated and on the verge of tears, and looks at Mom.

“You know, Edna,” he says, “the boy makes a lot of sense!”

Then he completely loses it while still managing to say, once again, “The boy makes a lot of sense!”

Of course by this time Mom and the daughter have lost it again, and the three of them embrace, tearfully resigned to their fate as social pariahs.

Then a quick shot of the product, a few quick closing words from the announcer, and we’re done.

This may be the funniest TV commercial I’ve ever seen, and I hope I’ve done it justice.

It manages to kid the product by exaggerating the trauma of body odor, and it does it quickly and efficiently – while still praising the product.

It gets the job done so efficiently that you only later stop to wonder why, after unceremoniously dumping his date, Herbert is still parked outside.

You could argue that he is checking his messages, but this was years before the Internet. Of course you also could argue that Herbert is a really brilliant kid (though falling a little short in the tact department) and that he has already invented his own Internet and email system, which of course leaves open the question of who would be sending him messages.

But as Alfred Hitchcock would say when someone questioned the logic of a plot point in one of his movies, “Who cares? You believed it as you were watching it, right? And that’s all that matters.” (OK, those weren’t his exact words, but you get my point – and his.)

I wish I could send you a link to this commercial, but it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the Internet. I tried to find it on YouTube, but after several attempts to dig it out, I quit.

I freely admit that I might not have dug deeply enough. What we really need these days is an Internet equivalent of Lloyd Bridges.

(To my younger readers: Lloyd Bridges was the star of a show called “Sea Hunt,” in which he played a scuba diver named Mike Nelson – the guy on Mystery Science Theater was named for him – who every week would go searching for sunken treasure, sunken satellites, sunken corned beef sandwiches, whatever. And it seemed that every week, some bad guy would confront him underwater and try to cut off his air hose. Mr. Bridges, now deceased, was the father of Beau and Jeff Bridges. I’m sure that Beau and Jeff learned a lot about acting from watching Lloyd. I’ll bet they also, unlike Dad, figured out that they should never go underwater without a full supply of air and a finely whetted meat cleaver.)

Another point about this ad, which may not come as a surprise if you know a little about the history of advertising (I know a teensy-weensy bit):

You probably noticed that in describing the commercial, I never mentioned the name of the product.

This is because I don’t know the name of the product – or, as I said before, whether it was a deodorant or deodorant soap.

And this is a problem that some TV advertisers of that time ran into.

This was the era of funny commercials – ads that won a lot of awards. These were ads that the public liked and remembered.

So that if you asked Jane or John Q. Public if they’d seen that funny deodorant ad, they would probably say, “Oh, yes! Isn’t it a scream?”

But if you asked them what product it was pushing, they would go into full-blown Ralph Kramden “homina homina homina” mode.

This did not please sponsors, so funny commercials were out of favor for a while.

Luckily you can still see quite a few of the ones from this era on YouTube, including some of the Alka Seltzer ads that remain classics.

An actor named Jack Somack never, as far as I know, never won an Oscar, Tony or Grammy, but he was assured of immortality after this ad, which, 46 years later, still makes me laugh.


Leo Wong said...

Hi mark,

Loved this piece and I remember the commercial well. To this day I can hear that actor with his "the boy makes a lotta sense Edna, he makes Lotta sense!" But of course,as you say, I can't remember what product was being advertised.

Thanks for the memory trip and the enjoyable post!


Judy Berman said...

I love the set up, Mark. I also recall ads that left me laughing but I couldn't remember. When I was in Onondaga Community College, I read a book about advertising, "Run Spot Run." It amazed me. Very enjooyable.