Video Digest: February 23, 2007

Regional ads, global fascination: Dallas's Trophy Nissan and Chicago's Eagleman; Houston's Gallery Furniture and New Jersey's Carvel ice cream; New York's Mount Airy Lodge; and then, ooh Sabine, the Overstock woman; finally, Select Dental.

No matter where you grew up, if you watched television, there was always that one commercial: the commercial that annoyed you so profoundly that at some crucial juncture, annoyance swerved into fascination—perhaps for some tic, some incongruity, or for the very fact of the commercial’s existence. Somebody—somewhere—thought this was a good idea.

In Dallas during the 1980s, the commercial was for Trophy Nissan. This was a perilous time, remember, when the Chicago Bears actually made a rap video and attempted a dance trend. And so the go-getters at Trophy Nissan followed suit, enlisting a gaggle of nerdy white car salesman from Mesquite, Texas, to pump their fists in their air, chanting, “Trophy! Trophy! Trophy Niss-ahnn!” Sadly, I couldn’t find this spectacle online. If you do, I’ll pay you in American Idol swag.

All this came up because of Eagleman. I can only assume that if you watched TV in Chicago in the 1990s, Eagleman was your Trophy Nissan. In the battle of bizarre regional commercials, Eagleman is the best thing I’ve seen. Ever.

Every city has their Trophy Nissan, or their Eagleman. In Houston, my friend tells me, it was Gallery Furniture. In Jersey, it was Carvel ice cream, each ad voiced by the nasally Tom Carvel, singing the praises of ice cream cakes that basically came in two shapes, rejiggered for every season.

A classic 1982 New York-area commercial is for the Poconos’ Mount Airy Lodge. This must have terrified the uptown intellectuals. But you gotta love that “every kind of winter entertainment” involves both Rodney Dangerfield and soaking in an Olympic-sized bubble bath.

Even these days, I get fascinated by commercials. Obviously, someone needs TiVo. A few years ago, I would go ballistic every time I saw an ad. Remember those? The sterile white surroundings, the sexy Diane Lane lookalike with the trace of an accent? It wasn’t a regional ad, but it sure looked like one. And that woman, Sabine Ehrenfeld, proved such a collective obsession that Slate’s Seth Stevenson wrote an article about her. What always bothered me about the following spot, in particular, was that it made no sense. I promise—99 percent of the time? What’s she talking about? And the way she pronounces 99 percent—argh! Why did I bring this up?

As you might have guessed, there is a regional commercial which currently fires my imagination. It’s for New York’s Select Dental, which seems to have been filmed in 1983 for some acting class. And weirdly, the commercial plays an awful lot on MTV and VH1, leading me to believe that the niche audience for those channels has now become uninsured slackers drinking away the pain of their cavities. The following snippet is the actual ad, with a spoofed customer endorsement tacked on toward the end. And not to trounce on the guy’s punchline, but the funniest, most fascinating part is the couple featured second. This is the reason the ad works, despite its aesthetic failings. It’s so annoying you can’t help but fall in love.

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