Once upon a time, tv commercials were America’s common language. They were catchy, they were inescapable, they were universal. In the glory days of network tv, you might not have watched the exact same shows as your neighbors, but you definitely knew not to squeeze the Charmin, asked “Where’s the beef?,” and could sing all the words to the “Meow Mix” cat food song. (Spoiler: they’re all “meow.”)
For the ultimate proof of the impact of vintage tv ads, I present baby names. Meet three names that became overnight phenomena thanks to the power of commercials.
In 1993, Hellmann’s/Best Foods introduced a brand-new sandwich spread. It combined the tang of French-style Dijon mustard with Hellman’s famous mayonnaise to produce a revolutionary creamy “Dijonnaise”TM.
In other words, it was mayo + mustard, for those who couldn’t be bothered to use two different condiments. That might seem prosaic, but a genius of advertising thought to set the new product to the tune of Gene Chandler’s doo wop classic “Duke of Earl.” Di, Di, Di, Dijonnaise, Di Di…take a listen to the ad, and I dare you to keep the jingle out of your head. It certainly stuck in the head of American parents, who named 23 girls Dijonnaise in 1993.
In the 1980s, wine coolers had a moment. The mildly alcoholic drinks were essentially pre-packaged punch: a mixture of soda, juice and cheap wine in individual serving sizes, ready to slip in with the Budweiser in your party ice chest. For a few heady years, they were everywhere. But hey, before you laugh at the ’80s consider that the current trend is for “hard seltzer,” which is marketed as good for you because it’s low in carbs. Mark your calendar for 25 years from now to look back and snicker.
Anyway, the top wine cooler brand, Bartles & Jaymes, was a Gallo product that hit it big with an unlikely ad campaign. Two gray-haired country gents sat on a front porch and said “thank you for your support” for “their” new wine cooler brand. The name Jaymes, previously an obscure spelling of Jaymes seen just a handful of times each year, immediately took off. During the ad campaign’s peak in 1986, 144 American boys were named Jaymes.
When was the last time you heard a perfume theme song? Back in the ’70s and ’80s, companies like Revlon and Prince Matchabelli churned out jingles to make their scents household names. Each perfume was positioned as a lifestyle statement, typically either romantic and beguiling (“Your Wind Song stays on my mind”) or fresh and liberated (“Kinda free, kinda WOW, Charlie”)—but always with the explicit purpose of winning over men, who were pictured either in expensive business suits or riding horses along the beach.
Revlon’s Enjoli (AHN-zhǝ-LEE) perfume crafted its 1978 vision of the modern woman out of Peggy Lee’s powerhouse song “I’m a Woman.” Their revised lyrics served as an introduction to the superwoman ideal: full-time businesswoman, full-time homemaker, and full-time seductress. “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never-never-never let you forget you’re a man.” In the first two years after the jingle’s launch, 185 girls were named Enjoli.
Could any advertisement pack that kind of cultural punch today?