Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Death in the (TV) Family

When I learned about the passing of Dick Wilson, TV's Mr. Whipple from the Charmin ads, I cannot say I was overly saddened, but it did make me pause and reflect on some of my wasted youth in front of the television and how TV advertising has changed.

Mr. Whipple, along with Mrs. Olson, the Folger's coffee lady, and Madge the Manicurist for Palmolive dish soap, were staples of TV for two and a half decades. Dick Wilson made 504- that's over 4 hours!- Charmin commercials. Mrs. Olson and Madge also had TV lives that spanned more than a generation. The ads must have been successful because you don't keep going back to the "Ladies, don't squeeze the Charmin," well if the TP ain't moving off the shelves.

Today these ad campaigns wouldn't last more than a TV season and that says as much about how we watch TV as it does about the ads themselves. In the 1970s when Madge had her customers soaking in Palmolive I would have had to get up off the couch and turn the channel to make her go away. Since there were only two other channels I left it on and Madge and the others were begrudgingly allowed to come into our living room. Today with the clicker and the Tivo and downloading episodes from the Internet who watches commercials- especially one's with characters like these three?

The other thing that strikes me about these characters and ad campaigns is the complete lack of irony and sense of humor. In reviewing these spots you can just see comedians like David Letterman waiting to skewer them. In fact an early Letterman memory of mine had him making fun of the Florence Henderson Wesson Oil commercials. Today if a TV spot isn't quick hitting eye candy then it won't last.

So, I am sorry Mr. Whipple, Mrs. Olson and Madge your time has come and gone. I am sure you will live on in You Tube land where people can get there nostalgia and irony in two clicks.


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