1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #4

The break starts with another excellent animated MTV promo. (Whoever was in charge of these must have been having a blast.) This one stars marionettes in a drawing room that appears to be inspired by Marie Antoinette. The sexiest marionette, with a drink in hand and red pants so tight they look like they were painted on (the metaphor becomes truth!), gives a kiss on the cheek to a grotesquely fat marionette, while another doll plays the piano. Another kiss for a squat little doll in a white tuxedo with a camera around his neck: his head pops open in a cascade of Russian nesting dolls, revealing three more heads in progressively smaller sizes.


There’s a lot of visual information to absorb in just ten seconds: if I wasn’t rewatching and freeze-framing, I probably wouldn’t notice the giant doll heads embedded in the white walls. We pan over to a window, where a cat outside is mewing. Sexy marionette walks over. The window opens (it’s not clear whether she opens it), and everyone in the room is sucked out, as if it was hard vacuum outside. The grotesquely fat marionette knocks out a chunk of the wall in the shape of an M, which becomes part of the MTV logo. The cat sleeps happily on the floor of the empty room.

Next: a sixty-second spot for The January Man. I told you they ran this ad incessantly during this countdown: this is the second time in less than an hour. I don’t think I’m ready to recap it yet.

Then an ad for Bud Bowl I! If you don’t remember the Bud Bowl, it was a series of ads that ran during seven Super Bowls (from 1989 to 1997), where through the magic of stop-motion animation, longneck bottles of Budweiser and Bud Lite would play a football game, thereby fulfilling the long-held dreams of, well, nobody. A camera swoops dramatically around a computer-generated stadium (which looks pretty decent, even by today’s standards, which means it must have been jaw-dropping state-of-the-art twenty years ago).


An announcer says, “Football fans, get ready for the battle of the century.” Clearly, Anheuser-Busch knew they were onto something, given that they appended that Roman numeral to the inaugural event. (If you were curious, Budweiser ended up beating Bud Lite 27 to 24–the precise outcome of fully three of the seven Bud Bowls.) “Pick up your scoreboard wherever you see this display,” the announcer says. Two animated bottles of beer stop by the display–speaking just for myself, I’m not ready for the theological/economic/cannibalistic implications of bottles of beer buying and drinking other bottles of beer.

The next commercial starts with the lick from “More Than a Feeling,” and an announcer promising “100 percent pure solid rock!” Yes, it’s Formula 45, a compilation album from Silver Eagle that sounded much like turning into your local classic-rock station for a few hours: Toto’s “Hold the Line,” Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way.” It also had a few hits that wouldn’t be found on most AOR stations: John Waite’s “Missing You,” Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles.” (That last one doesn’t get mentioned during the ad.) Four LPs would have set you back $19.95; three CDs, $29.95. When they play an excerpt of “Feels Like the First Time,” they throw a black-and-white picture of Foreigner up on the screen, and I realize I have no idea what those guys looked like. Judging by the evidence here, Foreigner were six brothers with long hair and identical leather jackets. The website Crap From the Past informs me that Formula 45 was also available under the title 1st and 10, with a picture of OJ Simpson on the cover.


Our commercial break ends with another great MTV bumper. You might remember this one: a scientist (white lab coat, spectacles) sleeps in an armchair in what is presumably his office. An animal skeleton on his bookshelf comes to life, grabs a pair of scissors, and proceeds to reshape the scientist’s tufty red hair. He wakes up, dismayed, to find that his hair has been styled into the MTV logo.

posted 24 June 2008 in 1988 and tagged , , , , , . 4 comments

4 Comments on 1988 Countdown: Commercial Break #4

  1. Chris M. Says:

    The MTV promos in the ’80s really pushed the medium as art for art’s sake (notwithstanding the, ahem…commerce of the spots, but nevermind). I feel like MTV must have been to the New York downtown art community back then what Law and Order has been to the New York acting community for the last 20 years: a beneficent local corporate benefactor/resume-builder.

  2. Molly Says:

    We had MTV when it launched, when I was in junior high, and I remember one early promo in particular: a pink, pudgy M on a bathroom counter, bewhiskered and pulsating. The can of shaving foam helpfully provided the TV. It gave me bad dreams.

  3. Scraps Says:

    I remember both the MTV promos from this segment. I once was told who was in charge of the MTV animations at that time — I have a vague memory of it being a friend of a friend — and if I once knew, unconnected as I am, I’ll bet you could find out.

    The Bud Bowl was the commercial equivalent of dot races. I remain amazed to this day that it was a successful — or at least persistent — campaign.

  4. CheezNapkin Says:

    that MTV animation with the guy getting a haircut was done by Henry Selick, the man behind Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, among other things.

    Just thought that was an interesting bit of information.

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