We asked a few members of the Primm Company crew to look back to the first commercials they could recall. You might say that these commercials were our first introductions to the advertising business!
Steve Spencer, Art Director
I first remember TV as a Saturday morning cartoon morning and the commercials that I can remember usually had to do with food in some manner. I can remember certain branding elements like “Tony the Tiger,” “Dig ‘Em the Frog” or some mascot of cereal commercials, but the one I can remember in full is one that came back recently. It is the Tootsie Pop “How Many Licks” commercial where the cartoon boy walks up to the wise owl and asks “Mr. Owl? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?” And the owl takes the lolly pop and says, “Let me see… One… Two…Three…” (Crunch as he bites it) “Three, it takes three licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.” Then the commentator comes on and says something like “How many licks does it take to get to center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know.” I don’t know how many times, but I always tried to count how many licks it would take to get to the center from there after. And like the owl, I would always give up and bite into it to get to the Tootsie Roll in the center.
Janelle Person, Online Marketing Manager
The first commercial I remember was for Big Lots. Different people were shown, each in a different setting, talking about mysteriously missing loved ones. (They were all at the Big Lots sale). “He just disappeared,” a woman would say. “Mom left so quickly,” a child would say.
Then they got to my favorite lady. “Ed’s been gone before,” she said. “But NEVER on EGG NOODLE NIGHT!”
I loved egg noodles. (How could Ed possibly miss egg noodle night? Did he have any idea how lucky he was? How great was this sale, anyway!?) I repeated that part of the commercial to my parents hundreds of times, each performance getting better and better. It was hilarious. I was hilarious. And egg noodles were delicious. It was the best commercial ever.
I still say it when I make egg noodles. No one ever has any idea what I’m talking about.
Both our CEO, Tom Noffsinger, and our Production Manager Deborah Lawrence remember this Coke Commercial from 1979.
The first one I can really remember was for Coke, featuring Mean Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers giving a fan his jersey. It was created in 1979, so I would have been 12 years old at the time. I think any kid who was a Steelers fan in that era wished it was him saying “Thanks, Mean Joe.” I don’t know that it made me drink Coke, but it was definitely easy for kids and parents to relate to the commercial, and the phrase “Hey kid, catch.” was a popular saying in the late 70s.
Ron Primm, Chairman of the Board, Senior Creative Director
Of course the first commercials I remember were on radio. There used to be a humorist called Henry Morgan and he would talk about how much time you could save with the new Shick Injector razor. As Morgan told it, one guy saved so much time, he decided to look out the window, and fell to his death.
The very early TV shows didn’t really have commercials, as we know them today. However, they did have jingles. A show might be sponsored by somebody, and the performers would talk about the product, and play the jingle, but that was it. If it was packaged goods, like Pet Ice Cream, they would often show the package or hold it up. Once there was a bread commercial where the announcer opened the package, and held the slice up to the camera so people could see the texture, and there was a big hole in the slice. The camera could see him through the hole. Oh, the joys of live TV.
Commercials didn’t become an independent art form until some time later. There was a guy and gal variety show in the afternoon that was pretty entertaining, sponsored by Mohawk Carpets, with a Native American tom-tom-drum-sounding musical theme, and the sung line: “Carpets from the looms of Mohawk, Carpets for your rooms by Mohawk . . .”
Kukla, Fran and Ollie was a favorite afternoon show with hand puppets, very clever and entertaining; I can’t quite remember a sponsor, but it might have been Ovaltine. Valleydale bacon was a big early advertiser. They had an animated commercial, black and white, of course, with this parade of Porky Pig-like pigs in band uniforms, marching in a line with trombones or tubas, and as a pig would blow his instrument, another full-sized pig band member would emerge from the horn, and on and on. In recent times, somebody had the bright idea to resurrect that footage and use it in a modern-day commercial for Valleydale. I guess it didn’t go over too well, since I never saw it again after the first flight. So much for nostalgia.
The first commercial I was personally involved with was for The Virginian-Pilot, my employer at the time. It was a combination of live action and animation. Pretty rudimentary. Back then, the video camera lenses rotated in one-minute cycles, to keep the image from “burning in” so in order to animate art work, you had to wait for the right second to shoot your next shot, or the image would jump. Video editing was virtually nonexistent, so it had to be done in the camera. I’m glad nobody saved that one.
Obviously, you’ve got to be cautious when giving me an “olden times” subject.
I’ve been remembering the old days. We used to watch Milton Berle in the appliance store window at Ward’s Corner, and that show was sponsored by Texaco. These five guys in service station garb would sing the jingle, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star” and the announcer would give a spiel about the gas, service, products, etc. Every show had an announcer, kind of like Ed McMahon for Johnny Carson, and he would make the commercial announcements. Sounds pretty basic, and it was, but they weren’t all that bad, and the idea that the announcer was usually a personality in his own right made it work. That jingle-announcer formula continued for years.
Then there were the “Dancing Chesterfields.” These beautiful dancing legs sticking out from a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes. It started with a single pack-with-legs, and later, a smaller pack-with-legs was added, like a mother-daughter routine. Pretty cute, a little racy, and very popular. There was much speculation as to whose legs they were. Those were simpler times.
Note: Commercials weren’t run as “schedules” like today; back then an advertiser would sponsor a show, and they owned that show. An advertiser and their agency would create a show (often around a popular entertainer), in order to have a vehicle for the product promotion.
Kylie Wheeler, Internet Marketing Specialist
I’m fairly certain that this 1996 Meow Mix commercial is the first one that I remember. Maybe it was the catchy song or the incredulity of a cat using a phone, but all I know is that five-year-old me was sold.