The drastic changes in TV advertisements over the years

Oct 21, 2022
Source: Getty

Recently, I was watching one of those semi-regular nostalgia segments about old TV ads. There were some types of commercials that are obviously not with us because the product doesn’t exist or as in the case of cigarettes, advertising laws have changed. But why have some types of ads gone or changed drastically while the product still exists?

Soap ads were big in the ’60s. We couldn’t bare the embarrassment of waiting to be told that we needed Palmolive Gold. Our partners were secreting bars of soap under our pillows to give us a not-so-subtle hint that we reeked of BO. Then there was Lime Fresh, where a troupe of calypso dancers insisted that we weren’t really clean unless our skin was tingling with lime freshness. I used it once as a teenager, and it was so tingly that I was convinced I had grabbed a bar of Solvol by mistake. Shower gel made its debut in the 80s with Norsca leading the pack. According to the ad, by applying this in the shower, we would be treated to Scandinavian streams and forests, pine cones, horseback riding, and finally a very friendly episode with the missus in the bathroom. Sounds very exhausting to me. The soap ads seem to have disappeared, so I’m guessing that we’ve evolved to the extent that we don’t need to be told to use soap anymore.

Body odour was also dealt with around this time by the introduction of spray deodorant. “It’s Saturday night, our work is done, and we are going into town” meant that we’d had our once-a-week shower or bath and sprayed enough Spray Fresh into the atmosphere to create our very own hole in the ozone layer. Another brand jumped on the hippy political protest craze of the time – by telling us we needed Uncle Sam deodorant to stop us from stinking. Also, let’s not forget about the selection of young women who couldn’t get by without their Mum brand deodorant. They would prattle off a list of things they could get by without (even the boyfriend was added to the list) before finally declaring their devotion to their favourite roll-on. More recently, deodorant ads have moved on from us simply not being smelly to us being super attractive to the opposite sex. One current product branded with the name of a large predatory cat implies that if young men spray this concoction all over their bodies, they’ll be beating women off with a stick. Not having witnessed this personally, I’ll have to take their word for it.

Toothpaste ads are scarce now. The two front-runners from the ’70s and ’80s were the McLeans and Colgate brands. The Mcleans ad, which had the tag line, “Are your Mcleans showing?”, featured a very toothy young lady with crowds of people around her reassuring her that her Mcleans were indeed showing. All this was happening while her hapless boyfriend was losing his mind over her pearly whites. Colgate took the more scientific approach with the dear school teacher, Mrs Marsh, explaining to her children how the fluoride “does get in” to your teeth even though “teeth are tougher than chalk” and the brown cola she used for her in-class demo wasn’t nearly as potent as we imagine fluoride is. It turns out that the education department later investigated Mrs Marsh for overspending her classroom supply budget on chalk and cola.

A rethink about how women are portrayed on our television screens has seen a change in underwear commercials over the past 50 years. In the ’70s and ’80s, the focus was on women. Remember the uh-oh Razzamataz ads with grown men turning into Benny Hill slapstick clones at the mere sight of a lady’s pair of pantyhose? This trend continued with the slightly more risque Ants Pants ad, with a scantily clad girl, a cast of ants getting dangerously close to her nether regions, and a very friendly echidna who responded to the classic “Sic ’em Rex” tagline. In this era, men and their undies were rarely seen on TV. However, there has been a gender shift over the last ten years. It started with Pat Rafter telling us about his “very comfy undies”. Now we have male models of all shapes and sizes telling us how bamboo undies support our family jewels and use thermodynamic science to keep them cool in all situations. Funnily enough, it hasn’t been a complete turnaround as we don’t get footage of young women chasing these men in their bamboo boxers down the street, and the thought of any echidnas or other native wildlife wandering around their goodies is definitely out of the question.

Toilet paper was big in the last century. In the ’70s, there were children’s choirs merrily singing about your tra-la-la (the viewer was left to figure out which body part this referred to) while spruiking the virtues of Lady Scott toilet paper. Unfortunately, the real Lady Dorothy Scott from Adelaide took offence at being the butt of the playground toilet jokes doing the rounds. The manufacturers eventually provided Lady Scott with a handsome cash settlement, and all was well. The other big toilet paper ad in the late ’80s was the Sorbent one with the chubby little dude whose day is going to poop (he buttons his shirt wrong, spills a box of breakfast cereal on the table and has the humiliation of Mum combing his hair), until he finally gets his turn in the toilet and the joy of using Sorbent. Perhaps the toilet paper ads dried up during the COVID toilet paper wars when brand loyalty was the last thing on your mind as you grabbed whatever paper was left on the shelf. After all, the well-being of your tra-la-la was at stake, and recycled 2-ply sheets were better than nothing at all.

Bread ads seem to have faded away. In the past, we were constantly saying “good on you, Mum,” for choosing Tip Top for our lunchbox sandwiches. This was on top of congratulating her for using Meadow Lea margarine as a sandwich spread. A bit earlier than this, music legend John Farnham put on his best cockney voice to implore us to “use your loaf” and eat Sunblest bread. Later on, we got a bit sexy with the Bornhoffen ads. You remember the one where the diligent country baker played by prolific actor Paul Chubb, resisted the temptations of a bevy of comely lasses until he’d baked and eaten his bread? The Tip Top mum would have been disgusted.

Remember your favourite breakfast cereals and their associated TV characters? Cereal was sugary fun. We had chocolate monkeys (Coco the monkey), fruity birds (Sam Toucan), tasty tigers (Tony the tiger), and even giant grains of wheat (King Willie Weetie). These characters would cavort across our TV screens, taking us on 30-second adventures into surreal breakfast lands. But, by the ’70s, breakfast had taken a serious turn, and the fun ads had given way to recruitment drives for us to be either Nutri Grain iron men or Special K women with flat tummies and strong calves. Later, cricket legend Brett Lee challenged us to see how many Weet-Bix we could fit in our pie hole. The sporty cereal trend has continued, but running alongside current cereal ads are claims directed at the baby boomer market. These cereals promote longevity, promise to help protect everything from your heart to your colon, and hint at promoting regular bowel movements. Perhaps they should consider lightening the topic by bringing back the idea of cartoon characters to promote these cereals. I don’t know. Poopy the Pig or Farty the Frog?

Can you remember any TV ads that have drastically changed or disappeared entirely?

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