Tuned In

He Had a First Name. It Was O-S-C-A-R.

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Oscar Mayer, the purveyor of meats who shared a name with the company he chaired, died Monday at age 95. It’s a little odd to feel nostalgia for the passing of a man who, I would guess, most of us did not know except for the name attached to his products. But Mayer’s company, and his name (actually his family name; he joined the family business in 1936), had a legacy on TV, inscribing his moniker in our memories in two of TV’s most persistently memorable commercials.

Compare the two ads after the jump. But don’t blame me if you can’t get the jingles out of your head for the rest of the day:

Gen X-ers of a certain vintage will remember the above ad as a prime example of the Cute Kid Era of advertising of the 1970s, when the likes of Life cereal’s Mikey, Mason Reese (for a glimpse of a child actor’s life, watch this making-of video) and Rodney Allen Rippy bestrode Madison Avenue like giants. Really tiny giants. And a generation of Americans has this cherub-cheeked kid to thank for their ability to properly spell “bologna.” But before him came another immortal jingle: 

This ad was made before I was born, but the campaign and the jingle survived so long that I still have it burned in my memory. This was in the days that a 60-second ad was not just a Super Bowl rarity, so the spot has a chance to move through several stages: introduction of the premise, performance of the song, wry meta moment in which one of the characters satirizes the commercial within the commercial itself, and finally, showdown in which the dissenter is confronted and joins the group to sing the joys of being a mass-produced sausage eaten by hungry children. 

We’ll always have the songs; personally, I’ll have them unkillably cycling through my head for the rest of the day. We didn’t know you, Oscar, but we knew your name. T-H-A-N-K Y-O-U. 

[Personal note: one of my earliest professional reporting assignments was driving the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile for a Milwaukee Journal feature. My journalism career’s been pretty much downhill from there.]

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