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Gateway Writes Showcase │ Colleen McFarland

Promotional Campaigns on VHS Tapes: A Sociological Perspective

by Colleen McFarland


As a kid who grew up watching VHS tapes in the 90’s, I guess you can say in some sense it was a big jump to DVDs and BluRays. But one thing that I definitely miss about VHS tapes was watching the previews and openings to these tapes. What was interesting was that no two previews were alike, but in some cases what made these tapes even more unique was when there was a big product tie in with a big brand name.
The first VHS tape that I owned to my knowledge of such a promotion was the Downy Fabric Softener promotion for the 50th anniversary edition of The Wizard of Oz. Of course the version of the VHS of The Wizard of Oz was particularly rare because the entire opening to this VHS that we owned explained the entire Downy promotion in great detail. This VHS was given to my brother and sister in Christmas of 1989 by my Great Uncle Roy who at the time worked as a food broker at a supermarket. I later found out that most of these tapes of this edition of The Wizard of Oz just contained the commercial in the opening. The opening to our tape contained a section that explained the different ways Downy would promote the release of this special edition of The Wizard of Oz,  August of 1989. But to a three year old in 1994, this whole opening was an incredibly esoteric rigmarole where such terms as “coupons” and “in store refund tear pads” went completely over this toddler’s head!
This promotional section is followed by a Downy promotional spot about a girl who is putting together an in-home production of The Wizard of Oz, who’s production values are immediately reflected in the first shot of the ad where the girl (who as we discover is named Emily) is searching under her bed for a ruby red tennis shoe. This is followed by looking through the kitchen drawer to find a metal funnel for the Tin Man’s hat.

As you can see from the clip, this commercial, although clearly written for commercial use, is an interesting time capsule for the late 80’s. It captures a happy, loving family in 1989 in a sort of Levitown-esque suburbia.This family archetype doesn’t seem to exist nowadays with all the social media and texting that the millennial generation is perpetually distracted by!

Peter Pan & Raisinetts


As a continuation of my article on The Wizard of Oz Downy promotion, I will do both a sociological analysis on another VHS I owned as well as how that commercial compares to other commercials of future decades. Nestle Raisinets sponsored the VHS release of the 1960 broadcast of Peter Pan with Mary Martin. This filmed Broadway musical for television which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 1990 (a year after The Wizard of Oz Downy promotion I must add.) It can only be assumed that the success of the Downy promotion prompted other brand names to jump on the VHS promotion band wagon! But the commercial that Nestle produced (though it has no plotline to it like the Oz/Downy commercial did) was in much similar vein to the Downy commercial which showed kids catching Raisinets (the catchphrase for Raisinets at the time was “Catch some Raisinets!”)

As I said it was done in a style similar to the Downy commercial as it captures the infectious, happy-go-lucky spirit of the early 90’s because it shows all the kids outside catching Raisinets in their hats, baseball mitts, and sweaters and having the time of their life! The lighting is very warm, natural, positive, and upbeat and not one single kid in that video is texting on their phone!

Although this was produced in the first year of the 90’s the decade doesn’t really hit its stride and establish its style until 1991.The first year of a decade often feels like a remnant of the previous year yet it’s starting to get a certain feel for the period it will become. What I am trying to convey is that I can usually tell what decade an ad is from just by the lighting, the quality of the film, and the message or spirit the ad is trying to convey. Ads from the 80’s had a very warm, familial feel to them but somewhere imbedded in the ads is this slight feeling of tension that we don’t know where this decade {the 80’s} will take us, yet gives us the impression that the 80’s was a simpler, exuberant time. The ads of the 90’s still had a warm, almost passionate feel to them, but it seemed it as though the 90’s had a little bit more direction and confidence in terms of the commercials they were trying to produce. There were more technological advances made in the 90’s-but not by much. Heading into the 2000’s the commercials became very formal, and had a stoic look to them. The 2000’s commercials showed more technological advances where you could see the newest breakthrough in technology and how everyone in the commercials and in real life started to carry cell phones, flip phones, and eventually (towards a latter part of the decade) Iphones and other smartphones.

Indeed, almost all of the commercials started wearing  grey suits and ties whereas the commercials from previous decades were all wearing either bikinis in the 80’s because there were less restraints within the structures of their commercials or heavy snow suits in the 90’s because it seemed as though these commercials had put on more layers and there was a bit more subtlety!

In the present there is a lot of humor in their commercials in order to keep people watching because most people nowadays are now more interested in watching a TV show or a YouTube video than they are watching commercials. This was a trend that started in the mid 2000’s with Geico© with their funny ads about how much you will save on car insurance by switching to Geico©. The trend of funny ads continues to this day, but even Geico© has poked fun at the viewer’s disinterest in watching their ads by saying “You can’t skip this Geico© ad, because it’s already over!” Who knows what the commercials of the 2020’s will look like and what message will they convey about us as a society!




“And they say autistic people can’t make metaphors”

“And they say autistic people don’t understand sarcasm”

                                                              -Colleen McFarland




View some of Colleen’s visual artwork HERE



Gateway Arts | 62 Harvard Street | Brookline, MA | 02445

Gateway Arts is dedicated to providing individualized, arts-based services to adults with disabilities that will enable them to create meaningful lives and careers in art. Located in Brookline Village, Gateway serves over 100 talented artists in the Greater Boston area through its Arts Studio Programming, Store, and Gallery. Gateway artists receive opportunities for local, national, and international recognition and sales. Gateway is a service of Vinfen Corporation, New England’s most comprehensive provider of human services to individuals with disabilities.

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