Looking Back: A Tour of Insane Ads From the ‘80s and ‘90s

One of the only good things about the inexorable march of time is that, before we know it, we can look back at things that were cool 20-30 years ago and mock them mercilessly. Hair, clothes, music … viewed from decades down the road, everything looks so ridiculous that we wonder how we took any of it seriously. Advertising is no different, so I’ve pulled a few ads from years gone by that are ripe for ridicule.

1. Jordache Basics

Apparently Jordache Jeans made an entire series of these “Basics” commercials inspired by the angsty teen dramas and Brat Pack movies of the ‘80s. They’re all hypnotic – mostly because, other than the proliferation of denim-based fashion, there isn’t a lot of tie-in with the product (apart from the tag line, which I guess means your life is complicated, but those high-waisted, tight-butt pants are not?).

This particular “episode” opens on a couple in the midst of a fight. We quickly discover that the man, who appears to be wearing three shirts, is upset because his girlfriend has decided to go to college and leave him behind. When she suggests that he go too, he scoffs: “Four more years of school, right? Well, no thanks.” Combine that with the fact that he looks like he’s about 35 and I think we can all agree that this dude needs to go.

Thankfully the girl realizes that as well, gesturing at him with what appears to be a handful of wadded-up pantyhose before flipping the script on him and, hopefully, making him realize he’s a huge jerk. Feminism! Jordache!


You can keep your patriarchal legwear, Justin. I’m sticking to Jordache from now on!

2. Nestlé Alpine White

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This one raises a lot of questions for me. What is this woman doing wandering around in the wilds of Alaska? Why is she dressed in blue jeans, the most inappropriate snow gear choice possible? Why does she look so sad when she should be enjoying her Nestlé Alpine White chocolate bar (with almonds)? Why is there a forlorn-looking fox? Does that fox know that it will die if it eats the chocolate, so it probably shouldn’t be too upset it’s not getting any?

Actually, the more I watch this, the more I wonder if this is the girl from the Jordache commercial, realizing her dreams of wistfully eating chocolate in the harsh, unforgiving Arctic wasteland. It would at least explain the choice of blue jeans.


If only Justin could see me now …

3. Squeezit

I remember drinking and loving Squeezits when I was a kid. What I do not remember is just how existentially horrifying the commercials were. You basically have sentient bottles of juice being hunted by greedy, thirsty children. You are forced to watch them scream in terror and try desperately to hide, only to have their heads unceremoniously torn off and their brains sucked dry as they flail helplessly. No wonder so many people my age are in therapy.


Pictured: graphic violence.

4. Colt 45

I’m not even sure where to start with this one. Billy Dee Williams did an entire series of ads for Colt 45, a malt liquor that should only be drunk directly out of brown paper bags to disguise the fact that you’re drinking Colt 45. This particular spot is an assault on the senses: It kicks off with a screaming horse (because why not?) and jumps right into some sort of dystopian universe in which dancers gyrate in front of large industrial fans, random women gaze into the distance, exploding fridges and manhole covers whiz past … and through it all, Billy Dee remains silent yet confident, striding through dark alleyways despite raging Dobermans on either side.

This post-apocalyptic fever dream ends abruptly with the line: “Colt 45. It works every time.” But what works, exactly? What does it help you do? Does it protect you from rampaging dogs? Does it cause sad-eyed women to materialize out of thin air? Perhaps we will never know, and perhaps that’s exactly what Billy Dee wants.


Even the dogs want to stop you from drinking Colt 45.

5. McD.L.T

This gem, featuring George Costanza Jason Alexander when he had hair, starts out with one simple but extremely important question: Are we all “getting tired of lettuce and tomato hamburgers in this town that don’t quite make it?” Generally, if a strange man jumped in my way and yelled that question at me, I would immediately head in the other direction, but not in this town! They’re ready for a new kind of lettuce and tomato burger, and they don’t care what they have to do to get it.

Apparently the residents of this town have lived too long under the tyranny of wilted lettuce and tomatoes on their hamburgers – but George Jason is here to set them free with the new McD.L.T. I honestly can’t tell if the burger itself is a new product (beef topped with lettuce and tomato? Someone fetch my smelling salts!) or if it’s about a box with space for two separate halves of a sandwich. Whatever it is, everyone is incredibly excited about it. You may think it’s over at the 48-second mark, but oh, no – you have to understand that it “could be the best-tasting lettuce and tomato hamburger EVER!” As if up until this point the entire concept itself was beyond the reach of humankind.

Honestly, my biggest quibble with this commercial is that McDonald’s no longer sells just a plain burger with lettuce and tomato. So, sadly, all of George’s Jason’s enthusiastic prancing appears to have been for naught.


I’m sure there’s some “Seinfeld” reference here, but I’ve never seen an episode, so I can’t help you with that.

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Lisa Umar
Lisa began her career as a China analyst in Washington, D.C., before moving to Phoenix to attend the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Since then, she has gained experience in account service, project management, branding, media placement and campaign strategy. Her clients have ranged from resorts to transportation companies and nonprofit organizations, as well as both B2C and B2B companies. She holds a dual B.A. in international affairs and Asian studies from George Washington University, as well as a master’s degree in international marketing from Thunderbird.

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