With the dawn of television, the commercial became the most effective advertising tool known to man (based on a recent study at Harvard). Absurd amounts of money and resources began to flow into advertising. Ad wars exploded between fast food chains, beer companies, car manufacturers, soda pop makers, and whatever category Nike and Reebok fit into. We were a nation of consumers glued to our couches and there was only one way to get us to buy.
During this commercial boom era, something slowly and magnificently began to emerge from the shadows. An art form sprang forth, understood only by those with the tightest of budgets. It was the local television commercial.
Barely equipped with their shoe-string budgets, local businesses decided to join the battle for America's attention. Armed with nothing but a lively personality, local business achieved some of the greatest feats in advertising history. Today, we will look at just a small sample of the greatness that is the local television commercial. Hopefully at the end of these Magnificent Seven, you will grow to appreciate this tidbit of Americana.
Don's Guns: Indianapolis, IN
"And remember folks- I don't wanna make any money, I just love to sell guns."
Since I live in Indianapolis, I thought it would be fitting to begin with this city's greatest local commercial advertiser. The man, the legend: Don Davis. Anyone who grew up in Indy knows who Don is. There's an image implanted in my brain of Don Davis shooting me with his finger and laughing that creepy laugh of his. Here's an image ripped from the front page of his web site:
That there pretty much says it all.
Unfortunately, the internet fails when it comes to providing quality Don's Guns commercials. However, I did find two. This first one is pretty standard for Don's commercials. Here, he's offering up gun rentals:
This next video takes us back a few decades. This one is more in line with the average local commercial. Trying to be funny and gimmicky at the same time. I love the brilliant "old man" joke in this commercial. It's an old man joke, because all old men have a grab bag full of these kinds of jokes and they're only funny if an old man says it. Props to a younger Don for trying to pull this one off:
Did you notice the marquee scroll across the top of the commercial? "Don's Guns...voted WORST LOCAL TV COMMERCIAL...Indianapolis Magazine- 1984 and 1985..." Got to love a guy who proudly displays that within his commercial. (I tried to confirm that statement, with no luck.)
For what it's worth, I did consider Watson's in the running here ("That's Watson's!"). I also thought of Bob Rohrman ("Bob Roooooooarman") and Blossom Chevrolet ("Lordy, they're good people). I just think Don's got them beat pretty solidly.
Having dealt with my own local TV commercial giant, it's time to take a gander at what the rest of this country has to offer.
These next couple videos represent what I think is the bread and butter for local television commercials. It's the typical commercial that tries to use humor to sell a product. After viewing, you and your friends sit in silence for a minute before looking at each other and cracking up.
Pizza-N-Go: Lawrenceville, PA
This first one takes a simple formula: Show your staple product in the background. Then add something ridiculous in the foreground that people will laugh at. It's nonsensical and out of place for the product. Humor sells, but you'd better be sure that what you're doing is humorous before placing all your eggs in that basket.
So here we have a white guy dancing and not-quite rapping and somehow this is supposed to make you want to eat a pizza. It's great as far as local commercials go, but can't be doing much for product recognition:
Georgia Car Credit: Moultrie, GA
The folks at Georgia Car Credit took things a little further. They were able to tie in their "humor" with the product. In this commercial you have a white person acting like a pimp who gives credit to the masses. He is aptly dubbed the "Credit MacDaddy." It's one of many attempts by white America to adopt the "hip-hop" culture, in a playful way. It's "funny" because white people can't rap or dance. It gets approved by upper management, because older white people think it's really funny when white people act and speak in ways that they think are "ghetto."
There's something terribly wrong watching the whitest of white folk act this way. Even when they're blatantly trying to be funny. That almost makes it worse. Anyways, it makes for a great local commercial that I'm sure everyone in Georgia just loves. They even throw in some slapstick humor with the ol' pie-in-the-face gag:
This next video epitomizes everything that a local commercial should be. They use what I call the Four Basic Building Blocks for Local Television Commercial Success:
1) In-house actors
2) Catchy music
3) Memorable Quote
If you throw those four factors into any local commercial, you will have guaranteed success. However, this next video also includes the elusive "Fifth Factor" that takes a good local commercial and turns it into something special. See if you can find what it is.
The Red House: High Point, NC
Rather than take the all too obvious gimmick of white people acting black, the folks at the Red House take the higher road. We've come a long way in this country and it's time to realize that we're all a part of the same culture. The Red House asks the question, "Can't we all just get along?" and answers with an emphatic, "WE CAN!"
Let's run through our Four Basics as applied to this commercial.
1) In-house Actors. Check! With Bighead and Ten Gauge stealing the show, this commercial is chock-full of in-house talent. The best part is they can't act worth a lick and are often seen reading their lines. All two of them.
2) Catchy Music. Check! Come on, admit it. You're already singing "At the Reeeed House..." over and over in your head. Nice harmony by white guys in ties. They even pay homage to the Wurlitzer with the digitized background theme.
3) Memorable Quote. Check plus! "Where black people and white people by furniture." Ooops! "...and Hispanic people too." Oh, that's just beautiful.
4) Humor. Check! Nothing's funnier than seeing people spell out the obvious. "I'm black. And I love the Red House." "I'm white..." That's just funny. And having a large black man jump into sofa saying, "Look at this sofa, it's perfect for a black person," is just gold.
So, did you catch what the Fifth Factor is? I hope so. It's crucial to a great commercial and it's what separates this one from the two prior. The Fifth Factor is created when the audience can't tell if you're being funny on purpose or not. I really want to think that the folks at the Red House knew how funny this commercial was going to be when they made it. But I can't help wonder if they were taking this seriously. That's what makes it so perfect.
I'm not sure if you can intentionally create this Fifth Factor. As soon as you start thinking that people are laughing with you and not at you, then you've lost. But then when people do laugh at you, they are really just laughing with you in the end, but you can't know that when you start. It's a very difficult concept to wrap your head around.
Let's see if we can figure it out with another commercial.
TDM Auto Sales: High Point, NC
This next commercial is popular enough that you may have already seen it. Yes that's right. It's the Cuban Gynecologist turned American Auto Salesman:
See how well the Fifth Factor works here? They don't even have a catchy tune (although there is music). Now this is obviously meant to be funny. The key here though is that this guy doesn't really understand why what he's doing is funny. It makes for a great local commercial.
I'm sure the guys who made it had a ton of fun doing it. Oh, how about that? Here's a behind the scenes video from the guys who made that commercial. Watching Rudy in this video is probably even funnier than the commercial.
Side note: If you're paying attention, you will have noticed that two of the greatest local commercials in this country come from High Point, North Carolina. That's impressive and almost makes it worth moving there.
Okay, so we've seen what it takes to build a good local TV commercial and taken a peek at some of the best in the business. Now it's time to see a few epic failures. These videos are similar in their failures, but they get there in totally different ways. The first video fails in concept.
Golden Gate Funeral Home
"Where service begins, and never ends."
Now, some people may argue with me and I can see where they may have a point. When your business is funeral homes, it's probably tough to come up with a good way to sell your product. The fine folks at Golden Gate decided to use the Four Basic Building Blocks... and failed. This is because in order to use humor, you have to be conscious of your product. You have to be careful when dealing with death and I'm not sure they pulled it off. I don't know, I guess it was funny enough for me to post here, but this just seems wrong. Hilariously wrong.
Well, we've come to the end of our exploration of local TV commercials. Appropriately, I've saved the worst (making it the best?) for last. This next video fails on almost every level possible. It's so atrocious, I can't even give it a proper introduction.
Fred and Sharon's Movie Productions: ????
That's right, I'm not sure where this commercial first aired. Possibly over the internet. To be fair, I think they're from BC, Canada. Leave it to the Canadians to take awesome American things and ruin them. They've taken local commercial quality and thrown it out into the netherworld. If you're trying to sell a product, this commercial should be a good learning tool. Just do everything exactly the opposite. It really is bad. It's fitting that it should end our list:
Fred and Sharon's Movie Productions
TDM Auto Sales
Golden Gate Funeral Home
Pick up your Red House T-Shirt here: Link