After These Messages

I hate capitalism. I love commercials. Is that weird? That’s probably weird. There was a moment in my life where I almost started a career in advertising and marketing, but I kind of realized I don’t want to sell people things, I just want to watch ads. I would still happily take a job watching commercials, if anyone out there is hiring. My brain is already warped from decades of these things, might as well get paid for it.

Commercials are an art form. And I don’t mean just the highfalutin’ ones about 1984 or Buying The World A Coke. I’m including local low-budget Big Bob’s Discount Electronics in Nowheresville, Illinois ones. Commercials inform you of a product or service, convince you that your life isn’t complete without it, tell a story, potentially make you laugh, and often blare a jingle that will inevitably live in your head forever, all under a minute. That’s absurd. My mother, not the kind of person interested in seeking out old commercials, can still sing the entire Polaroid Swinger song. She couldn’t rattle off my home address if she needed to, but she can tell you that the Swinger is more than a camera, it’s almost alive! It’s only nineteen dollars and ninety-five! Every country and every culture has their own spin on the commercial. It’s a worldwide thing, because the world needs stuff. Or at least, the commercials want us to believe we need stuff. Commercials, man. They’re manipulative and sinister, made by straight-up evil companies and people. I fucking love them.

a 1994 commercial for the Katie Kiss 'N' Giggles doll
Katie Kiss 'N' Giggles, 1994

Before I got into Plex, Kodi, the Boxee Box, XBMC, and any other sort of media server, I used to make VLC playlists of various episodes of cartoon shows, complete with a few old commercials in-between. It was my very own Saturday Morning Cartoon programming block, and I would have it on in the background while painting Warhammer miniatures. I was very persnickety when it came to the commercials. They had to fit the era and demographic of the main programming. I did all of this just for me, because I am a lunatic. I would like to say that this lunacy has faded, but it absolutely hasn’t. I still occasionally make these fake television blocks, but now instead of an audience of just me and unpainted Tyranids, now I often stream these in various Discord servers. My fellow freaks appreciate them.

Thus, I have a collection of commercials sitting on my hard drive. As of right now I currently have over 1500 commercials, ranging from 1955 to 2023. My largest decade collections are, unsurprisingly, 415 commercials from the 80s, 606 from the 90s, and 367 from the 2000s. This is obviously just a drop in the bucket of all commercials that exist, and it’s not really my goal to obtain all commercials ever made ever (that’s absurd and most likely impossible). I’m just looking to have a wide variety of commercials on-hand for my streams and my forays into PseudoTV/DizqueTV on Plex, and also just because watching old commercials is fun. I don’t particularly see me squirreling away old commercials as a ‘media preservation’ thing, because I think there are way more important things that need to be preserved, but I guess someday if you absolutely, positively need a 1983 ad about Reynolds Plastic Wrap, hit me up.

Some of these commercials I’ve digitized myself from old tapes I’ve found at my parents’ place, but many more are from compilations of uncut commercial breaks people have uploaded to Youtube. I download the files, take them into an editing program, and chop ‘em up into single pieces. I’m incredibly thankful to all the folks on Youtube, the Internet Archive, etc for uploading these untouched commercial breaks.

the late 80s Whatchamacalit commercial. A woman in a black and white Pop Art comic book style holds a Whatchamacalit bar, still in its yellow wrapper. The candy is the only thing in frame in color.
This Whatchamacallit ad from the late 80s is one of the first that I can remember that had a major effect on me. I remember seeing the commercial as a kid and thinking "wow, that candy is for cool grown-ups". Thirty years later I would finally have a Whatchamacallit bar, but sadly I am not cool.

I add damn near anything I come across to my horde. The only stuff I don’t bother with is if the video quality is atrocious, interlaced all to hell, or someone put a giant watermark on their uploads— which is kind of funny, considering I started this weird hobby with 99% of my files with a RetroJunk bug stuck in the corner. People covet toy commercials from their youth, and I’m no different, but I’ve also developed a major appreciation for the ‘boring’ adult commercials; the ones shilling stuff like paper towels and easy-to-make frozen dinners. The set designs of the kitchens are great time capsules of what the ad agency thought looked ‘typical’.

a Hefty commercial from 1979
Hefty trash bags, 1979

They’re all time capsules. It’s ads for medicines that don’t exist anymore because they turned out to have dangerous side effects. Or electronics that were considered the cutting edge, but are now laughably outdated. Or grocery store sales showing you just how affordable food used to be. While splicing up ads the other day, I came across a fascinating one: A commercial for a VHS compilation of commercials from the 50s and 60s. My love of seeking out old ads is nothing new. And in 20 years will there be people who fondly remember ads from 2023? Possibly. I suppose the only difference is that their favorite ads will have aired on a free tier of a streaming service, rather than broadcast television.

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