Boomers Helped Make Super Bowl Commercials Super

This week Super Bowl LI (51) was played. If the final tally of viewership turns out to be anything like the last three years, more than 110 million people tuned in to watch the Big Game, the commercials and the halftime show.

Here are some fun facts for you:
• Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest food consumption day in the US — only Thanksgiving tops it
• The game wasn’t televised before a true national audience until 1972; before then, the telecast was blacked out in the participating teams’ home cities
• The cost of airtime for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl I in 1966 cost $37,500; this year it will top $5 million for the same 30 seconds

Speaking of commercials, Mister Boomer has previously delved into the boomer-era history of the Super Bowl (Boomers Got Super-Sized), but have you ever wondered how the TV commercials got to be an attraction in and of themselves?

Most sports historians point to Super Bowl III as the turning point. That game, played in January of 1969, pitted the New York Jets against the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts. A brash young quarterback, Joe Namath, guaranteed a win for the Jets. He was derided and ridiculed for his cockiness, but his prediction held true, with the Jets posting a 16-7 victory over the Colts. Interest in the game skyrocketed and viewers loved every minute of it, especially boomers. Namath became something of a folk hero among young boomers for his off-field antics, which earned him the nickname “Broadway Joe,” as well as his on-field play.

Namath’s celebrity status landed him a commercial for Noxema Shave Cream that aired during the 1973 Super Bowl. In it, Namath says, “I’m about to get creamed,” as a young Farah Fawcett covers his chin with the shave cream. It was quite a sensation, causing a sharp increase in sales for Noxema, and opening the door for memorable commercials in years to come.

In the years that followed, the country’s top businesses — including General Motors, Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, IBM, Xerox and a host of others — spent increasing amounts of money producing commercials that, in many cases, were intended to run only once. Viewership of the game steadily increased, as did the cost of the commercial airtime. Nonetheless, it took until Super Bowl XXIX (29) in 1995 before the cost of a 30-second spot topped $1 million. Of course, the entire reason for advertising during a Super Bowl is the size of the viewer audience. Two years ago during Super Bowl XLIX (49), an all-time high was reached with more than 115 million viewers.

For marketers, the game is truly a dream come true because it reaches every demographic from Baby Boomers right through the current generation, and many boomers will tell you they have watched them all. In addition, the number of women watching the game — and the commercials — has risen to just under half the total viewers at this point.

Some commercials were more memorable than others, and boomers all have their favorites. Here are a few of what most boomers regard as truly memorable:
1977 — A monks uses a Xerox copy machine to make manuscript copies with the tagline, “It’s a miracle.”

1979 — Mean Joe Greene, defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers starred in this one-minute spot for Coca-Cola. As Greene limps back down the tunnel to the locker room after an injury, a young boy (Tommy Okun, age 9) calls to him and tells him he thinks he is the best. Mean Joe doesn’t respond, and the boy hands him his Coke, which he downs in its entirety. As the kid turns and says, “See ya around,” Greene calls out to him, “Hey kid, catch!” tossing his game jersey to him. In 2011, Advertising Age voted it the number one Super Bowl commercial of all time.
1984 — Apple introduced the Macintosh computer with a memorable 1984-themed ad. In a play on the year and the George Orwell novel, the narrator announced, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”
1986 — The Budweiser Clydesdales made their Super Bowl commercial debut trotting through a snowy landscape. The iconic horses have since reappeared in numerous years.

There have been many more memorable commercials since then, but for boomers, the early days will always be the best. Mister Boomer sides with those who think the Apple Macintosh commercial was the best ever. The direction by Ridley Scott, dystopian theme and boomer-like revolutionary spirit propels that one to the top of his list.

What is your favorite Super Bowl commercial from our boomer heyday?

Boomers and Mister Boomer Played Baseball

While recently walking to meet friends in a nearby park, Mister Boomer happened upon a Little League baseball game in progress. It immediately transported him 50-plus years back to his stint in Little League in the early 1960s.

Boys in Mister B’s neighborhood were obsessed with baseball in any form, from sandlot to Little League to the majors. Baseball card collecting was a huge part of their daily discussions. They’d trade cards among themselves and put duplicates or lesser-player cards in the spokes of their bicycles, which they rode to the baseball fields for all-day games during the summer. So it was understood that the first chance a boy had to play team baseball, he’d try out. A boy could play four years of Little League, then go on to Pony League play as a teen. Worst case scenario, city recreation baseball was open to all, regardless of ability.

Thus it was that Mister Boomer came to play organized team baseball. He had tried out for Little League, but failed to get picked up by a team. Instead, he and a couple of school  friends signed up for the city league. The teams in the city league could choose their own names, so after much debate, the boys decided on a name that was inspirational and timely; they would be known as The Astronauts. While the season gave Mister B practical team experience, it wasn’t Little League, with their formal uniforms and dedicated practice times. So the following year, Mister B tried out for Little League again, and this time, was put on a team that was sponsored by a local drug store.

A neighborhood kid was on the same team, so the boys would ride their bikes to practices and games together. The season started before school was out for summer, so time was tight getting home from school, wolfing down some dinner and riding to the field. Most of the team was already at the field when Mister Boomer arrived and parked his bike. A few minutes later the coach called the boys together to announce the line-up. His side was to be the home team in this game, so they would be in the field first. Mister Boomer was assigned right field, and would be batting fifth.

The first inning began without incident, and in short order Mister B’s team was at bat. The lead-off boy hit a ground ball up the middle and was safely on first base. The second batter hit a pop-up fly ball for the first out. The next batter hit another single, advancing the original runner to third base. Mister Boomer waited in the on-deck circle, wondering if he would get his turn at bat when the fourth batter was given a walk. That meant as Mister Boomer stepped into the batter’s box for his first official Little League at bat, the bases were loaded with one out.

Mister Boomer felt his heart racing, and, as many movies have described, he experienced a slowdown in time. He watched as the pitcher did his wind-up, but it appeared to be in slow motion. Mister Boomer glanced at the first base coach, as instructed, and was given the go-ahead to hit at will. Mister B hated to let any ball go by if he thought it was within his hitting range. He watched as the ball left the hand of the pitcher and was coming in a little high and to the outside of the strike zone, but Mister B was determined to give it a swing. Visions of hitting a ground ball to the infield that could be turned into a double play and end the inning rushed through his head, but he powered the bat in an arc that just barely missed the sweet spot. As a right-handed batter, the slight undercut of the ball, coupled with a minute late swing, caused it to acquire a fly ball trajectory into the opposite direction — right field.

As Mister Boomer dropped the bat and ran furiously toward first base, he could see the surprised look on the right fielder’s face as the ball sailed over his head. The first base coach was signaling Mister B to “go, go, go” as the right fielder picked up the ball in the grass and threw it as hard as he could — toward first base but over the first baseman’s head. Team members scrambled to get the ball, which was now in the area where parents had parked their folding chairs. Mister B could hear the air rushing through the earholes of his helmet as he peered back to see what was going on, and promptly tripped over second base. Falling face first into the dirt, shouts of “Get up! Go, go, go!” echoed though his head as he got to his feet and ran toward third base. The throw was nowhere near third base, and ended up in left field as Mister Boomer saw the third base coach waving him in to home with a windmill turn of his arm. Mister B kicked it into high gear and stepped across home plate as the throw came in to the catcher. He had a hit at his first time at bat in Little League, and it was an inside-the-park home run.

More than a home run, he had a grand slam home run, with four runs being scored. He was elated as he was greeted by his teammates and parents of fellow team members cheered. Mister B played the rest of the game in a fog, despite getting a couple more hits. His team won handily, but after the game was over, he was informed that his grand slam was the result of the other team being charged with three errors, and that took a little wind out of his sails. But he was happy he had a hit in his first at bat, and it was a home run.

Mister Boomer went on to play three years in Little League on the same team, and had the chance to play every position but catcher and pitcher. His combined batting average was over .400 and he learned to bat equally well as a left hander as right, giving his coach another weapon in the battle for diamond supremacy. In his second year, the team made it to the playoff games. Mister B was proud to be able to move to a field with real team dugouts, visitor stands and beautifully manicured grass, but his team was eliminated in the first round.

Baseball was a big part of Mister Boomer’s early life, but as soon as he entered high school, he stopped playing in any form, as neighborhood kids were all off in different directions, and dreams of learning how to drive appeared on the horizon.

Did baseball — or another sport — occupy your summer vacations, boomers?