Manual Cinema’s The End of TV explores the unexpected friendship between two women–one an elderly white woman who is obsessed with television home shopping and the other a young black woman who delivers for Meals on Wheels–both living in a declining Midwestern city during the late 1990s. This stunning performance juxtaposes the bleak setting of the rust belt with the loud vibrancy of TV home shopping programs and commercials. The End of TV opens this upcoming January, so we decided to take a trip down memory lane and look at the most famous and memorable television commercials from late 20th century.
One would be hard-pressed to find someone alive during the 1990s who doesn’t remember Ring-Pops or this commercial for the candy. As the campy jingle goes, Ring-Pops are a “lollipop without the stick” that come in an array of colors, encouraging impressionable youths to go out and collect all the flavors offered. This particular commercial, depicting a fake Ring-Pop proposal between to tweens, includes the infamous exchange, “I love the way my ring tastes!” This sentiment still rings true, as Ring-Pop nostalgia is alive and well.
In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, denim company Levi’s began to rebrand themselves in order to appeal to younger and hipper audiences, straying away from their previous clientbase of laborers. In an attempt to reach this new audience, Levi’s deployed a number of commercials featuring 1990s heartthrobs and popular music. Among these commercials is one from 1990, featuring a young Brad Pitt who casually throws on a pair of Levi jeans and begins taking photos of an attractive woman in a desert, all while T-Rex’s “20th Century Boy” plays in the background. This commercial helped thrust Brad Pitt into the spotlight and put Levi’s back on the map as a “cool” brand.
Like Ring-Pop, another relic from the 1990s was the ever-popular but fairly elusive Crystal Pepsi, which was sold in North America from 1992 to 1994 during the height of soda’s “clear craze”. Despite its short life, Pepsi still managed to score a Super Bowl commercial slot for one of the most eclectic and quasi-futuristic advertisements ever created. Set behind Van Halen’s “Right Now,” this commercial claims that people don’t want anything artificial or preservatives and that “right now, things are clearly different.” This unironically pun-filled ad also served as the soda’s debut and promoted the idea that the 1990s are an exciting and changing time, with people “getting a taste of the future” by taking a sip of Crystal Pepsi.
Although this commercial technically made its debut in the late half of 1989, it became a staple commercial in the early 1990s. Sega Genesis, a video game console and a main competitor for Nintendo, produced this commercial outlying all the unique and thrilling things this console “does.” The commercial spends a considerable amount of time highlighting the fact that they support a Joe Montana football game, which evokes even more nostalgia for the 21st century viewer. The commercial ends with the punchy line “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.”
This commercial may not be the most iconic 1990s television ad (as it also came out in 1999), but it is one that has remained relevant through 2018, in large part due to the fact that the main actor in this 30-second spot is a young Aaron Paul, who later went on to star in the hit show, Breaking Bad. In this commercial, a disgruntled teen (Paul) excitedly reaches for his beloved box of Corn Pops cereal, only to be intercepted by his overbearing parents who want to have a “heart to heart.” The commercial tunes out the parents’ nagging, focusing only one Paul’s longing gaze for his cereal box. Eventually, the spiky-haired Paul is able to take the box and dig in to his breakfast, with his voiceover stating “I gotta have my Pops!”
The year is 1998. Sitcom television is at its heyday. So who better to represent American Express in a commercial than the King of the ‘90s himself, Jerry Seinfeld? In this advertisement, the charming yet goofy Seinfeld pulls into a gas station in one of his famous retro cars, where he sees another customer counting out change after accidentally adding a few cents to the gas charge. Seinfeld remarks, “ah, the classic over squeeze” before he begins to fill up his own tank. As he refuels his own car, making quips like “you like jazz?” to the station attendant, crowds begin to gather around to see if Jerry Seinfeld will be able to complete a “perfect pump.” Once he achieves his “perfect pump” of $20–meaning he will not have to count out change–he quickly adds a little more gas, making the total $20.13. But never fear, Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t have to count out any change, because he as an American Express card, which “allows him to do more, even at a gas station.”
What is perhaps the most iconic television advertisement in this era, the Mentos “Freshmaker” commercial contains it all: mall-dwelling Gen-Xers, corny acting, a mother shaking her finger, and of course, a catchy jingle that can still be sung today. Before Mentos released their quintessentially 90’s “Freshmaker” commercials, the candy company was relatively unknown in the United States. However, the frequency of these advertisements throughout the decade helped Mentos become a household name and the source of many Internet parodies.
Are there any memorable 90s commercials we missed? Let us know in the comments and don’t miss Manual Cinema’s extraordinary performance of The End of TV, running from January 16-27 at the Emerson Paramount Center.