Entertainment Talk

The unique nostalgic merit of retro commercial uploads

The unique nostalgic merit of YouTube retro commercial uploads
(Photo by ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images)

At precisely 13-and-a-half years this week, YouTube is the age of an eighth grader. Meanwhile, Pure Moods is somewhere between a college senior and a soon-to-finish graduate student.

Were they human children in the same district, the 1990s new-age CD could have been the 2000s new-age Internet platform’s big pal. As it is, if anything, the latter has done more to help the former with its strange legacy.

Little did the Virgin Records aggregators know how fitting a leadoff track “Return to Innocence” would be. It is all because of YouTube’s eventual arrival and the purpose some of its users have found.

As with the compilation’s 1994 release and 1997 reissue, the Enigma song was the first sampling on its TV spots. For many ’90s kids inevitably exposed to its incessant airplay, the ad is synonymous with the spring of 1997.

With the help of everyday YouTube users and their standalone or compilation commercial uploads, that piece of the era can return on demand.

Count this author among those who occasionally slake their nostalgic sweet tooth this way. The spring of 1997 was the dusk of my time in my first childhood locality. By the end of the school year, a family relocation was one of the first harbingers of getting older and its hand-in-hand sense of upheaval.

By the same token, two decades later, querying an otherwise irrelevant album makes my spirits follow Enigma’s suggestion. Granted, it is for all of 60 seconds at a time, but we’re not going to go overboard.

I am far from alone in this crowd. For nearly a decade, the YouTube account hereinmylifetime has exhumed and preserved the Pure Moods re-release commercial. Since its Feb. 15, 2009, upload, it has logged more than a not-so-shabby 716,000 views and 800-plus comments. People are still chiming in this year.

“And now back to Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon!” viewer Chris Holloway typed.

Several other subscribers made their own references to kids’ programs for which Pure Moods paid the bills. After all, those networks needed to cater to the parental demographic somehow.

Another user, under the pseudonym Sheels1976, remarked on how this ad ingrained itself into their college memory bank. “We would be up doing whatever and this commercial would come on.”

For this author, though, the most relatable comment comes via Nicholas Schultz. A little less than a year ago, Schultz logged in and openly pondered, “Why am I so nostalgic for a CD I never owned?”

Not to speak for someone else, but it most likely is not the CD. Rather, it is its loose association with the time its promo permeated.

Not many other forms of media output can do this trick quite like commercials. They tend to run relentlessly for a few months, then go into a permanent retirement from physical TVs and radios.

That is what separates commercials from the programming they bridge. The forgettable shows are just that for a majority of their original viewers. Only cult constituents are inclined to seek their recovered clips on YouTube.

Even the best programs, namely the syndication-bound, start with sparse screenings of their newest content over several months. Episodes are inclined to lose their association with singular dates, weeks or months the more they rerun through the years.

Hit songs run the same necessary risk when their popularity peaks beyond the year of their release. Whether it is on TV or radio, dominant tracks claim too much calendar to keep the feel of their release date. They might still evoke one or two years, maybe one more than the other, but nothing narrower.

Moreover, some might hear a tune for the first time much later, thus associating it with an entirely different era.

Both similar and opposite shortcomings apply to memorable real-world events. They happen, garner their share of immediate coverage and are replayed on assorted occasions for years to come. While they are synonymous with the dates they occur, their fleeting nature lends them less time to accrue nostalgic potency.

The replays you saw a few times in a given real-life saga may help your mind replicate that time’s atmosphere when the clip comes on again in a later year. Still, those unscripted events usually mark a beginning, turning point or end to a storyline.

Conversely, an ad can appear in literally every break of every episode and telecast throughout its original run. As such, it can and will sustain an association with a storyline from start to finish.

Some ads are even consciously crafted to coincide with a limited, multi-month event. Take this century’s first Stanley Cup playoff, which yielded an overtime-oriented buildup commercial set to Lifehouse’s “Hanging by a Moment.”

YouTube user McKay4429601 gave that ad its spot in the not-so-selective video museum seven years after it aired. Its Internet immortality just hit the age of 10, having come up three years after the website’s inception.

Comparatively speaking, the upload has drawn less attention, but boasts a similar quality of testimonials to sentimental value. Four of the 14 commenters admitted to having sought the ad “for years.”

One of them, RetepAdam8, went so far as to say, “I’ve been looking for this for virtually as long as YouTube has existed. This commercial brought me to actually buy the album (I think it was my first CD).”

YouTube retro ad uploads are an inimitable kind of video scrapbook, one that transcends households and neighborhoods. Sometimes they are the only way to keep something’s memory in motion.

That is what an upload of a single retired ad can elicit. Logically, the countless VHS transfers of full commercial breaks multiply that nostalgic potential.

If you lived the time of the video’s content, you may only know the precise date by trusting the title. Come what may, you will likely know at least what year and what weatherly season it comes from. Confident in that knowledge, you remember where you were in your life and what personal and world events continuously touched you when those ads continuously ran together.

It could have been your final semester before graduating from one school while gaining admission to another. A sports team you played or rooted for may have been on an historic championship run. Or an anticipated family milestone reached its height and conclusion concomitant with a set of ad campaigns.

These ad uploads are an inimitable kind of video scrapbook, one that transcends households and neighborhoods. Sometimes they are the only way to keep something’s memory in motion.

If the Internet did, in fact, kill Blockbuster, as many are quick to claim, give it credit for preserving the chain’s remembrance. It is like a motorist unintentionally striking a streetside floral display, then making an educational exhibition of its remains.

Blockbuster only recently stopped lingering in the real world, its last stores closing in Alaska this past spring. Its forlorn employees must now try to repurpose their skills while ex-customers need up-to-date services to come their way.

Everyone can and should wish the best for those communities going forward. But one can also hope they will soon join us in killing a couple of minutes on YouTube with retro ad uploads that include Blockbuster spots.

The sooner their sensation of returning to innocence becomes more sweet than bitter, the better.

Al Daniel

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