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Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain

There were some great commercials in the ‘80’s.  The first of which was on NatGeo’s ‘80’s Top Ten was the mighty mouth of John Moschito.  His motormouth was tailor-made for a decade that had a need for speed.  He says “I taught myself when I was 12 and pretty much was told to shut up for 15 years”.  John Moschito’s world record was 586 spoken words per minute.  To harness John’s talent, FedEx ad agency hires superstar commercial director Joe Saddlemeyer, a star director who is used to doing things his way.  The theme of the FedEx commercial was “we get things done fast”.  The FedEx ad was a huge success.  

Jake Holmes is an American singer-songwriter and jingle writer who began a recording career in the 1960’s.  Holmes is the author of the song “Dazed and Confused”, later reworked by Led Zeppelin.  Holmes also composed the music to the U.S. Army recruitment jingle “Be All That You Can Be” in the 1980’s.  Holmes also wrote the “I’m A Pepper” jingle for Dr. Pepper soft drink.

Maurice Grey was awarded a royal appointment in 1860 for developing a machine that dramatically increased the speed of the production of mustard.  However, needing financing, which he obtained in 1866 from Auguaste Poupon, another Dijon mustard manufacturer, the Grey-Poupon partnership produced their first mustard around 1866 in Dijon, France.  

Looking to make inroads into the U.S market, Grey Poupon casts their eye om the growing yuppie trend for sophistication.  The trouble was, mustard to most people only meant hot dogs on street corners.  Ad man Stephen Caplan came up with a commercial that could sell old-world class to a new-world market.  “It was myself and my writing partner Larry Elegant sitting around with a jar of mustard between us.  Larry said “what can we do with a Rolls Royce? I remember a scene in the movie Citizen Kane.  They were having a picnic and these amazingly rich cars followed them to the area.  That triggered a thought in my mind to literally have another Rolls pull up and ask for a jar of Grey Poupon as if they were asking for a cup of sugar”.  The line was “pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon”? The reply was “but of course”.  Sales of the mustard increased 100% after the ad was first aired.  The catchphrase was so memorable that it went mainstream, showing up in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World.

Max Headroom first materialized in an ‘80’s cyberpunk tv film made for British television.  He would soon get his own spinoff tv series.  Cinemax runs Max Headroom shows in America.  He quickly gains cult status as the smart-talking, computer generated face of the future.  Coke, who had, for whatever reason, started something called New Coke, believed they attracted the youth market and doubled down by hiring director Ridley Scott, whose 1982 movie Blade Runner  gave a starring role to artificial humans called replicants.  Most people thought Maz Headroom, who was used to sell the product in these commercials, was purely computer-generated.  In truth, he was brought to life by actor Matt Frewer.  Max’ unusual face was enhanced by old-school cosmetics.  The good news was that 76% of youth could identify Max from the New Coke commercials. The bad news was that those same 76% didn’t like the new, sweeter flavor of the drink.  After only 79 days, Coke ditches New Coke (and Max) and brings back the original recipe.

By the late ‘80’s, young women are drinking more beer than ever.  Budweiser spies the perfect opportunity to sell their new lite-calorie beer to both genders as they redefine the phrase “party animal”.  To turn a cheap, low-calorie beer into a symbol of fun-loving ‘80’s youth and success, they give it an iconic makeover by borrowing the very loud voice of Robin Leach, the host of ‘80’s tv show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  Within weeks. Their mascot in these commercials, a pup named Spuds McKenzie, makes the talk show rounds.  Just as his canine star was rising, he’s hit by a near career-ending scandal.  His real name was Honey Tree Evil Eye, Evie for short.  Spuds was a female.  Spuds aka Evie rode out the scandal.  The next Spuds scandal was even worse.  Spuds dolls were made.  Kids were buying them.  A 9-10 year-old collecting merchandise related to beer and cigarettes was a bit much.  By the end of the ‘80’s, Spuds McKenzie became a victim of what we now call cancel culture.  He/she is put into the doghouse permanently.

We’ll end this week hallway through our countdown.  Number 5 is one that, try as we might, us ‘80’s survivors will never forget: Where’s the Beef.  Clara Peller worked at a nail salon.  She is propelled to instant celebrity when she stars in an ad spot for Wendy’s bigger burger.  Wendy’s understood what made them different.  If you come to Wendy’s, you’ll get more beef in your burger.  Since Clara was practically deaf, when it was time for her to talk in the commercial, they had someone laying on the floor who would pull on her leg and she’d say her line of “where’s the beef”.  The simple words and one little old lady conquered America.  “Where’s The Beef” was huge! The spot helps the company take a much bigger bite from the $15 billion burger business.  Over 2 years, their sales have increased by 1/3.  That universal one-liner is a weapon used by wannabe president Walter Mondale as he faced off against Gary Hart for the 1984 democratic nomination.  “When I hear your ideas, I’m reminded of that ad “where’s the beef”, Mondale said.  Mondale ends up using the catchphrase almost as much as Clara.  The catchphrase isn’t powerful enough to unseat Roanld Reagan, however.  When Clara tries to run out her remaining 15 minutes of fame by endorsing Preggo pasta sauce with the line “I found it! Boy, did I find it” , Wendy’s takes their beef out by cancelling her contract.  Clara gets the last laugh with a host of cameo roles in movies and tv as well as public appearances with former NYC mayor Ed Koch and pioneers a by now familiar path of cashing in on her celebrity status until the day she died.  Next week, the final four ads! Below are links to my podcast, Blendertainment   


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