Boomers Watch the Commercial Beat Go On

Well, it’s happening again, not that it ever stopped. Lately, there has been a rash of commercials using boomer music in them. Even locally, an area hospital is using Brenda Lee’s version of Baby Face (1959) to advertise their pediatric surgery department, and a regional supermarket chain has enlisted Roy Orbison’s You Got It (1989). Mister Boomer still isn’t sure how he feels about this particular form of cultural appropriation, and has written about this before (see Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma and Boomer Music: Here, There and Everywhere).

Yet with this latest batch, Mister B has to wonder … wah-wah-wah-wah-wonder. Why. Wha-wha-wha-wha-why? It seems plausible that commercials are now written by Gen Xers and Millennials for Gen Xers and Millennials, yet they choose to use boomer music rather than tunes from their own eras. This latest batch though, has a new out-of-the-ordinary twist in that the pairings of song to product seems to lean to more than a little bizarre. Take a look at some recent song usage that Mister B has seen in his area:

Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf (1968)
Was the song used for motorcycle insurance? Hair curl control? Or maybe … nope. How about Pampers diapers for babies? Now Fire all of your guns at once/ And explode into space has a whole new meaning.

Summertime, The Jamies (1958, re-released in 1962)
Mister B has to admit that McDonald’s has employed this summery ditty in a fun way. Pointing out the challenges of summer such as sunburn and bug bites, the commercial offers a McDonald’s meal as an something easy for summer, all to the strains of Summertime, Summertime, Sum-Sum-Summertime …

Summer In the City, The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
The ironic twist in this BMW car commercial is that the song says summer in the city, but the people driving are in the great expanse of the southwest. Try getting your neck burnt and gritty in a modern air-conditioned car.

To Love Somebody, The Bee Gees (1967)
Another odd paring, The Bee Gees are singing out for Facebook Groups. Yup, the venerable social media giant is advertising on TV, and using a Bee Gees tune to do it. The commercial tugs at the heartstrings, showing a father/daughter group heading to a baseball game. Mister B has to wonder whether the idea was generated by one of Facebook’s artificial intelligence engines.

I Think We’re Alone Now, Tommy James and the Shondells (1967)
HP computers is using the Tommy James tune with a nudge and a wink-wink. The crux of the commercial is a new feature on the computer that locks out the camera, barring any possible hacking. The premise is, this lock out is so no one will see you when you are doing the eccentric things you do when no one is looking — like toe nail clipping or posing in front of a mirror. Tommy James, however, isn’t singing about that at all.

This begs the question of why stop there? Certainly more strange pairings are ripe for the taking. Mister Boomer has some advice for companies looking to utilize boomer music:

• Hey Viagara and Cialis, ever think about acquiring Eight Days a Week by the Beatles (1964)? Can’t get the rights? There is always Me and My Arrow by Harry Nilsson (1970).

• Bathfitters, you are aiming your product primarily at homeowner boomers, so how about appropriating a song boomers have misheard for years anyway? Credence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising (1969) has been heard by millions to be, There’s a bathroom on the right. Throw enough money into it and maybe you can get John Fogerty to do a cameo.

• Is Robert Wagner still hawking reverse mortgages? Drop in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Our House (1970) for a lead-in and fade-out for that instant boomer connection. Not to your liking? How about Barry Strong’s Money (That’s What I Want) from 1959?

What songs have you heard in commercials lately, boomers? Any suggestions of likely or unlikely pairings you’d like to add?

Boomers Were All Washed Up

During the boomer years, bar soaps were consumer products that were heavily advertised and promoted. As with toothpaste, hair products and laundry detergent, advertisers knew that boomer families had a history of staying loyal to specific soap brands, and they wanted to do everything in their power to win and keep that loyalty.

From the 1940s, ’50s, and into the ’60s, the advertising emphasis for many of these soaps was mostly about beauty and skin; using these products was going to make your skin smoother and make you look younger. Ads often mentioned lotions or special ingredients that gave their products that little something extra that the others did not have, and often cited scientists or doctors in the process. Surely the ads were not going to mention sweat and body cleansing for women who dusted the house in dresses and high heels? These ads were aimed not at the working class father, but at new boomer mothers. More than a dozen brands were marketed in that manner, including Lux, Camay, Dove and Palmolive, to mention a few. Ivory soap went its own way, sticking with their decades-old slogan of “99 and 44/100 percent pure.” This soap’s appeal played on boomer mothers’ desire for the best products to use on their new babies, but while they were at it, the ads would suggest, the soap was great for mom’s complexion, too.

Another exception to marketing soap as part of a beauty routine was by Dial soap. Dial, introduced in 1948 by Armour & Company (yes, the meat packers), was a true boomer product. By 1953, the company adopted the slogan most boomers will remember, “Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everybody did?” Billed as an anti-bacterial soap, their ad marketing path went directly to the heart — or rather, nose — of the problem of daily cleanliness. They did, however, point to special chemical agents called “Super AT-7” that claimed made their anti-bacterial soap more effective than other brands.

The company was sold to Greyhound (yes, the bus company) in 1970 and since then was spun off into a consumer product division of its own. Unfortunately for Dial, the FDA banned some of the ingredients used in the manufacturing of the soap in the 1970s. Researchers were able to reformulate the soap with government-accepted ingredients and it continues to be sold today.

Mister Boomer’s household was loyal to toothpaste, but bar soap was a different story. The family seemed to stick with one brand for a few months, and then went on to another. Mister B thinks it probably had something to do with what was on sale that particular week. Mister B recalls seeing Ivory early on, when his sister was very young, then at one point or another, Lux and Lifebuoy and others. In later years, Irish Spring made an appearance, as did a bar just for his mother’s use: Dove. His father kept a bar of Lava soap in the basement, by the laundry sink, for cleaning up after car or yard work.

Dial soap was an exception for the family in that Mister B’s household did use it for an extended period of time. It mattered what was in the soap dish because the one bar was for the entire family’s use. Mister B recalls the yellow-orange color of the Dial bar that came in the gold wrapper. It was like it was a the precursor to the 1970s Harvest Gold rush. The smell was not to Mister B’s liking, but what his father bought was what the family used. Consequently, Mister B didn’t buy a bar of soap until he moved out.

Were you held captive to using the one family soap, boomers, or did you have your own?