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Bad Commercials of the Not-So-Distant Past

Updated on June 9, 2016
Some memorable commercials that had a deeper meaning.
Some memorable commercials that had a deeper meaning. | Source

Commercials are an important part of modern culture. Many of us can sing the familiar jingles or quote the catch phrases from iconic American brands.

In order to get our attention and sell their products, some advertisers will resort to strange, controversial or even downright offensive tactics.

And sometimes, in a less politically correct time, we didn't quite realize just how bad and tasteless the commercial really was.

Nonetheless, over the years commercials have been banned even as they were celebrated. And as they saying goes, "what has been seen, can't be unseen."

Here are some memorable, yet questionable advertisements.

Wendy's Fashion Sense

Wendy's biggest advertising campaign in the 1980's were the famous "Wheres the Beef" commercials. But another commercial also made a big splash in the advertising market.

The famous "Is Next..." commercial depicts a Soviet Union fashion show where a decidedly masculine-looking woman announcer speaks in broken, heavily accented English, announcing each of the models coming through.

The commercial is rife with stereotypes from the stern and unadorned host to the drab clothing that is presented each time the announcer calls for a new outfit. The commercial was decried for stereotyping Russian culture, accents and ideals and was eventually pulled.

However, if you walk up to any American 80's kid and say "Is Next...?", they're very likely to respond with "swimwear." Even though we saw it just a few times and knew it was in bad taste, it stuck in our heads like a bad song lyric.

Overview of Commercial:

The commercial opens with a fiddler in "traditional" Russian attire playing a melancholy piece while the announcer calls for everyone to pay attention.

She then announces in broken English "Is next...daywear, " as an overweight woman walks quickly out on the stage in an all grey outfit with a kerchief on her head.

The announcer commends it as very nice and announces the next outift which is evening wear, except it's the same grey outfit from before with a flashlight added.

The commercial's narrator then voices over the commercial noting that "having no choice is no fun" and indicates that at Wendy's you don't get the same old tired toppings and limited menu.

This scenario repeats itself a final time as the announcer indicates "swimwear" which is the same gray outfit with the model carrying a beach ball.

The commercial fades as the narrator notes that you should "choose fresh, choose Wendy's."

Falling, Falling, Falling

The 80's was the start of a boom in technology. In that technology were new ways to make people's lives better and safer.

When Life Alert advertised their product it was meant to show all the ways that the remote, worn around a person's neck, could help keep the sick and elderly safe in an emergency.

Instead the commercial became a caricature of itself with bad, over-acting and over-the-top situations that became a punch line for an otherwise important product.

The line from the commercial "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" became a punchline for late night comedy, cartoons, TV shows as well as the general public. And everyone knew you were referring back to that ridiculous commercial.

Overview of Commercial:

The commercial opens with a woman in a hospital bed explaining how she was able to get help when she became ill, notify an ambulance, her family and her doctor without picking up a phone.

She then demonstrates the "life call" device and says you just press the button and speak into the air.

The scene cuts to an older man clutching his chest. He pressing the button and yells into the air that he is having chest pains.

An operator lets the man know he is calling paramedics and the man's family.

Then the scene cuts to an older woman laying on the bathroom floor with her walker beside her. She indicates that she's fallen and can't get up.

An operator lets her know that help is on the way.

Then the original lady comes back on and says how great the product is and how you can protect yourself. She indicates that with Life Call you are not alone.

The commercial ends with an 800 number to get information about the product.

An Indian, A Canoe, A Tear

While no one is arguing that the message behind the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign was inspiring and necessary, there were more than a few problems with the commercial itself.

First according to multiple sources, the actor portraying the Native American man canoeing through the litter and pollution was actually Italian and did not have any known ties to any Native American tribes.

But putting that aside, the commercial itself is full of stereotypes from the canoe to the way they man is dressed.

What was good about this commercial though is that it began to make baby boomers and the emerging Generation X aware of the problems of pollution and litter and the effect on the environment.

That's a good thing, even if it took a fake "Indian" and fake tear to get the message out.

Overview of Commercial:

The commercial starts with foreboding music and a man dressed in an Americanized version of Native American clothing canoeing through a river.

About 15 seconds in, he passes some floating garbage.

Then the background shows a dull, city skyline with smoke and pollution billowing into the air.

He pulls onto a litter strewn shore line as the a voice over indicates that this man has deep respect for our country as all those around him that are littering and polluting don't.

The commercial ends with the actor slowly turning to face the camera as a tear streams down his cheek.

Double the Innuendos

I was a kid when the Doublemint gum commercials were running. I never thought much about those breezy ads until I was older.

The idea of "doubling your pleasure" and the fixation on the twin women's mouths is enough to send Freud into a tailspin.

While it may have been selling gum, the idea was that using the gum could lead to double pleasure in other areas as well.

A double pleasure in the form of some leggy, blonde twins isn't exactly as innocent as we may have first imagined. This would definitely lead to the "double great feeling" the commercial is hinting at.

Overview of Commercial:

Two women in mint green sweater vests are walking along the coast as the "Doublemint Jingle' is being sun in the background.

They walk by a vender who hands each of them a pack of gum. Two men who are looking through a telescope at the ocean begin to notice the women.

As they put gum into their mouths and smile the commercial cuts to them asking the two men to take their picture there on the sea wall.

After they take the picture the two women share their gum with the men and then smile at each other and laugh.


"A double pleasure is waiting for you.

A double pleasure from Doublemint gum.

A double great feelings, making you realize

Doublemint's the one for you.

Double fresh, Double smooth.

Double delicious to chew

A double pleasure's waiting for you

(Doublemint Gum)

A double pleasure's waiting for you

(Doublemint Gum)."

How Old Are Those Jeans?

Calvin Klein jeans were the fashion accessory of the early 80's. But this popularity didn't come without controversy.

In a sexy but not overly shocking advertisement, a young woman sits suggestively as the camera pans over her, and says in a pouty, come-hither voice that nothing can come between her and her Calvins.

The problem? The beautiful young model, was just that. Very young. Too young to be portrayed in that way according to many.

Brooke Shields was just 15 years old when she made that 1981 commercial ( and it certainly garnered attention, controversy and sales for Calvin Klein.

Sadly it just the beginning of the objectification of young girls in a society that asks them to grow into womanhood way too fast.

Overview of Commercial:

The commercial opens with someone whistling. The camera slowly pans from the models boots up her leg, bringing her other folded leg and torso into view.

As the commercial continues and the model's face becomes visible it is obvious that she is the one whistling and the tune is "My Darling Clementine."

She then stops whistling and looks at the camera, saying in a soft and sensual voice "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins?"

Then she shakes her head slightly and says "Nothing."

The voice over then speaks as the camera is frozen and simply says "Calvin Klein Jeans."

While many of these commercials may be in bad taste, they are certainly memorable. The jingles stick in our heads and we find ourselves repeating the catch phrases.

And at the end of the day, that's all any advertiser really wants. I'm sure they will be glad to deal with a little controversy if it means we won't forget their products

Which commercial do you find the most offensive or controversial?

See results


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    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      4 years ago from North Central Florida

      Well now...I did not see that coming...the whole double mint thing...I must have been really naieve then (still am to a large extent)...

      Very interesting presentation here.

      Angels are on the way to you this afternoon ps

    • Linda Robinson60 profile image

      Linda Robinson 

      4 years ago from Cicero, New York

      What an entertaining hub. I really enjoyed it. Ingenious writing and keeps your interest from beginning to end. Linda

    • profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      4 years ago

      Very funny hub! I didn't think the Wrigley's one was really cringe-worthy. It was actually cute and a bit clever, using twins and all.


    • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

      L C David 

      4 years ago from Florida

      Thank you bravewarrior! How cool that you were a part of the 80's TV commercials. It's fun to take a deeper look at pop culture and understand just how we are receiving the message and being manipulated.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      I've never seen that particular Wendy's commercial. I loved the "where's the beef?" lady, though. I was sad to see her go.

      I used to write TV commercials (coincidentally back in the 1980s). To this day I watch them with a critical eye. It's no secret that sex sells. Advertisers want to zero in on viewers' emotions whether positive or negative. Whatever it takes to make the product name stick in the consumer's subliminal.

      Some of today's commercials are downright offensive. One thing I'll never understand is why we need to see ads for feminine products, ED, condoms, etc. And have you noticed they're aired during dinner (prime) time? One I really hate is the new Charmin commercials. The bears in the spot are clearly being used to play on the saying, "do bears shit in the woods?" How does a parent explain to a child the correlation between bears and toilet paper? I say bring back Mr. Whipple.

      Nice overview, LC. I can see this becoming a series.


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