Glug glug. Snap, crackle, pop! Yebo Gogo. Naartjie-oh-naartjie-guava-passion-fruit! It’s not inside, it’s on top.
If you sat in front of the television in the 90s and 2000s it is not even necessary to mention to which brands those iconic words belong to. You know. Through the lens of nostalgia, you can see the boy filling up his toy Ferrari and the guy searching through the fridge.
Today, millennials (especially) are suckers for nostalgia. Elements of our childhood are sold back to us. Recycled and repackaged. From movies to fashion. With a rapidly changing world, marketers are ready to seize the opportunity to evoke our longing for ‘simpler times’.
The cheques are deposited in advance, only for the nostalgia dollars to be activated years later. We take this stuff very seriously. And not everybody is happy about this…
The intention isn’t always money. But clout. Consider YouTube. It’s a graveyard for commercial compilations: “10 forgotten TV ads from the 90s” or “Funny old adverts in South Africa”. Its cultural value is cemented with millions of views and comments like “those were the days” or “this brings back childhood memories”.
And the same can be said for the era of “but wait, there’s more”: infomercials.
We’re nostalgic. Even for infomercials
The most common form of direct response television is infomercials. It was all about immediate gratification. And its tried and test recipe for success can be traced back to Ron Popeil who coined the expression, “As seen on TV”. He first appeared on television in 1956 (when South Africa was still without television), demonstrating his father’s invention, the Chop-o-Matic, the grandfather of the Twista.
The products of infomercials were always a cure to some sort of problem – displayed in black and white and splashed with the words ouch! Whether it was balding, weight loss or simply the need to save precious time, it was a product the buyer never knew they needed and after a 30-minute segment it was a done deal.
But the product was just a drop in the bucket as a whole habitat formed around these infomercials.
It was a habitat consisting of finding the right television time slot, doing a demonstration with subtle repetition, the right words, a number to call to place your order, and the (imperfect) layman and a perfect host communicating authority.
In South Africa we had hours upon hours of Glomail, Verimark, and Homemark selling us products – even Hollard Life Insurance – all following in Popeil’s infomercial trendsetting footsteps. Isabel Jones, known for her consumer rights programme Fair Deal, was extensively involved in Verimark and extensively responsible for Bauer Cookware flooding kitchens of South Africans. To this day, Verimark still markets it as “S.A’s Favorite Non-stick Cookware” alongside Bastille Cookware. These pots and the Shogun Knife Sharpener was put to the test by product tester Keith Stevens with his American accent and chef’s jacket. And even though we spent hours watching him sharpening blades, he does not exist outside of the Verimark videos or being spotted in South Africa from time to time during Verimark’s heyday.
Keith Stevens remains a mystery, much like KTV’s Candice Hillebrand.
The comforting embrace of generation-defining infomercials
Before the internet’s infancy, infomercials had incredible power. And not just on adults who saw the potential of the Floorwiz. A Homemark ad on Liquid Leather, the magical solution that healed any leather couch almost instantly? Yes, even children wanted it! Maybe it’s because the 90s kids grew up in the era of MacGyver and his gimmicks. Or maybe its through the power of association. If Glomail advertised the EZ Cracker egg cracker and separator one minute and switched to the Pro Cyber Laptop for kids the next minute, they were equally impressed.
There was just something about those infomercials, from the health and beauty products to the kitchen appliances and DIY tools. Whether it was bizarre or has gathered up dust in a linen closet for the last two decades, we remember it.
And nostalgia has power.
When Sonic Mania Plus launched in 2018, it gave a massive nod to the time of Sonic the Hedgehog’s launch in 1991. The trailer was done through old school advertising – an infomercial. With old tube TVs, a salesman punting the typical infomercial tone, and the SEGA logo at the end.
Verimark, Homemark and Glomail are all a shared identity and experience in South Africa, and – even though it screams commercialism – it has the power to put us right back in that moment of time. We remember more than just the hands-free can opener or the Oribitrek Platinum Workout – we are left with the romance of collective nostalgia: the movies, the music, the fashion, and those moments shared with family and friends.
And there it is. The rainbow nation’s nostalgia isn’t political or cultural. It’s commercial. We remember the taglines, we remember the earworms and it sticks to our hearts like a half-chewed Chappie under a school desk.