Back in the ’80s you could have probably convinced me that Time-Life was a branch of the Department of Education; their authoritative ads for book series on everything from UFOs to the Civil War to The Old West to pasta recipes came across to a young me as more of a public service than a cash grab. They were up there with National Geographic.
We all know that’s not true and that their book series are little more than a bunch of magazines in hardback but with terrific covers and layouts and font treatments, but even past all that there’s something more about those Time-Life books that really set them apart. I think it’s the commercials.
1980s cable was swamped with solicitations for subscriptions; Sports Illustrated, Sweet Pickles, and Encyclopedia Brittanica all had memorable ongoing campaigns to turn you into a regular customer. There was something special about Time Life’s commercials, though. They took themselves pretty seriously, and their tone of authority combined with contributions from ‘real’ people totally sold me. Emotionally. I didn’t actually buy any books.
The “The Enchanted World” book series focuses on the occult, and these ads are three pretty distinct approaches to selling it. Let’s start with what must have been the lowest-hanging conceptual fruit for someone pitching commercial ideas: the ever-up-for-a-spooky-job Vincent Price.
Witches and wizards, ghosts, goblins…and avenging knights? Otherwise Price predictably kills it.
The next approach involves reenactments of the spooky stuff that happens in The Enchanted World. It’s the weakest of the three, in my opinion – it lacks the spooky ‘oomph’ that Vincent Price provides and the scenes are laughable.
The third one really brings it home – interviews with actual witches, clairvoyants, tarot readers and psychics, scored with a 2001-esque ambient track. This is the sweet spot, the home run.
Such satisfying ads, though, all three. Which speaks to you?