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Bob Garner.jpg

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Even though I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life working in TV, I was often too busy to actually watch much of it, or at least to pay much attention to the commercials.

Now that I’m semi-retired and am watching more television, mostly on cable news channels, I’m noticing that much of the humorous creativity in TV ads seems to be centered in the car insurance business.

GEICO seldom fails to bring a smile when one of its odd line-up of characters — or creatures — starts letting me know how easy it is or how happy it will make me to save hundreds of dollars on my car insurance.

The company started the quirky campaigns in 2004 with “So easy a caveman could do it” and followed with “As happy as a camel on hump day,” which I understand still gets thousands of hits every Wednesday on YouTube.

The lovable, Cockney-accented Gecko is still in GEICO’s commercial rotation, most recently as he visits a 24-hour diner to chat with the waitress about 24/7 telephone and internet access to agents, as well as to explore 24/7 access to “some of that lemon meringue pie.”

My current favorite GEICO spot, though, is the one in which researchers at a station in Antarctica are subjected to cabin fever.

“I can’t believe it,” says one of the scientists.

“What? That Carl brought his Karaoke machine?”

“No. How easy it was for me to save hundreds of dollars on my car insurance with GEICO.”

At that point, one of those trapped with the Karaoke decides he’d rather perish in the howling winds and swirling Antarctic snow than endure any more singing and has to be dragged back inside.

Who in the world came up with this novel idea to sell something as boring as auto insurance? Probably someone who considers Karaoke even more boring.

Speaking of boring, whatever happened to the garden-variety headache once made to seem so common by TV pitchmen? During my growing-up years, it seems every other television commercial was for an over-the-counter headache remedy.

Anacin and Bufferin are two brands I particularly remember. In the 50s and 60s, TV spots commonly featured an actor purporting to describe a typical headache — where it started, how it moved around and where it came to rest. Today’s pain reliever ads seem to emphasize headaches less and general body aches more.

Come to think of it, whatever happened to Alka-Seltzer, or at least its prominent place in my consciousness? I know the stuff is still around, and has, in fact, mutated into a range of products, although I don’t hear much about it anymore.

I ruefully admit that during the 60s and early 70s, as a college student and before Ruthie and I had children, I thought of Alka-Seltzer as something of a miracle cure for a combination of headache, body aches, upset stomach and acid indigestion — in other words, hangover.

Thinking “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, Oh, what a relief it is.” still makes me feel better, even though I probably haven’t had an Alka-Seltzer in at least 20 years and it’s probably been 40 years since I last heard that jingle.

The lines, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” and “Mama Mia, that’s some spicy meatball,” from two other Alka-Seltzer ads and are no doubt recorded in some TV ad copy hall of fame.

If I can find some Alka-Seltzer, I’ll drink a toast. Oh, and to bring the whole discussion back to our starting point, I’ll include a nod of appreciation to whoever dreamed up Allstate insurance’s “Mayhem” character. Pure genius.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com.


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