Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas message from InsaneDavid.

A Christmas message from me, InsaneDavid.

Today is Christmas, and as I watch the Pope conduct mass as usual, I have a few things to say.  This year's feature has been all about advertising and as I said in the earlier Appendix, advertising and commercialism may go hand in hand but that wasn't the intention here.  I do grow tired of Political Correctness concerning Christmas.  An example was a banner outside a tourist attraction in San Jose proclaiming "Celebration Trees" in every room of said tourist trap.  They're Christmas trees, not celebration trees, especially when Christmas is mentioned elsewhere on the banner.

No matter what religion you may follow, even a sampling of different religions and faiths such as I do, or none at all, roughly 2000 years ago a child was born.  What that child was or wasn't isn't for me to debate but from that event grew a holiday.  A holiday celebrating and commemorating the birth of a child and gifts presented to a child.  From this child's day sprang thousands of customs and celebrations across the world, more than could ever be documented or known.  I think of Christmas as a children's holiday, I've said that before, but that's what the key representation is to me.  That a child born in a stable could go on to do great things, inspiring things, and more importantly than anything else - make people think about things beyond their status.  That the regular, previously cast off people were as important as everyone else.  That salvation for those previously looked down on as unworthy would be obtained through brotherly love and helping one another.  That those turned away by elitist society deserved to walk with a king.

Isn't the true message of Christmas to give of one's self?  Of our skills, our talents, and our love?  Isn't that truly the representation of the holiday and also the embodiment of Santa Claus?  A symbol that gives all those things to the children of the world, and spreads cheer and good will?  The embodiment of the spirit of Christmas.  A modern symbol of the kindness and joy of being behaved and kind to one another?  I know some people try to tear the legend of Santa Claus apart from the religious root of the holiday, but aren't they truly one in the same - don't they stand for the same things?  Are not they both carriers of stories to enrich the lives and upbringings of the most important thing on this day - children?

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"

Yes, this year's feature was about advertising but as Edmund Vance Cooke once wrote,

It is not the weight of jewel or plate,
Or the fondle of silk or fur;
'Tis the spirit in which the gift is rich,
As the gifts of the Wise Ones were,
And we are not told whose gift was gold,
Or whose was the gift of myrrh.

A last Christmas gift from InsaneDavid for this year, We Three Kings from the Will Vinton Claymation Christmas special...


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 20 - Magnavox Odyssey

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DAY 20 - Magnavox Odyssey

Here it is, the last day, and what better way to end than with the first?  The Magnavox Odyssey was the first home video game system, released in August of 1972 although the prototype was completed in 1968.  Although predated by Steve Russel's "Spacewar!" in 1962 and "Tennis For Two" in 1958, if you wanted to play a video game in the home, it all began with the Odyssey.  It's debatable but even Nolan Bushnell himself got the idea for Pong from the Odyssey (and the first arcade game Bushnell created, Computer Space, was a conversion of Spacewar!)


Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 19 - Coleco Electronic Quarterback

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DAY 19 - Coleco Electronic Quarterback

Yeah, electronic games two days in a row but these are LED handhelds and are of a slightly earlier era.  I simply love this ad because it shows a competitors product, and everyone remembers Mattel Football.  Well here Coleco is pushing their enhanced version as a better game and more importantly a better value.  The tagline at the end "a lot more football for the money" is excellent ad copy.  Of course Mattel would address the shortcomings of their original game with the introduction of Football II.  The more you know: Kevin Flynn plays Electronic Quarterback for a moment in his loft in the film TRON.


Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 18 - Radio Shack VFD Tabletop Games

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DAY 18 - Radio Shack VFD Tabletop Games

Radio Shack used to kick ass. While younger people these days may find that hard to believe, they once stocked so many cool gadgets and electronic games at affordable prices that the stores were very popular during the holidays. VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) tabletop video games are still one of my all time favorite toys. A VFD display is unlike anything else with their glowing illuminated elements. While Coleco would capture the bulk of the VFD market with their arcade licenses ($59.97 per game for those in 1982 - and they still hold that value), Radio Shack / Tandy had some solid games and licenses themselves. Here we have Kingman (a Donkey Kong clone licensed from Tomy), Zackman (a Dig Dug clone licensed from Bandai), and Alien Chase (a unique game licensed from Tomy) that was manufactured in such a way so that the VFD can be seen from two sides.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 17 - Segata Sanshiro for Sega Saturn (Japanese)

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DAY 17 - Segata Sanshiro for Sega Saturn (Japanese)

I almost forgot this one, how very bad of me.  While the Sega Saturn had limited success in the USA and Europe, it was tremendously popular in Japan with superb arcade conversions and a ton of RPG's and dating sims.  Segata Sanshiro was created as the mascot and spokesman for the console in Japan, a karate master who spent his life training to be the greatest Sega Saturn player in the world.  Consider him a fictional badass version of Takahashi Meijin.  In this commercial Segata Sanshiro delivers a Christmas treat to a group of children waiting for Santa-san.  "HAAAANRR!"


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 16 - Coca-Cola Mistletoe

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DAY 16 - Coca-Cola Mistletoe

I was actually thinking about dropping this ad from the lineup but since I mentioned it earlier I figured I have to include it.  Here we have quite a rarity - a Coke Christmas ad without Santa or polar bears.  Yes, they did exist at one time, I think this was actually in between those two promotions.  I like the Coke Santa but the bears, not so much.  Here we have a young boy apparently trying to put the moves on his extended family at a Christmas party.  Oh well, at least it features that unknown fox of earlier discussion at the end.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 15 - Ovaltine with Captain Midnight (1955)

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DAY 15 - Ovaltine with Captain Midnight (1955)

Okay, this isn't a commercial the way you would think of a more current commercial but it's a television advertisement just the same. Also this type of commercial fits in with the perennial favorite Christmas film, A Christmas Story, so I'm including it. Captain Midnight ran as a radio serial from 1938 to 1949. In 1940 Ovaltine began sponsorship (complete with Pierre Andre as the narrator - another A Christmas Story reference) and took the show national. There was a Columbia Pictures serial in 1942 and after the radio show ended there was a television show that ran from 1954 - 1956. Ovaltine continued sponsorship until the series went into syndication in 1958, resulting in the syndicated Captain Midnight episodes being redubbed as Jet Jackson Flying Commando. Here we have the Ovaltine sponsorship advertisement from an episode of Captain Midnight, the food drink for rocket power!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 14 - Polaroid

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DAY 14 - Polaroid

Another one of my all time favorite Christmas commercials. I worked retail sales, mainly electronics, for twelve years. Without a doubt one of the most difficult tasks could be identifying a product someone is looking for when the person looking doesn't really know what the product is. Most of the time these customers are genuinely polite and the item can be figured out. A great example of this was a pair of grandparents trying to pick up items on their grandson's Christmas list. One of them, Cash Bandicoot, was written as "Boot Crandidad" - still cracks me up after over ten years. On the other hand, sometimes these people could be the worst to deal with but that was a rarity. In this ad even Santa can't keep requests straight - a picture sure would help. "Horse 'em!"


Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 13 - 7 Up, Christmas 1992 Campaign

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DAY 13 - 7 Up, Christmas 1992 Campaign

One would assume with a soda connoisseur such as myself there would have been a soda commercial earlier in this list. We'll here's the first and while it isn't for Coca-Cola, it does feature a long forgotten advertising stab at Coke. Here we have a couple of 7 Up Spots carving a block of ice into the good old upside down Coca-Cola glass introduced in the 1970's. A sadly forgotten, completely ingenious, advertising idea since 7 Up is (and should still be marketed as) "The Uncola." Toss in an always welcome voice over by Daniel Stern (who did a few 7 Up commercials) and you have a nice, calm, Christmas soda ad that doesn't get in your face or wear out its welcome.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 12 - Johnny Cash for Lionel Electric Trains

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DAY 12 - Johnny Cash for Lionel Electric Trains

Johnny Cash was a spokesman for Lionel for a few years and when he got to talking (or singing) about their electric trains it seemed like he was genuinely having a good time. In this commercial, my favorite of his ad spots, we meet The Man in Black at a hobby shop where he is purchasing a Lionel train set for his son for Christmas. I still say model railroading is the world's greatest hobby. It's open to everyone, has so many different facets, and so many different things to do. Planning, construction of benchwork, track laying, ballasting, building scenery, painting scenery - essentially creating an entire functioning world in miniature. Oh, and of course railroad operation. That $40 train set could open the door to a lifetime hobby that would grow little by little. Of course it's generally a lot more expensive to get started these days. For instance the latest Lionel steam locomotives run about $1,300 for a single locomotive. Completely insane. Of course I never cared for O gauge, because of the cost but when I get back into N scale running it's all going to be top of the line Kato track and switches. Anyway, a great advertisement - I can still remember when hobby shops looked like that...


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 11 - Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots by Marx

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DAY 11 - Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots by Marx

Not a Christmas ad but one of the most iconic toys in advertising history and I believe this was the introductory commercial. Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots continue to be a favorite classic toy and are produced to this day. How could you resist wanting these with a commercial like this? I especially love the second kid with his tongue hanging out for half of the commercial, "this is the greatest!"


Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: Appendix A

InsaneDavid Presents: Christmas Spectacular 2012: Advertisements (Appendix A)

Since we're at the midpoint of this year's Christmas "thing" I wanted to stop with the festivities for a moment and write a little something. I suppose I should call this a "feature" rather than a "thing" but moving right along...

At the start of this feature I mentioned that I love advertising and I truly do. Advertising is the one man-made medium that I love more than any other. We're not talking about those guys that dig through barns looking for old metal signs, I'm talking about the content and context and the culture, not physical advertising or memorabilia. I hear a lot of "Christmas is too commercial" or "that's not the reason for the season" but the really good advertising isn't about either of those things, at least not blatantly. Christmas has always been commercial, that's what Charles Schulz was parodying in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" way back in 1965. As Linus said, "Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?" Then of course Schulz also later gave us one of the most genius moments of American television with another Linus duologue, "Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about..." Heck, the story "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" was created to be a promotional giveaway by Montgomery Ward in 1939. Our country isn't a fascist society and I still do like to believe it is built upon choice. I also like to believe that it is still a country where a great idea can spark the imagination, build a corporation, and possibly even change the world. With so much choice, so many products, and so many ideas - in a nation based on freedom of those things - how to you influence selection? That's advertising. Superman may have stood for "truth, justice, and the American way." Well the American way is advertising.

As for Christmas being too commercial, I don't agree with that. If anything the rest of the year has become too commercial. Stay with me here. When I was a child I was extremely spoiled. I won't argue that with anyone. For quite awhile I was an only child and the first grandchild in a huge family. Additionally most of my family was very localized to me. Within reason, I had pretty much anything I was interested in - that doesn't mean everything, because I wasn't interested in everything, and never had a "gimme, gimme" mentality. I also took overtly good care of my toys. Still, I didn't get new toys or games every week or anything like that. It was always a special occasion type thing and while I tended to get something for every holiday (including the usually more mundane gift-giving holidays), the big ones were still always Christmas and my birthday. Back then Christmas was still considered to be the big retail time and while Black Friday has spiraled out of control in recent years, it was still bigger then than it is now.

Now days sales take a spike because of product launches. Sometimes these occur multiple times per year, with the same line of products. People buy "big gifts" all year round. I worked twelve years in retail and I'll tell you that the spending for kids has been hard and fast throughout the year, regardless of the poor economy, for the past three years. Weekly and bi-weekly trips to buy kids expensive yet low quality products for no reason in particular or to get your kids to do / not do something is the name of the game these days. I could go off into one of my tangents about the culture of false entitlement we're perpetuating currently but that's not the focus here so I'll stop myself. The point I'm trying to make is that these days Christmas has to be even MORE commercial to stand out from the rest of the year. This is so that you still will spend more, that you will shoot for even bigger gifts. People my age (early 30's) probably remember looking through catalogs as a kid, circling things, stuff like that. I'm also going to assume that the rest of you, like myself, were never told "well, I'll get you this for Christmas" by your parents. So even though more or less you were expressing exactly what you wanted, you never did just know until Christmas Day. I also think that made things more special, more memorable, where as you get older it's not the toy or the fun you had with the gift that you have fond memories of - it's the process that led up to receiving it. The memory of that time, that place, your parents, that moment in your life, the feelings that surrounded it all. Not so much traditions but moments. As humans we tend to attach memories to physical objects but really I think we tend to attach physical objects to memories. "Rosebud..."

With my retail experience I can tell you that these days year-round sales are expected to match the type of profits that were previously generated by the Christmas season. And the boost in the Christmas season is now expected to top even that. All this with lower wages, less staff, and in the midst of a stalled economy. Don't get me wrong. I want people to spend on their friends, family and children how they see fit. It's part of that freedom and liberty thing. What I don't like to see is people that feel entitled to want new stuff all the time, especially children, and then expect to receive it. These things have nothing to do with commercialism and nothing to do with advertising. Because those ads and commercials and sales don't pick your pocket, don't carry you into a store, and don't make you slide your credit card. Christmas will only return to being "less commercial" once the rest of the year decides to cool down. Because the secret here is that Christmas in America has always been commercial.

One of the great things about being American is you can go get things you don't necessarily need. You have that choice. Advertising is a way to present those choices. While advertising as a whole is on the decline and becoming cheaper and less inventive due to television viewership no longer being on the uphill surge, it's still far and away better than online, audio and print advertising these days. I love television advertising, it's a record of culture and trends per era, so when Christmas advertising rolls around each year - I guess you could call it my "Christmas."

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 10 - E.T. the Extra Terrestrial from Atari

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DAY 10 - E.T. the Extra Terrestrial from Atari

Ah yes, E.T., the game that uninformed internet personalities would like you to believe lead to the American video game crash of 1983. Fact of the matter, it was only one of about a dozen reasons why the crash happened and a pretty small one on its own at that. However it is a very good example of the excess and detachment of the people running the industry at the time - nothing like manufacturing more software than you have ever sold or ever will sell in hardware to match. Anyway, onto the ad. Here we have a simple, quiet hype machine that shows you exactly what you're getting - which is why I can't understand all the hatred for the game.


My thoughts on E.T. - I always liked it as a kid and I still think it's a decent game. Given how short the dev cycle was it's actually a spectacular game with real difficulty and an actual ending. I do remember buying my copy in a plastic bag (booklet and cartridge only) for like $2.00 from a giant bin at a Kay Bee in 1984 - 1985. Looking back I wonder if they were returns or excess unboxed inventory from the factory, I did grow up in Silicon Valley after all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 9 - Norelco Santa

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DAY 9 - Norelco Santa

We all love the Norelco Santa, an icon of advertising for the past 40+ years. This ad from the late 1980's / very early 1990's reuses the old stop motion animation assets of the earlier commercials in a new way. I used Norelco razors for many years until I got tired of their poor performance and dozens of parts required for disassembly and cleaning. The Norelco Santa, however, is fine by me.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 8 - The American Dairy Association

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DAY 8 - The American Dairy Association

Now for one of my all time favorite, not just Christmas advertisements, but advertisements in general. This ad is genius because it takes something traditional and simple and then replaces it with a product that is advertised indirectly. Until the end of the commercial you don't know what it's trying to sell you but the commercial moves briskly enough that it maintains viewer's attention. The punchline and product come very quickly at the end but this is a spectacular ad because you remember what it was for.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 7 - Hallmark with Leonard Nimoy

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DAY 7 - Hallmark with Leonard Nimoy

Hallmark ads are terrible. They've always been so poorly thought up. Let's not even begin to think of all those stupid "flip the card over" commercials, the ones where they even got Ray Charles to shill for them in those. (Then again Ray Charles had a period in the 1990's where he was selling everything, such as Diet Pepsi - talk about a blind taste test!) So why then is a Hallmark ad in this series? Well, because this one from 1992 doesn't overstep its boundaries. It's hokey, it's corny, and it's Leonard Nimoy with a ton of pancake makeup.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 6 - US Marine Corps Toys For Tots Campaign

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DAY 6 - US Marine Corps Toys For Tots Campaign

Here's one that I rarely see anymore, which really is a shame. Christmas advertising doesn't have to be about products or services. It also doesn't have to be commercial or religious. Here the Toys For Tots campaign asks for donations without being pushy or demanding. Every year I donate money, toys and batteries to Toys For Tots since it all stays right in the local community. If you know me then you know I think of Christmas as a children's holiday (is that the rooted point anyway) so here we are with day six.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 5 - The Budweiser Clydesdales

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DAY 5 - The Budweiser Clydesdales

One of the classiest and most classic of Christmas commercials, that sadly rarely gets airplay anymore.  The key here is it isn't about beer or drinking, it's simply a holiday message from a company.  Of course they mention their brand, why wouldn't they? An iconic commercial featuring an iconic image from an iconic brand. This is holiday advertising at it's best.  Ah, ah, ah aaahh ahhh.. ah, ah, ah, aaaahhh....


Saturday, December 08, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 4 - Folgers Coffee

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DAY 4 - Folgers Coffee

Okay, you all knew this one would show up here eventually so here it is nice and early as to get it out of the way.  Honestly though, this is a very well thought out commercial, with the exception of "Peter" telling his little sister to quiet down as he knows how to wake everyone up. Of course this commercial had a recent continuation that just comes across as.. um.. odd.  No matter, here's the original.  Although it begs the question just where Peter is returning from.  Is he home from the military? (Doubt that since he's not wearing or carrying the stuff used in commercials to suggest that) Is he a student home for the holidays? (Doubt that as well since they're complete shocked he's home) Did Peter just get out of prison? (Possibly, they do seem awfully surprised he's home) The questions are endless!  Side note, due to the Christmas theme this one won out being included in the list over the Rockapella Folgers adverts.


Friday, December 07, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 3 - Nintendo Game Boy - Old and Young

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DAY 3 - Nintendo Game Boy Pocket - Old and Young

A great Christmas ad from the late 1990's that doesn't feature Nintendo's stupid "Play It Loud" slogan that they were obsessed with at the time. (Sidebar - Nintendo actually came under scrutiny for people in Butt, Montana or wherever not understanding they meant "expression" and not "loud volume") Here we have young and old meet up at the mall to find their common ground is video games. This ad was, and still is perhaps, quite a bit ahead of its time.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 2 - Betty Crocker Sugar Cookies "Busted"

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DAY 2 - Betty Crocker Sugar Cookies "Busted"

This is my favorite most recent commercial. It's fast moving, features hilarious acting and timing, presents a realistic scenario, breaks a lot of advertising stereotypes, and presents the product in a way you remember.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: DAY 1 - American Flyer Trains

Okay, last year it was a Christmas song a day from my rather eclectic collection of holiday music (ie I listen to everything). This time it's a little different. I love advertising, it's like totally my thing. Sadly internet advertising isn't anywhere near a replacement for television advertising. That's sad and with the decline of television viewership we will see cheaper and cheaper ads on TV. That's why you see the same woman trying to sell you 3 Day Blinds, sexual lubricant, Mercury insurance, dog treats, etc. However, it wasn't always that way...

For the next 20 days, there will be one advertisement posted per day, some of my favorites. They don't all have to specifically be holiday based but they will all pertain to a product or service associated with Christmas. With that, here we ho ho go...

InsaneDavid Presents: Christmas Spectacular 2012: Advertisements

DAY 1 - American Flyer Trains

I've never had a soft spot for American Flyer, probably because their heyday was long before my time and although I grew up model railroading, there was never a brand affiliation. Honestly I don't care for S gauge or O37 gauge railroading anyway (for whatever reason I've always been primarily N scale although I grew up with HO and G), but that doesn't mean I disrespect it. Trains are an inherent part of Christmas. A tree without a train running lazy circles underneath is like a tree without decorations. Here we have a nice, innocent advertisement for American Flyer trains.