Ah, the power of the moving image. It played a role in shaping our entertainment from an early age, during those hours of kids’ programming on weekday afternoons or Saturday mornings. No wonder it was the best place to appeal to our need for TOYS!
Though the staple programming schedules of those of us who grew up from the late 70’s through the early 90’s has shifted dramatically, toys are as big a part of kids’ lives today as they ever were (Even if some of those have gotten a lot more expensive over the years – hi, iPad!) Still, it’s hard to deny that some of our fondest memories of those toys we grew up with began with a 30-second jingle or a memorable catchphrase, that ensured we’d tell Mom and Dad we just had to have it. So to celebrate this month’s TOYBOX theme, here’s a Friday Five of vintage toy commercials that seem forever trapped in the amber of our brains. (And hey, we could have included a LOT more than just five, including the likes of Transformers, G.I. Joe, Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, oh the list goes on… but these are real treasures!)
See, youngsters, back in the day your toys could be seriously analog, and as long as they were bright and shiny we wanted them like burning! Lite Brite was basically a plastic frame with a lightbulb inside it, and a grid full of holes in front; you secured a piece of black paper, which you could pre-purchase in different patterns (a boat! a clown! Mickey Mouse (™The Walt Disney Company)!), and then create dazzling light-up displays using tons and tons of little colored plastic pegs. As a DIY toy, Lite Brite was never as satisfying as the Easy-Bake Oven or Shrinky Dinks, but it did have a craft-time appeal, and this commercial was infectious. (Parents will tell you otherwise, of course, because they’re the ones who kept vacuuming up the pegs whenever you lost them.)
Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine
“You put ice cubes in and get a sno cone out! / Yum, yum fun is what it’s all about!” The Snoopy Sno Cone Machine debuted in 1979 from Hasbro and was a summer-based DIY toy staple for decades, which is pretty surprising considering the thing didn’t really work all that well. Basically a lo-fi ice grinder with a little container to hold flavor syrup and some cups, it did manage to generate a tiny cold sweet treat that you had to eat really fast particularly on a hot day. (And man, they never gave you enough supplies to keep this thing going longer than an hour or so. Thank goodness for back up flavors and serving options – Kool-Aid and Dixie Cups, here we come!) We’ve got to admit though, the design of Snoopy’s dog house w/ the little snow shovel scooper is still awful darn cute.
These early commercials are reminicent of the heyday of Saturday morning toy spots, many of which were so iconic they continued to run for years afterward, even as new ads were produced. This late 70’s spot for the classic checkers-based board game Connect 4 is a perfect demonstration of the art for of selling the kid on the toy: It neatly, efficiently explains how the game works and gets in an appeal toward sibling rivalry. When the defeated brother slumps over and declares “Preeeetty sneaky, sis,” it’s a halcyon moment in kids TV! (Also, she wasn’t being sneaky per se little dude, you just weren’t paying attention. 😉 ) A clip that instantly cemented Connect 4 as a classic, and a lot more chill than some of the other gadget games of the era. (Remember Perfection? Terrifying!)
Barbie & the Rockers
Look, there are myriad Barbie commercials that could make it onto this list which are indicative of the era. (Remember the McDonalds Barbie Playset? Woof!) It is truly rare that a doll line captures the gaudiest of the fashion curve of its given decade quite like Barbie & the Rockers, though. And this commercial is loud! – so much dayglo, and moar bigger hair! Looking back on it, the decision to launch Barbie and her pals into the world of rock ‘n’ roll seems like a pretty calculated move; this clip is from 1987, just on the heels of the 1986 release of Hasbro’s Jem & the Holograms line and show. Barbie & the Rockers, sadly, did not have their own truly, truly outrageous soap opera-influenced cartoon to go along with the dolls, though. If only their songs were better…
10 Minutes of Star Wars Commercials!
Sure, most of these are either somewhat niche or forgotten bits that we dragged out of the relic chest for this nostalgia trip… but Kenner’s Star Wars toy commercials are the gold standard of all time. If you were a kid while the original trilogy was still in theatres, it’s impossible to understate how exciting it was each and every time one of these new clips hit airwaves in between cartoons, delivering exciting promise of more playtime adventures in a galaxy far, far away. These were the top of the line fuel for writing up our Christmas lists, wherein you just hoped they’d flash the name of the toy you wanted on screen so you could spell it right. (Damn, some of those bounty hunter names.) Please enjoy a solid 10 minutes of Star Wars classics! Darth Vader carrying case alert at 7 minutes in!