If you’re like me, you try to avoid television commercials by only watching noncommercial streaming services or fast forwarding through the commercials on prerecorded programs. But back in the sixties, we didn’t have that luxury. Nevertheless, we (at least I) still managed to skip the commercials, making good use of the time in between program segments by going to the kitchen or bathroom. I avoided a lot of commercials that way, but some still seeped through with their jingles like alien seed pods from outer space, taking position of my brain, playing over and over again at the most inopportune moments. Sometimes, I’d even discover that I was helplessly emitting one of them out loud.
In the sixties, commercials advertised a range of products, many of which could be found in the supermarket and/or drugstore. Here are a few that come to my mind. See how many you remember.
“You work too hard, you ate too much, the cheesecake made you greedy. But your aching head and stomach hears this message from ‘Ole Speedy.” In case you’re not sure about the product, here’s another clue, which should be the clencher: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” Yup … the commercial was for Alka Seltzer tablets, an effervescent antacid and pain reliever for people suffering from acid indigestion. It was sung by Speedy, the little animated character that sort of reminded me of Howdy Doody, except without freckles. Howdy Doody, who had 48 freckles, the number representing each of the states in the union at that time, was a marionette who, together with his human partner, Buffalo Bob Smith, co-hosted an American children’s television program entitled The Howdy Doody Show from 1947 to 1960. But getting back to Speedy, he held an umbrella which, after the top was flicked off, became a magic wand that waved to create magic bubbles to make the little tummy aches disappear. Speedy, with that characteristic thick curl that reached down nearly between his eyes, appropriately wore a tablet for a hat and he had an Alka Seltzer tablet for a midriff, a not-very-subtle reminder about the product and the brand. Alka-Seltzer tablets didn’t just plop, plop and fizz, fizz during the sixties. They had been around since the thirties, in fact, when, according to Wikiwand, print ads started appearing. By the sixties, though, advertising had migrated to a potentially more lucrative medium, television, where for the next two decades the Alka Seltzer commercials would become one of the most popular ads on U.S. television. Paul Margulies, father of actress Julianna Margulies, created the famous "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz" ad campaign when he worked as a Madison Avenue ad executive. Tom Dawes, a former member of The Cyrkle, an American rock and roll band active in the early and mid-sixties, composed the ubiquitous jingle. Speedy went through a number of incarnations. During the race for space in the early sixties, he appeared in a space suit, and we heard the jingle that ended with: “... Imagine seeing Speedy Alka-Seltzer on the moon!” Yes, just imagine that! Somehow, I don’t think that was the type of “imagining” John Lennon had in mind when he wrote his iconic song, “Imagine.” In another incarnation for a 1969 commercial, Speedy took on the persona of George Raft playing an incarcerated gangster who takes one bite of food in the prison lunchroom and immediately demands Alka-Seltzer, except that Raft, in his striped outfit, did not burst into the jingle “Plop, plot, fizz, fizz ….” There are also other scenarios for the antacid, including one where we see a bunch of overweight men suffering in the bloated aftermath of a pie-eating contest, great candidates, indeed, for the tiny tablet.
As long as we’re on the topic of relief from discomfort and pain, how about this commercial. A homemaker wearing an apron is mashing potatoes in a pot on the stove (stop me at any point in the scenario if you recognize the product). Her adorable, perky, pigtailed daughter enters the kitchen carrying a bowl of something, which she presents to her mom and asks, “How’s this, mommy?” “That’s good,” her mother answers. The daughter exits. The kitchen door opens and in walks the daddy/husband carrying a briefcase, wearing early 1960s business attire: a hat, suit, shirt, and tie. He is about to hang up his hat when the little homemaker says, “Hurry, get ready for dinner. PTA meeting tonight.” The husband, a pained look suddenly bursting forth on his face, says, “Helen, please, I just got home, don’t rush me!” In musical terms, we would describe the tone and volume of his voice as crescendoing from a piano to a fortissimo. He rubs his temple and thinks to himself, Control yourself. Sure you have a headache …. Don’t take it out on her. We hear another male voice say: You need (can you guess the product yet?) Anacin for fast relief….Minutes after taking Anacin, headache’s gone. Tension’s gone … so irritability is gone. The family, now gathered around the dinner table, have harmonious smiles on their faces. Along this same vein, in a 1962 Anacin commercial, a mother, meddling, as a mother can sometimes do, in her grown daughter’s task, says, "Don't you think it needs a little salt?" Her daughter, whose last nerve is standing on alert, shouts, "Mother, please, I'd rather do it myself!" and then berates herself for taking out her discomfort on her mother. These are but two of the commercials that reflected, according to wikipedia, Anacin’s concerted television marketing campaign, which began in the fifties. Like Alka-Seltzer, there were also variations of the Anacin ad, but the scenarios always reflected tension-producing situations where tension resulted in pressure and pressure resulted in pain. Ahhhh! But have no fear, Anacin was there to the rescue.
Next month: More sixties commercials.