Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Overcommercialization Of Life Day

Ah, it's the Christmas Season once again! And because I apparently have deep seated self-loathing issues, I recently re-watched (yes, RE-watched) the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

Terabytes have already been written about the complete and utter awfulness of the Special, so I won't add to that here. But I did want to point out something I noticed during this re-watch that I don't think anyone's ever mentioned before.

The copy of the Special that I watched included EVERY commercial and promo that appeared on that fateful night of November 17, 1978— the one and only time it aired. As I watched these ads, something dawned on me— of the thirty two ads that ran during the Special, only a scant THREE of them were targeted towards children! The rest were aimed squarely at adults, as they featued cars, cosmetics, over the counter drugs and even wine (!).

I thought that was a bit odd, since Star Wars was ostensibly meant for kids (at least in the 1970s). Why not load it up with commercials for toys, cereals, cartoons and other things kids like? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Of course, it's entirely possible that CBS intended to fill their ad space with kid-friendly commercials, but once companies got a look at the Special they gave it a hard pass and noped out. The network likely had to take whatever promos they could get!

If I'm being honest, the commercials were all far more interesting and entertaining than the show itself. Here's a list of the commercials that ran during the Star Wars Holiday Special:

General Motors
The first of two ads from them, as they were apparently a major sponsor. Oddly enough, this commercial didn't advertise any of their actual products, but instead touted how much fun it was to work on their auto assembly line (?).

Trail Tracker
One of the few commercials that actually advertised a toy. This one was for a little battery operated car that would follow a line drawn on a dry erase mat. Fun! I mean, dull and tedious!

CBS promo
One of the many in-house commercials that ran during the Special, which meant they either couldn't find enough paying customers to advertise and had to fill up time somehow, or CBS' ratings were in the crapper and they were desperately trying to promote their terrible programming schedule.

This one was for their big Sunday night lineup, which included 60 Minutes, All In The Family, Alice, a Lucy Comes To Nashville special and Dallas. I thought All In The Family was always a Saturday night show, while Dallas ran on Fridays. Apparently my memory's faulty, or  they moved 'em around at some point.

Comtrex Cold Reliever
Who thought it was a good idea to advertise cold remedies to an audience made largely of kids?

International Ladies' Garment Worker's Union
Ah yes, because kids have traditionally always had a love of trade unions! 

This commercial was a HUGE deal, as it played constantly for a few years back in the 1970s. It was even mocked by the late night talk shows of the day, for its amateurish production values and bizarre anthem:

Look for the union label
When you are buying that coat, dress or blouse
Remember somewhere our union’s sewing
Our wages going to feed the kids and run the house
We work hard but who’s complaining?
Thanks to the ILG we’re paying our way!
So always look for the union label
It says we’re able to make it in the USA!


Strange that they went with such a sexist and exclusionary name, as there were plenty of men in the union too. Apparently I'm not the only one who thought so, as it's now known as the Union Of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees.

Bell Telephone
According to this commercial, buying your own landline phone was a thing back in the 1970s. I guess if you didn't like the standard black one the phone company provided, you could buy your own stylish and "fun" one.

CBS promo
This one was for a presumably short-lived series called The Bible. I don't remember seeing or hearing about this back in the day, and I couldn't even find anything about it online. 

There's an IMDB entry for Greatest Heroes Of The Bible, which started airing the same week as the Special, so maybe they changed the name at some point for who knows what reason.

Reggie!
A round "candy bar" named after and endorsed by MLB player Reggie Jackson. I suppose I could be generous and say this one might have been aimed at kids, since they love candy. I suppose I could do that, but I don't see why I should.

General Motors
Yet another commercial from the auto behemoth, this time demostrating how they test each engine before it's shipped out.

Pillsbury Plus Yellow Cake Mix
OK, kids like eating cake, so I guess I'll allow this one. I actually remember seeing these commercials, as their big selling point was the fact that there was puddling in the cake mix, which made it moister. Looks like cake baking technology peaked in the 1970s!

Hungry Jack Biscuits
This would have been a perfect spot for a Froot Loops or Lucky Charms commercial. Instead we got one for Hungry Jack Biscuits. Do kids even eat those? 

CBS News Break
Apparently they used to do quick news updates during prime time— something I doubt happens anymore.

CBS Promo
Another in-house ad, this time for the ultra forgettable Bobby Vinton's Rock & Rollers special. Wouldn't this have been the perfect time for CBS to tout their Saturday morning cartoon lineup? Do I have to retroactively program ALL their commercials for them?

The Wild Geese movie trailer
A film I've not only haven't seen but never even heard of. It starred Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris as British mercenaries hired to rescue a deposed president from an African dictator. 

The Welsh Richard Burton and the Irish Richard Harris were both notorious drinkers, so I'm betting that was a wild shoot.

The movie's premiere was marred by Anti-Apartheid protestors, who were angry that it was filmed in South Africa. For what's it worth, it has a mediocre 6.8 out of 10 rating on IMDB.

Consumer Catalog
You have no idea how ubiquitous these commercials were in the 1970s and 1980s. They were everywhere, constantly urging us all to write to Pueblo, Colorado for a free catalog. Sadly, I never took 'em up on the offer to find out what the hell was in it.

TOBOR
The second of the three actual toy commercials that aired during the Special. TOBOR was a battery operated robot from Schaper, that was controlled by a "Telesonic" remote. Despite how hi-tech that sounds, all it did was make a clicking sound the toy responded to.

Clearly kids were much more easy to entertain in the 1970s.

For some reason it was very important for Schaper to point out that "TOBOR is 'robot' spelled backwards." Did that really affect sales in any way? Did some harried parent ever think, "Say, 
I wasn't gonna buy one of those things for my kid, but that backwards business pushed me over the edge!

Revlon Cream-On Blush
One of many commercials for women's products. Who was the demographic for this show again?

Whirlpool
Wow. If ever there was a commercial that didn't age well, it's this one. It features endless scenes of a majestic bald eagle swooping over a lake and plucking fish out of the water, accompanied by a gravely-voiced narrator who ominously drones on about how our country will be doomed unless consumers buy American products:

"This country may be in danger, and could be losing something we can't afford to lose. Once in this country, when a man produced a product, it was the best he could possibly make. He stood behind it, with pride. He lived a simple idea— do it right, or don't do it at all. Nobody told him that; no government agency dictated it. And it built a standard of living, for the world to aim at. Now that idea is threatened, by the slipshod, the second-rate. For some it means a quick death for the standards we have built. Some are fighting this threat. Whirlpool Corporation believes in one simple idea: to continue to design, build and service home appliances with pride. So you can live with them, comfortably for years— or they will not build them at all. If we can't keep this simple idea alive, then indeed, WE are the endangered species."

Did you get all that? If consumers don't buy American products, then our country will become extinct. This message is especially ironic, since at one point Whirlpool was the biggest employers in my hometown. Then the 1990s happened, and they begin quietly moving their manufacturing to Mexico, and laying off workers by the hundreds. Sadly, their factory closed for good in 2010.

Anacin
Again with the drug commercials in a kids' show! Although perhaps this ad would come in handy for anyone watching this train wreck of a special.

Woolite
For all the kids out there who hand wash their fine delicates.

Sheer Indulgence Panty Hose
Again, who the hell did CBS think their target demographic was here? Young upwardly mobile gals working their first professional jobs?

McDonald's Egg McMuffin
I was gonna comment that McDonald's really dropped the ball here by not going with a commercial for Happy Meals during what was ostensibly a kids' show. But then I remembered that the Happy Meal didn't come out till 1979— a year after the Special aired. So never mind.

By the way, the McDonald's Marketing Team was really into tongue twisting jingles back in the day. They had their Big Mac one, which went, "Two All Beef Patties, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Cheese, Pickles, Onion On A Sesame Seed Bun," which ran for years. Then there was this one— "There's More In The Middle Of An Egg McMuffin Than An Egg In The Middle Of A Muffin."

CBS promo
Another in-house ad, this time for the short-lived sitcom Flying High

It was your typical "jiggle" sitcom of the 70s, which were all short on plot and long on buxom young babes in various stages of undress. Unlike most of these shows though, this one was an equal opportunity exploitation vehicle, as it included a couple of guys for the ladies in the audience to leer at.

Lincoln-Mercury Cars
Again with the cars! How many kids had the budget to buy a dull looking new 1978 car?

The Wiz promo
A trailer for the film version of The Wiz, which was based on the musical of the same name, which was a race-swapped version of the classic 1933 film The Wizard Of Oz. This one features numerous clips of audience members excited exclaiming how great the movie was, in a flailing and obvious attempt to generate interest in it.

While most kids love The Wizard Of Oz, I can't imagine very many of them getting into this off-putting updated version.

FTD Wishing Well Bouquet
A commercial featuring a FTD's Mercury mascot, clad in a form-fitting gold spandex onesie. Because kids send flowers to one another all the time, dontcha know.

I don't ever remember seeing this ad back in the day, so I have a feeling their fey, be-helmeted spokesperson was most likely laughed off the screen and was quietly and quickly retired.

Fruit Of The Loom underwear
Kids the world over just love getting underwear for Xmas, so this commercial was a natural for them.

Bell Telephone
Their second commercial of the evening, as they were apparently also a major sponsor. This one touted the benefits of calling long distance, which used to be a thing and something I'm sure kids did on a regular basis.

No Nonsense Panty Hose
Yet another puzzling product to advertise during a children's show. This one stands out for featuring this ghastly and horrifying image, which will be forever seared into my brain.

Twice As Fresh air freshener
I've nothing to say about this commercial, other than once again, it misses its target demographic by a country mile.

Kenner Star Wars toys
FINALLY, something that makes some damn sense— a commercial for Star Wars toys during a STAR WARS show! How hard was that to figure out? They should have aired four or five of these during the Special!

At least in 1978 they actually had some Star Wars toys to sell! If you'll recall, the year before, Kenner actually sold consumers and empty box!

See, in 1977 Kenner signed on to produce action figures based on the film. Unfortunately it takes at least a year to develop such figures and get them into stores. Kenner desperately wanted to cash in on Star Wars mania for the 1977 Xmas season, but didn't have anything tangible. 

Incredibly, they came up with the idea to see the Star Wars Early Bird Package. For the low price of $7.99 (over $40 bucks in 2023 dollars!), parents could buy their kids a box filled with stickers, pictures and a mail-in certificate that could be sent in and redeemed for the first four Star Wars figures, which would arrive sometime in early 1978.

I can't tell if that idea is genius or insidious.

Colony Wine
Incredibly, the final ad of the evening was for a brand of wine that doesn't exist anymore. Are you freakin' kidding me? A goddamn wine commercial in a children's show? What the hell?

Although to be fair, any adults who were roped into watching the Special with their kids likely needed a couple belts of booze by this point in the evening.

By the way, that's actor Spencer Milligan— aka Rick Marshall of Land Of The Lost fame— in the Colony Wine commercial. Wow, good gig!

I'm halfway convinced that Milligan also appeared earlier in the Anacin commercial as well, as the friendly pill-pushing druggist. It certainly looks like him to me, but the video quality's so poor it's honestly hard to tell for sure.

So there you go— yet another perplexing aspect of the Star Wars Holiday Special— one that's just as baffling as the show itself!

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