It’s hot today. It is really, really hot. There are waves of heat coming off the pavement. People and animals are lethargic. The flies are even over this heat.
When it was time for lunch, I made a tuna sandwich on rye, and while spreading mustard over the bread, I had a sensory memory. My grandmother used to make me tuna salad on rye during the hot Mississippi summers when I was growing up. This flash of memory connected my life in California with the little girl that grew up in the middle of the Deep South, in a place where heat, mingled with profound humidity, tales on its own definition. In the same moment that I remembered Grandma making those sandwiches, I thought of how I’d eat them in front of the big television console in my parents’ living room. The air conditioner chugging along—the hardest working machine in the state of Mississippi—gave some relief, aided by a large, sweating glass of ice tea. I mindlessly ate the sandwich, hungry yet not aware of how hungry I’d been because the temperature dulled appetites.
I can no longer recall what was on the television those summer afternoons, but in the midst of this collection of sensory memories, I flashed on a big red plastic Kool-Aid person sliding into a swimming pool. That may or may not have ever happened in a commercial, but in the middle of a memory about my dear grandmother, I am thinking about Kool-Aid ads. I really do have marketing in my blood.
The Kool-Aid commercial got me to thinking about Oscar Meyer commercials, and the floatting pool noodle ads, Coppertone, Turtle Wax, and Off Mosquito Spray: the ads of summer. I remember when Bananna Boat and Bain de Soleil came onto the market, exotic challengers to Coppertone. Everyone remembers, as kids, singing the lyrics to Oscar Meyer wieners. These products, these ads, they are the staples of my childhood summers. For better or worse, they are a part of my memory like the cheesy church friend of my parents, who always had matted hair and always seemed to be hinting for money, though she never came out and asked for it directly.
Like anything else, it’s easy to say that they don’t make ads like they used to. Mostly I consider that a good thing, but on days like today I think I miss the classic ads more.
After making the sandwich, I turned on the television so I could watch it while I ate. I paid attention to the commercials. I am unsure if there is anything that will stick in my mind decades from now as a classic “summer commercial.” That is not to say that there are no longer memorable commercials. They are out there, sticking out like colorful bangles in a heap of dime store merchandise. There are plenty of good TV ads, clever ones, informative ones. I can’t name one that belongs to summer, one that will be engrained in my mind with July, heat, sundresses and strappy sandals. Maybe the Corona Beer commercial might withstand time, the one with the shot of two people in a beach chair looking out a wanna-swim-in-it blue ocean. At least for me, though, it’s hard to have fond memories of a beer commercial. Oddly, I can get more misty about the catchy refrain of Nairs’ “Who wears short shorts?”
I turned to my boyfriend, who was sitting next to me on the couch, and I asked him, “What’s your favorite TV ad?” He was working on his laptop, absorbed in his own content. He said, in a polite but uninterested tone, “I, ugh, don’t care ’bout ads.”
That’s the kind of talk that makes a marketer shudder. I almost wished he had said, “Look I’ve fallen in-love with someone. His name is Dave.” Still, I can forgive him his trespasses. It is hard to get excited about yet another car commercial (as if the auto industry needs any more heartache).
“Do you remember Kool-Aid’s commercials from the seventies?” I asked. He looked up at me, forgetting his laptop. “Those were so creepy,” he said, “how could I forget? They were great!” We then spent the next few minutes, recalling our favorite childhood commercials. The products may have been disposable commodities, but the impression has lasted decades, and will last decades more. Today’s lawn fertilizer commercial may be a part of this collective memory of ads twenty years from now. I kind of hope it’s something other than garden manure that I remember with fondness, but, then again, a good ad is always worth remembering.