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Retro Flashback: 33 Memorable Commercials from the 1980s and 1990s

I’m a proud child of the 1980s. I remember watching Back to the Future when it was a fairly new release, I owned more than one pair of leg warmers and jelly shoes, and my mom would record cartoons onto now-obsolete media called VHS tapes.

Therefore, I was also old enough to enjoy the sheer madness that was the early 1990s, when commercials went all out to grab kids’ attention and weren’t ashamed to resort to cheap tricks to get people to watch. You know, when advertising for food and toys was fast-paced, brightly-colored, and full of as many flashing lights as possible. Each one had its own catchy jingle that got stuck in our heads and drove our parents crazy. Now, TV spots all seem to be cluttered with dreadfully boring people staring at their cell phones for 30 seconds straight. Why would I watch that? Snooze…

My point is, commercials got me pumped back then (unlike now, when I constantly keep my finger poised on the mute button).

So, it’s no wonder that retro commercials are the only ones I’ve remembered for more than 10 minutes after seeing them. Just in case you feel the same way, thirty-two of my favorite retro commercials are embedded or mentioned below — do you remember any of them?

 

Kool-Aid:

The Kool-Aid Man, a gigantic walking pitcher full of red liquid, was one of the most in-your-face brand mascots of the 1980s and 1990s. He was loud, he wore ridiculous outfits, and he frequently barreled through walls and scared the crap out of people in the room. This commercial shows him at his finest!

You might also remember these commercials: Sunny Delight, Capri Sun.

 

Crossfire:

I don’t know a single 1980s kid who didn’t beg their parents for a Crossfire game when it was launched. How could we not, when commercials like this one were thrown in our faces while we watched our Saturday morning cartoons? Caution: Quality Logo Products takes no responsibility for the theme song making its way into your brain on repeat.

You might also remember these commercials: Skip It and Battleship (the game, not the forthcoming crappy movie).

 

Tootsie Pop:

I’d have to rack my brain to think of a recent commercial I look forward to seeing. But this classic Tootsie Pop commercial? It’s just as wonderful now as it ever was! I still think of it every single time I see a Tootsie Pop, more than 20 years later. That’s a sign of an effective commercial, no?

You might also remember these commercials: Jello (It’s Alive!), Fruit Roll-Ups, Twizzlers (“Makes mouths happy”), and Simpsons Butterfinger (“No one better lay a finger on my Butterfinger!”).

 

Anti-Drug PSAs:

Ah, yes…the anti-drug public service announcements. Making children terrified of eggs since the 1980s.

You might also remember these commercials: Schoolhouse Rock PSA and Turtle Tips PSA (featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

 

My Little Pony:

These toys have come a long way through the years, but I recall these versions the best. I still collect My Little Ponies (only the vintage ones) and think of this theme song when I see them!

You might also remember these commercials: Hot Wheels, Creepy Crawlers, Teddy Ruxpin, and Jem.

 

Cheetos X’s and O’s and Cookie Crisp:

The general consensus among my generation is that Cheetos X’s and O’s were the best type of Cheetos we’ve ever put in our mouths. They were the perfect combination of puffy and crunchy, with the ideal amount of cheese! They weren’t exactly healthy, but they hit the spot. (Skip to 1:13 to see this ad). Kind of like Cookie Crisp cereal (skip to 1:43 to see this one).

You might also remember these commercials: Goldfish (“I love the fishes ‘cuz they’re so delicious…”) and Bagel Bites (“Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening…”).

 

McDonald’s D.L.T.:

I’ve been a vegetarian since 1987, so I didn’t try a McDonald’s D.L.T. However, if Jason Alexander (George Costanza from “Seinfeld”) is excited enough to sing and dance about it, then you know it’s quality!

You might also remember these commercials: Kellogg’s Just Right cereal (featuring Tori Amos) and Burger King’s “Not for Herb” series.

 

Pantene:

You may have heard the tagline, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” That was made famous by Pantene, thanks to this commercial. Just look at that mop of teased hair and try to tell me you’re not jealous of her!

You might also remember these commercials: Snuggle fabric softener (what an adorable bear!), Meow Mix (singing cats FTW), and Juicy Fruit Gum (“The taste is gonna move ya!”).

 

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…

Check out these 3 as a bonus. Unless you lived in the Chicago area, you may not recall these local gems: Victory Auto Wreckers (the car door falls right off), Eagle Man (“Look at those low rates!”), and Empire Carpet (I’ll forever remember their phone number).

It’s so surreal that many of these commercials are more than 20 years old now! Somehow, I never thought the day would come when I’d be reminiscing about retro TV ads…

If you’re fascinated with nostalgia and you have free time, then you may want to scour YouTube for more classic commercials sometime. I promise you, it’s a retro gold mine! You’ll get sucked in to a black hole before you can ask, “Where’s the beef?”

Do you remember watching any of these commercials in the 1980s or 1990s? Are there any of your favorites I missed? Which modern commercials will we look upon fondly in another 20 years, if any?

Image credit to Clipart.com and QualityLogoProducts.com.


Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

Comments

  1. Juliette

    Wow. That post brought back a TON of memories. :)

    How about this gem (that I discovered not long ago on an old VHS tape of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, complete with commercials): http://youtu.be/mucuLrWHGqc

    Yep, that’s Brad Pitt doing a Pringles commercial. Gotta love it!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      OMG!!! THE PRINGLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How did I ever forget this amazing gem!!!!! Awesome!

  2. Amy Swanson

    Holy crap, this was a walk down memory lane, Jill! It’s funny though, for not having heard the ads or their taglines in 15+ years I’m still able to sing along with them without skipping a bit, haha! The power of advertising I guess ;)

    I’m now craving Pizza Bagels and Kool-aid! Man!

    Great post, so much fun to read and watch!! Thank you!!

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    Crossfire! You’ll get caught up the…CROSSFIRE.

    I can still sing that commercial. Do they even make that game anymore?

    And oh man, I miss Cheeto’s Xs and Os. They would make so much money if they brought these back for a limited time.

  4. Cybernetic SAM

    “I’m NOT a CHICKEN, YOU’RE A TURKEY!” this is awesome, I literally had bagel bites this morning! I was eating them anytime! It is kind of weird how your whole childhood can be wrapped up in these advertisements and I didn’t even realize we were at that point with them being nostalgic. I guess that is the modern world they did say that the up and coming generations are going to start becoming more nostalgic about things quicker, due to the fast pace of technology and our ability to find them the way we do. This IS CRAY! This was probably one of the most entertaining posts! Great job!!!! I bet it was a lot of fun to do the research for this one!

  5. Jen

    The Hot Wheels commercial are too funny, I remember thinking “those kids are going to get hit in the face with flying metal cars”, ahhh good times. And I will forever remember and love the Tootsie Pop commercial…the world may never know :)

  6. Amanda

    Great blog post Jill! I remember so many of these commercials. Such a fun trip down memory lane.

  7. Rachel

    I had the “My Little Pony” song stuck in my head for hours after reading this. :) Awesome post, Jill — this was tons of fun to read (and watch)!

  8. Candice J.

    My favorite would have to be a tie between the Kool-Aid commercial and Tootsie Pop. I love Kool-Aid just because I used to drink it all the time as a kid so when I saw the commercials I was like “Oh Yeah!” ha-ha they made them just for me. Plus he was just so cool! Besides, What other pitcher filled with red drink could get a party started??? No One but Kool-Aid that’s who! I LOVE tootsie rolls! It was the only chocolate candy you could convince me to eat for YEARS! So when this came out I was like, man how many licks does it take to get to the center???? I tried 3 then tried to bite it, almost broke a tooth. So after I figured out the Owl was a d*mn liar I set out to find out on my own. After about 300 licks I figured whatever the number was I didn’t have the patience to figure it out. I’ve never had a tootsie pop again. I think they may have ruined that for me lol. Oh well! Still love tootsie rolls tho! Another one I always loved was the Smokey The Bear PSA letting me know that only I could prevent forest fires. Boy how I missed those times!

  9. Candice J.

    Oh yeah School House Rock was AWESOME!!! They need to bring that show back pronto! I think I’m going to buy their DVD if they have one for my daughter. How else will she find out about “I’m Just a Bill”!!

  10. James Walker

    The defining advert of the 1980s for us living in Nottingham, UK was for the cough sweet Tunes. In this, a man with a blocked nose requests ‘ A 2nd class return to Dottingham, please.’ Consequently, people always refer to us as this when they visit. We’ve just recreated this advert and given it a twist to help promote reading and literacy because it’s become such a defining advert of our age. You can view it at the link below. I wonder which advert your readers would most like to recreate and how they would change it? http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/title/second-class-return-to-dottingham–please/id/6545

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