Christmas, 1980. Carter’s on his way out, Reagan’s on his way in, Rubik’s Cubes are the must-have holiday toy, The Empire Strikes Back rules the theaters and Dallas rules the living room. Here’s a look at the holiday ad surge you’d have seen if you were a television viewer or magazine reader in Christmas of 1980. It’s an earth-toned, synthesized, font-stravaganza.
Suzanne Somers lends her Three’s Company Cindy-ditz to this weird silent film Ace Hardware commercial. There’s very little charm to the silent film angle – Ace must have been confident that Somers’ presence was all that was needed to sell the idea that you should shop for Christmas gifts at a hardware store.
There’s a fine puppetry effort in this Heineken ad from back when Heineken was “the good beer”.
This one’s not necessarily consumer-facing, but the layout is too impressive to pass over. Marvel’s bold claim that Spider-Man is more popular than Santa is backed by the confidence shown in a minimal graphic design and the amazing font treatment in “Marvel Comics Mean Business!”
This overly serious and saccharine General Electrics branding ad focuses on how much easier everyone’s life is thanks to them.
Kellogg’s cereal takes a similar approach, using their whole roster to wish you a happy holiday. Seeing the various mascots fully animated in high quality and interacting with each other in this crossover commercial is a pretty exciting prospect for a kid and an idea that is oh-so-eighties.
I can’t get a good read on that tree size, though. Either it’s a tiny tree or Tony the Tiger is ENORMOUS.
Mattel takes a bold step in Christmas 1980, employing Santa to encourage kids to… mail in coupons for rebates on games. Pretty lame, Santa. These handheld games make an amazing display, though.
Speaking of Mattel, this non-seasonal Intellivision ad featuring incredible spokesperson George Plimpton of all people helps demonstrate how fierce the console wars still were in 1980. Direct call-outs of other brands were relatively rare in those days.
Radio’s still a thing in 1980, too. Apparently, it’s still enough of a thing to warrant actually turning your dial at a specific time on a specific date. Here’s a newspaper ad for Merv Griffin’s Christmas Special Broadcast – 12 hours long!
In addition to having the best chain pizza of the 1980s, Pizza Hut also had the best licensing deals. This Paddington Bear product tie-in is not great evidence of that fact. Just wait for The Land Before Time and Back to the Future II!
It’s difficult for me to get on board with the concept of underwear-as-gift. For a significant other, sure, go nuts. For a child? If you’re their parent, maybe! You’re paving a road to disappointment, but maybe! If you’re ANYONE other than the parent? Hard no.
Underoos disagrees, claiming that their fun underwear is the perfect gift for any family member to give to a child. 1980, man.
And then there are the aforementioned big guns. Rubik’s Cube had just launched internationally in 1980 and was named toy of the year. And it fits just right in a stocking. Coincidence?
The Empire Strikes Back hit theaters earlier in the year in May, but the merchandise push lasted well into the holiday season and beyond. Before we dig into the commercials, let’s take a second to appreciate the elegance of the box art.
This minute-long commercial featuring C-3P0 and Chewbacca really take you through the entire lineup. This has the feel of the movie itself being involved in the toy market, and it’s pretty exciting. The Millenium Falcon! That AT-AT!
The breakout commercials are more traditional “kids playing with it” spots. Here’s Han, Chewie, and the Probot from Hoth:
Also from Hoth, the Imperial Attack Base playset. Never mind that there was no Imperial Attack Base on Hoth. Shh.
The Cloud City of Bespin is where Star Wars really embraced the ’80s for the first time. The lighting, the steam, the cliffhanger, the drama. Here’s a really impressive 3-in-1 Bespin playset.
Finally, there’s this confusing mess featuring the deceased Obi-Wan as a main character and Yoda’s deadly… snake? Can’t win ’em all, Kenner.
Did I say ‘finally’? I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t include this Puffs tissue tie-in. Again, featuring C-3P0. You know what? A boring box of tissues would be the exact sort of product Threepio would be into endorsing.