Some television commercials are entertaining. Some are irritating. Most are forgettable. But there are those who abuse the concept of strangeness for their bad taste, their intellectual dishonesty and their offbeat images.
For your reading pleasure, here are 10 TV commercials that give weirdness a new meaning.
1. Yabba Dabba’s lung cancer: In 1960, “The Flintstones” made television history as the first animated series to air in prime time. The first two seasons of the show were co-sponsored by Winston cigarettesand the animated characters have been used in advertisements promoting cigarettes.
While no one in 1960 thought there was anything odd about Fred and Wilma Flintstone lighting a cigarette after dinner, today the idea of using cartoon characters to peddle tobacco is simply amazing.
2. Coke keeps you slim: In 1961, viewers weren’t hungry for truth in advertising, which explains this amazing ad for the Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) with slender actress Connie Clausen praising the popular pop’s weight-control benefits.
Clausen reminds the viewer “there are no waistline concerns” with the soda, as a single-sized bottle of Coke “contains no more calories than half a grapefruit,” adding that ” Coke is a natural – a healthy blend of pure food flavors”.
3. Invasion of the Singing Banana People: In 1973, Bic Company introduced its Bic Banana Ink Crayons to the US market in an advertisement involving a classroom in a parallel universe where the students are young banana trees. If you look carefully around the classroom in the advertisement you will see pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as banana trees while the blackboard offers the aphorism “A banana a day keeps the monkeys away” – this does this mean that this parallel universe tolerates banana trees sacrificed to carnivorous primates?
The professor is even more remarkable: a giant banana interpreted by a flamboyant comic actor Charles Nelson Reilly. The “Match Game” comedian gets the camp going full throttle as he leads his class in a song about the glory of the Bic Banana Ink Crayons, telling us how “their colors are so bright and gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” Even by the loose standards of the 1970s, it was completely offbeat.
4. Otherworldly Irish Ice Cream Cake: During the 1980s, the Carvel ice cream chain that was popular in the Northeast began running a series of commercials featuring Cookie Puss, an ice cream cake believed to represent an alien. The character was originally called “Celestial Person”, but the channel found the name “Cookie Puss” to be an easier marketing sell.
In 1985, a St. Patrick’s Day version of Cookie Puss named Cookie O’Puss appeared – complete with green coloring and a brogue worthy of Barry Fitzgerald. TV commercials were probably produced on a budget less than the cost of ice cream cakes, but Cookie Puss and Cookie O’Puss have established a loyal cult following for their sheer weirdness.
5. Biggie Bear goes wild: In 2004, South African viewers were treated to a series of public service announcements from the nonprofit Parents for Responsible Viewing. While the concept of these PSAs was noble – a warning for parents to be aware of what their children were watching – the message was delivered in a truly bizarre way that made their very serious message unintentionally ridiculous.
6. About last night: On American television, two subjects that never appear in television commercials are bondage and body shaming. In Romania, however, these taboos do not exist.
This 2007 advertisement for Bergen beerpart of the Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP), finds a man waking up in a strange bed with his wrist cuffed to the bedpost. He obviously had a few too many Bergenbiers the night before that clouded his better judgment, as he discovers to his sober horror who is holding him captive. Yes, what better way to sell beer than with handcuffs and big jokes?
7. Banana Man to the rescue: Charles Nelson Reilly wasn’t the only one probing the bananaverse for weirdness. This 2009 Japanese advertisement for bananas sold under the Dole plc (NYSE: DOLE) features a banana that gives freely of its yellow fruit to the hungry and unhappy – the latter is afflicted when he nose-blows a bunch of bananas at an unhappy woman on a park bench.
8. Lhasa Luck: China’s occupation of Tibet has inflamed human rights activists for decades, but the people of let’s group (NASDAQ: GRPN) took a more casual approach to the plight of the Tibetan people with its 2011 Super Bowl ad. Timothy Hutton enjoying a fish curry in a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago.
Not only does this ad thoroughly trivialize the human rights abuses inflicted on the Tibetan people by the Chinese (China is never mentioned by name in the ad), but it also mocks Tibetan culture by stupidly claiming that fish curry is part of their culinary tradition – in fact, Tibetans do not eat fish because their Buddhist faith considers fish to be the embodiment of the god of water. Duh!
9. Avant-garde ice cream: In 2012, the Philadelphia chain Little Baby’s Ice Cream hired the filmmaker Doug Garth Williams to advertise, and the result is one of the most hypnotic and grotesque creations in marketing history: an ice-cream humanoid eating its head off with a spoon.
Little Baby’s Ice Cream is no longer in business, but its disturbing ad continues to baffle and haunt YouTube denizens.
10. From Manila with Surrealism: The most recent addition to this list aired in November 2020 on television in the Philippines, where the country RC-Cola franchise produced a commercial featuring an angsty boy who asks his mother if he was adopted. And if you’ve never seen this ad before, there’s no way any sane person could ever guess the answer to the child’s question.
Photo: Little baby’s ice cream.
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