The Best TV Commercials of the 1970s
1970 TV was rife with political stresses and cultural anxiety for change. People wanted an end to the Vietnam and Cold Wars.
Domestically, Americans faced an energy crisis.
The best 1970 TV ads leveraged these anxieties to sell their products and reassure their buyers. The world might be in chaos, these 1970 TV ads said, but you could still trust Coke, Amex, and Budweiser.
Who Were the Top TV Advertisers?
Given how much TV people consumed, it stands to reason that they saw an astonishing amount of 1970s TV ads. Given not all ads are created equal, which advertisers stand out as the best of the 1970s?
Another prominent 1970s ad campaign was the 7UP advertisement for the ‘un-cola.’
The company ran their ad at the height of the Pepsi and Coke competition. Famously, they marketed themselves as the ‘un-cola.’
One of the reasons this 1970s television commercial made waves was because it prominently featured a person of color. That was a significant television first for the world of soft drinks.
Not all memorable 1970s television commercials were for products. AT&T’s campaign to ‘Reach out and touch someone’ is an excellent example.
The emotionally-charged campaign focused not on purchases but on reconnecting friends and family through the power of a telephone call and was one of the most successful campaigns of the decade.
Another of the top advertisers in the 1970s was American Express. By the mid-Seventies, they hit upon a simple but effective formula. A celebrity would pop up, encourage viewers to guess their identity, and end by revealing they never left home without their Amex card.
Given the ongoing energy crisis and economically depressed straits faced by many Americans, the campaign was a stroke of genius.
What Commercials Were Popular?
But while many successful advertising campaigns ran throughout the 1970s, some of their commercials were more memorable than others. Here are some 1970s television commercials still remembered today.
I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke
One of the defining 1970s television commercials, ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,’ famously opens with an anthem opposed to the Vietnam War.
The brilliance of Coke’s commercial was that it tapped into a popular political sentiment of the time. For several seconds this 1970s ad doesn’t sound like a commercial; It sounds like something out of the Sixties Folk Revival. Then the lyricist slips in the line about Coke, and the point comes home.
It’s also an incredibly catchy jingle. There’s a reason The New Seekers and several others went on to record the song as something besides a slogan.
Like Coke, Alka-Seltzer had several memorable commercials in the 1970s. The one that stuck featured the tagline, ‘I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.’
The line began as a catchphrase and later, part of America’s pop culture shorthand.
Another well-beloved 1970s commercial came from Xerox. It playfully contrasted the novelty of their copying machine with years of oral history and monastic transcription. The commercial effectively demonstrated the time-saving effects of their product on the workplace.
Volkswagen had dozens of memorable ads. In this 1970s television commercial, an elderly gentleman leaves his fortune to his Volkswagen-owning nephew. It put a whole new spin on the slogan, ‘It sure pays to own a Volkswagen’.
Notice that Volkswagen also takes subtle advantage of the economic constraints of the era. It’s not just that Volkswagens are more economical cars, but that the writer of the will wants to reward his nephew’s careful saving strategy.
Good and Plenty
Good and Plenty similarly tapped into the cultural awareness of saving a penny, but in a very different way. Its mock-electoral campaign for Choo-Choo Charlie offered Good and Plenty candy bars to anyone who voted for Charlie.
In other words, this 1970s television commercial stressed the accessibility of its product to everyone who wanted to buy it.
Best Commercial of the 1970s
Coke had many adverts, but when you think of the 1970s, this is the ad most people recall.
Its jingle is singable and catchy. More than that, it capitalized on popular political sentiments without apology. As people joined hands singing that ubiquitous slogan, Coke effectively said it knew what the people wanted and would support them in getting it.
All they needed to do was choose Coke over Pepsi. And it worked. Coke remains the drink of millions, even decades later.
Many 1970s television commercials took inspiration from prevailing political sentiments or cultural mentality. These were the most successful ads because they left the impression that the companies behind them wanted to do more than sell a product. They were trying to change the world.