The first television commercial was for the Bulova Watch Company in 1941. We started watching commercials before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and in the same year Mount Rushmore was finished. Overall, it’s safe to say commercial advertising is as American as baseball and American pie!
The best of the best are 80s and 90s commercials. These decades were a time of great peace in the country, and we all just wanted to laugh, smile, and sing along to the infectious jingles.
It’s time for a retro flashback! Here are some of the best commercials from the 1980s and 1990s.
Famous 1980s Commercials
The 80s was a totally tubular time! New video game consoles were released, Apple took over the world, and a guy even jumped off a building! Some of the most famous slogans ever created also came out in this decade.
Here are famous 80s commercials that we still talk about today!
Popular 80s Commercials
- “How Many Licks?” – Tootsie Pop
- “1984” – Apple
- “Where’s the Beef?” – Wendy’s
- “Peter Comes Home” – Folgers
- “Piano Recital” – McDonald’s
- “New Neighbors” – Diet Pepsi
- “My Buddy and Kid Sister” – Hasbro
- “R.O.B.” – Nintendo
- “Silver Bullet Diner” – Coors Light
- “You Can’t Beat the Feeling” – Coca-Cola
- “Oh Yeah!” – Kool-Aid
- “Leggo My Eggo” – Eggo
- “It Does a Body Good” – Milk
- “7UP Gold” – 7UP
- “10 Story Jump” – New York Seltzer
- “The Maker” – Sega Genesis
- “Teddy Ruxpin” – Worlds of Wonder
1. “How Many Licks?” – Tootsie Pop
The Mr. Owl ad for Tootsie Pop, which was first released in 1970, is one of the most memorable commercials ever made. In many ways, this commercial has taken on a life of its own, and now the menagerie of characters are on the front of t-shirts and lunch boxes.
The “How Many Licks?” commercial was always on TV in the 80s. In the ad, a young, curious boy asks the famous question: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Like all the best questions, there is no right answer. The only truth is that the Tootsie Pop brand is still going strong with more than 60 million of these lollipops made every single day!
2. “1984” – Apple
Before they took over the world, Apple blew everyone’s minds with their anti-conformist “1984” ad, which is considered one of the best commercials of all time. This daring ad shows a bodacious woman fighting against a dystopian society’s “Unification of Thoughts.”
The commercial, which was inspired by George Orwell’s novel of the same name, only aired once before it was pulled from air. Still, it had an enormous impact. In fact, $155 million Macintosh computers were sold just 3 months after the commercial was released. Apple went on to become one of the most influential companies of all time.
3. “Where’s the Beef?” – Wendy’s
In 1984, Wendy’s took the world by storm when an old lady named Clara Peller critically asked, “Where’s the Beef?” It’s been decades since this commercial was first on TV, and even to this day, we’re still talking about it. That’s some seriously powerful advertising!
“Always Fresh, Never Frozen” is now the slogan used in Wendy’s campaigns, but people haven’t forgotten about the original. In fact, while supply chain issues disrupted beef production during the COVID-19 pandemic, customers took to Twitter to ask, “Where’s the Beef?”
4. “Peter Comes Home” – Folgers
Heartstrings were tugged when Folgers released the “Peter Comes Home for Christmas” commercial. The 80s ad was on television for a remarkable 17 years.
Folgers wanted to relate to their viewing audience. The story of the commercial is that Peter comes home from college in time for Christmas morning and brews coffee for his ecstatic family. After watching this ad, your heart is as warm as that coffee inside those mugs.
5. “Piano Recital” – McDonald’s
In a classic 80s commercial from McDonald’s, an adorable girl overcomes her stage fright at a piano recital. She plays a Mickey D’s inspired rendition of “Für Elise” that would make Beethoven proud. You can achieve anything with the promise of delicious McNuggets!
After the ad aired, kids suddenly had an interest in learning piano. McDonald’s also experienced its golden decade earning $727 million in 1989 alone. Years later, Gen-Xers still remember the tune from this iconic 80s commercial.
6. “New Neighbors” – Diet Pepsi
Michael J. Fox was in his prime in the late 80s. Back to the Future had made over $11 million in its opening weekend, and “Family Ties” was pulling in record numbers. Diet Pepsi took advantage of his star power with this famous 80s commercial.
The ad shows Fox trying to woo a new neighbor with a can of Diet Pepsi. An extremely 80s song starts playing as he goes to great lengths to find a Diet Pepsi for the blonde bombshell. This ad was just one slam dunk in a big year for PepsiCo. The soft drink brand was the largest company in the industry and was selling products in nearly 150 countries.
7. “My Buddy and Kid Sister” – Hasbro
My Buddy and Kid Sister weren’t as popular as Cabbage Patch and American Girl. However, 80s kids still get all warm and fuzzy for the ads and the catchy jingle that went with them.
The reputation of My Buddy has been somewhat ruined by the Child’s Play franchise. However, when these toys were first released by Hasbro in 1985, they were completely cute and innocent. That innocence is front and center in the commercials, which showed wholesome blonde children playing with their dolls.
8. “R.O.B.” – Nintendo
The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out in 1985. For the first time, we could play classics like Duck Hunt, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, and Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo advertised the NES with a commercial featuring R.O.B. the Robot, an iconic character in the canon. Only about 50,000 consoles sold at first, but by the end of the year, people were starting to catch on to the hype. Much of this success is due to Super Mario Bros. which to date has sold more than 40 million copies.
9. “Silver Bullet Diner” – Coors Light
We all have a favorite hangout. It was Central Perk for the buddies in Friends, the Gilmore Girls were huge fans of Luke’s Diner, and everyone in Seinfeld got their caffeine fix at Monk’s Café.
Coors Light had their own cozy regular place with the fictional Silver Bullet Diner. The commercial was one of their earliest advertising campaigns for Coors Light, coming out only 6 years after the brand was released. Today, Coors earns about $117.48 million for cases of their domestic beer.
10. “You Can’t Beat the Feeling” – Coca-Cola
In the 1980s, soft drink sales were beginning to go down the drain. Coca-Cola reinvented the wheel and came up with a new version of their classic flavor, releasing an ad campaign to go with it.
This 80s ad took advantage of Footloose mania, showing people dancing to “You Can’t Beat the Feeling.” Coke’s customers enjoyed the commercial, but they didn’t really like the new flavor. They started to feel nostalgic for the early version of the soft drink, and as a result, sales increased when Coke went back to their original flavor.
11. “Oh Yeah!” – Kool-Aid
Who isn’t familiar with the red Kool-Aid guy? The first time he burst onto the scene was in 1954. Since then he has been in a number of ads, always maintaining the catchphrase that made him famous.
The Kool-Aid Man starred in many 80s commercials, including this one for Surfin’ Berry. The ad is a hodgepodge of bright colors and noises, almost like someone put way too much sugar in their drink. You couldn’t watch TV in this decade without seeing one of Kool-Aid’s commercials.
12. “Leggo My Eggo” – Eggo
Much to the chagrin of English teachers everywhere, “Leggo My Eggo” became a popular slogan in 1972. Ever since then, people have refused to leggo of Eggos.
In this 80s commercial for Eggo, a kid uses the power of physics to create a machine that will prevent his brother from stealing his frozen waffles. Even today, people would want a machine like this one since they still love Eggo. Kellogg’s even saw a 2% profit increase in 2017 after Eggos were featured on the hit Netflix show, Stranger Things.
13. “It Does a Body Good” – Milk
An awkward, gangly boy tried to woo a supermodel. In this famous 80s commercial, he slowly morphs into a stronger man with every sip from his glass of milk.
The “Milk Does a Body Good” commercials didn’t really make anyone run out and buy milk, but they did inspire a focus group to take part in a study about a decade later. That focus group inspired the “Got Milk?” slogan that became even more famous in the 90s.
14. “7UP Gold” – 7UP
For a limited time, an apple cinnamon flavor of 7UP was available. The drink, called 7UP Gold, was a dud when it was first released, making up only .01% of the company’s market.
7UP Gold still found something worth celebrating in their commercials. To the tune of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” a man makes an upscale restaurant even cooler by selling pizza and cans of 7UP Gold. Bottles and cans of this soda were only on shelves for a year, but this 80s commercial is still a nostalgic favorite among the few who gave it a sip.
15. “10 Story Jump” – New York Seltzer
It’s hard to make a boring product like seltzer seem exciting, but Randy Miller, the company president of New York Seltzer, found a way to make it happen. He jumped 10 stories off the Mondrian Hotel in Hollywood to promote his drink in 1987.
The high energy ad also featured rock music, a leashed tiger, and an attractive blonde in a jean jacket. Unfortunately, the cool factor didn’t really pay off as New York Seltzer was discontinued in the early 90s. The good news is you can still find this seltzer brand in limited release at select Targets, 7-Elevens, and World Markets.
16. “The Maker” – Sega Genesis
Following in the footsteps of Nintendo, Sega made its way into every gamer’s heart with the Genesis in 1989. The first commercial featured the Maker, a wise guru who cured boredom with pixelated power.
Sega was in direct competition with Nintendo at the time and was seriously losing the battle. In fact, the console was completely discontinued in 1999. The 80s ads still have a warm place in the heart of video game collectors around the world. You’ll find retro games like Golden Axe, Mystic Defender, Tetris, and Sonic the Hedgehog still being played today.
17. “Teddy Ruxpin” – Worlds of Wonder
Frankenstein has nothing on the Teddy Ruxpin commercials. This stuffed bear, released by Worlds of Wonder in 1986, was a digitized version of your typical teddy. Batteries were included, allowing him to blink and ask about your day.
Teddy Ruxpin also came with storybook cassettes, so he could read you a bedtime story. People still love this fun 80s toy. He even got a modern makeover in 2016, complete with LCD eyes capable of 40 animated expressions and an internal hard drive with 10 stories about his adventures.
- “The Baker” – Dunkin’ Donuts
- “I’ve Got It Covered” – Heinz Ketchup
- “The Muncher Menace” – Chewits
- “Dancing Woman” – Glade
- “Gremlins Cereal” – Warner Brothers
Famous 1990s Commercials
The 90s was all that and a bag of chips! Toys, candy, food, and denim outfits were all over TV. The advertising jingle was also really popular.
Here are popular 90s commercials that everyone loved!
Popular 90s Commercials
- “Skip-It” – Tiger Toys
- “Nobody Better Lay a Finger on My Butterfinger” – Butterfinger
- “Socker Boppers” – Big Time Toys
- “Flintstones” – Fruity Pebbles
- “Pizza in the Morning” – Bagel Bites
- “Operation” – Hasbro
- “Blues Brothers” – Super Soaker
- “Wonder Ball” – Nestlé
- “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” – Taco Bell
- “Baby Bottle Pop” – Topps
- “Crystal Pepsi” – Pepsi
- “Nickelodeon Magazine” – Nickelodeon
- “Doodle Bear” – Play Along
- “Lowest Price” – Survival Car Insurance
- “501 Jail” – Levi’s Jeans
- “The Freshmaker” – Mentos
1. “Skip-It” – Tiger Toys
The theme song is really specific and all the kids look time-stamped. The Skip-It commercials in the 90s highlight a product in its prime!
Skip-Its were released by Tiger Toys in the 1980s, but really found their stride in the next decade. The commercials were a big reason why they were so successful, airing on popular networks like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Skip-It now has a spot on Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Toys of All Time.
2. “Nobody Better Lay a Finger on My Butterfinger” – Butterfinger
Kids gobbled up these 90s commercials starring Bart Simpson! In the ads, he’d take a bite of the delicious chocolate and then follow it up with the catchphrase: “Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger.”
“The Simpsons” had millions of viewers in the 90s, so everyone loved these funny commercials. The success of the ads even led Butterfingers to reportedly make more than $120 million in sales each year in the decade.
3. “Socker Boppers” – Big Time Toys
More fun than a pillow fight, these giant boxing gloves are responsible for many black eyes and bruises. You couldn’t go into any 90s household without getting assaulted by Socker Boppers.
The catchy commercials hit it on the nose (with a bopper). The ads featured a song that explained the point of the toy. As the song played, kids with mullets enthusiastically beat each other. Socker Boppers were simple toys with no bells and whistles, and you can still find them in select stores across the country.
4. “Flintstones” – Fruity Pebbles
The Flintstones have been the mascots for Fruity Pebbles since 1971. The cereal poured its way into our hearts all throughout the 90s with a series of commercials that were always on with Saturday morning cartoons.
Post Foods kept America’s love for the Flintstones alive with Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles ads in the 90s. Even today, these cereals are bestsellers in the United States. In fact, sales for Fruity Pebbles jumped to over $170 million in 2018.
5. “Pizza in the Morning” – Bagel Bites
Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, and pizza at supper time! Bagel Bites, a snack invented by tennis partners Bob Moshner and Stanley Garczynski, kept every kid fueled after school with their fun 90s commercials.
The Bagel Bites jingle was all over the place in the 90s, and people are still singing praises over the brand to this day. In fact, 1.24% of American households eat 5 or more boxes per month!
6. “Operation” – Hasbro
Aspiring doctors all over the country were able to practice on Cavity Sam, the red-nosed patient of the board game Operation. You couldn’t escape this game or its commercials in the 90s.
One of the most popular ads showed a man wheeled into the operating room on a gurney. He meets a bunch of kids wearing scrubs on the other side, and they diagnose him with either a Charlie horse or a broken heart. It’s safe to say these kids probably didn’t go to medical school!
7. “Blues Brothers” – Super Soaker
Dr. Lonnie Johnson, a nuclear engineer, spent his off-hours at NASA developing a passion project: the Super Soaker. This toy then went on to have a bunch of 90s commercials that are still well-loved to this day.
27 million Super Soakers sold in 1990, and it could be because the commercials were so popular. The ads were also really clever. For instance, this funny 90s commercial pays homage to the Blues Brothers. In the ad, two kids soak a hoity girl named Buffy and her khaki-wearing friends at her pool party.
8. “Wonder Ball” – Nestlé
Do you remember when cereal boxes had prizes inside? Nestlé’s Wonder Balls were the sweet alternative, featuring mini hard candies and stickers in the middle of each sphere.
Wonder Balls were banned in 2004 since they posed a choking hazard. For a while, though, we were able to enjoy the catchy Wonder Ball song in these popular 90s commercials.
9. “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” – Taco Bell
An adorable chihuahua named Gidget was the mascot for Taco Bell for 3 years. In 1997, he starred in an ad where he seemingly found puppy love with another chihuahua in a busy town. Of course, it turns out he was actually seeking out a hard-shell taco.
Taco Bell’s marketing is still going strong, but people are nostalgic for Gidget. The lovable pooch is one of the best advertising animals of all time. He even found Hollywood fame by starring in the Legally Blonde sequel!
10. “Baby Bottle Pop” – Topps
At the dawn of a new millennium, Baby Bottle Pops took the world by storm. This candy was marketed to older kids who were trying to grow up too fast.
The popular ads showed preteens enjoying the candy as they were at school. These 1990s commercials are still well-loved because of the insanely catchy song. It was even covered by the Jonas Brothers and turned into a music video in the late-2000s!
11. “Crystal Pepsi” – Pepsi
Crystal Pepsi was released in 1992 to test markets in Denver, Sacramento, Dallas, and Providence. To advertise the launch, PepsiCo. released a minute-long ad featuring Van Halen’s “Right Now.”
This 90s commercial is a time capsule, showing a product that lasted for less than a year. Many people are still fond of Crystal Pepsi and are campaigning for its return.
12. “Nickelodeon Magazine” – Nickelodeon
90s kids have a warm place in their hearts for Nickelodeon. Next to slap bracelets and The Backstreet Boys, they were obsessed with the cartoons and shows. Nickelodeon Magazine was also a big hit!
Slime time, Ren, Stimpy, Kenan, Kel…this publication captured what made Nickelodeon so awesome. The commercials were equally cool, showing kids finding creative ways to ask their parents for a subscription with the tagline, “Nickelodeon Magazine, Please!”
13. “Doodle Bear” – Play Along
Some kids write on everything but the paper. The Doodle Bear gave rascals everywhere a way to unleash their creativity!
In the very 90s commercials, young girls drew on the Doodle Bear as an upbeat song played in the background. Each bear was machine-washable and came with temporary tattoos. Today, you can buy a new and improved Doodle Bear on Amazon.
14. “Lowest Price” – Survival Car Insurance
Most people are familiar with Nationwide, Allstate, and Geico. Back in the 90s, however, it was all about the cheesy Survival Car Insurance commercials.
A Scientologist named Richie Acunto started the insurance company as a way for other members to get protection on their vehicles. However, Survival Car Insurance was so successful, it eventually got an even wider target audience. The company later tanked when their licensing was called into question, but many people still remember these commercials from the 90s.
15. “501 Jail” – Levi’s Jeans
Denim was very popular in the 90s, and many were obsessed with pretty bad boys like Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger. It only made sense for Levi to combine both in their famous commercials.
Levi’s ads were popular in the 90s, especially this minute-long ad starring the then up-and-comer, Brad Pitt. In the ad, Pitt is released from jail and greeted by a woman in a convertible. The first thing she does, naturally, is toss him a pair of Levi Jeans as the prison warden jealously watches. Maybe he’s just jealous of Pitt’s future career, and the fact that Levi’s makes a reported $5 billion every year.
16. “The Freshmaker” – Mentos
The Freshmaker had a run of commercials in the 90s, all featuring their trademark, upbeat jingle. Bad breath has never been so catchy! In one of their commercials, a surfer dude gives Spicoli a run for his money by getting into a random car at a traffic light as his friends cheer him on.
There’s no clear connection between jumping into a car and mints, but either way, Mentos found massive success in the 90s. In fact, the masterminds behind the brand, brothers Augusto and Giorgio Perfetti, are ranked as one of the world’s top candy billionaires.
90s Commercials Honorable Mentions
- Miss Cleo Tarot Readings
- “Wassup?!” – Budweiser
- “Perfection” – Milton Bradley
- “Betty Crocker” – Gushers
- “Northern Lights” – Coca-Cola
Just because the golden age of commercials is behind us, it doesn’t mean your brand can’t try this ad strategy. If your campaign is as good as these 80s and 90s commercials, you can refer to it again and again in all areas of your advertising.
Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ may reign supreme, but who knows? The commercial may just rise again!
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