21 Ads That (Almost) Make You Miss the ’80s

Headshot of David Griner

Grating jingles, DayGlo wardrobes, shrill child actors, cheesy dance montages. If you wanted annoying, you could find it in the TV-commercial breaks of the 1980s. But today, 21 years removed from that decade of regrettable advertising, a few spots from the era do manage to spark a glimmer of misty-eyed nostalgia. AdFreak sifted through the morass and picked 21 such relative bright spots—presented here for your enjoyment. No, these aren't the best ads of the '80s, so don't expect Apple's "1984" or Wendy's "Where's the beef?" We also bypassed enduring earworms like "My Buddy." These are just ads that, for better or worse, made us smile in looking back at them—a glimpse of a simpler time when, occasionally, it wasn't so bad when Knight Rider went to commercial.

  1. Apple IIc

    "You Can Take It Home"

    Click to view. Hard to believe, but there was a time when "the computer wizards at Apple" actually competed with PCs on both performance and price instead of just style and usability. Yes, when this 1984 spot debuted for the Apple IIc, nothing said "must have" quite like 10,000 sweet-ass floppy discs and a price point of $1,300. That's a mere $2,700 in today's dollars, not counting the monitor and optional mouse, of course.

  2. Carvel

    "Cupie the Chocolate Nut"

    Click to view. When science finally invents the time machine, I'll be the first in line—holding a spoon and waiting to eat a cloppy frozen turd pile at Carvel. Sure, the chain still exists (it's even been referenced recently on both How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock), but I doubt its menu will ever reach such heights as Cupie ("Yeah, he's back!") the Chocolate Nut.

  3. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

    "Who Broke My Window?"

    Click to view. Like many children of the '80s, I was first exposed to the Mormon Church through its copious TV advertising, which usually took the form of simple morality lessons. This one, nominated by AdFreak reader Michael Ratty, is nothing short of a Park Slope mini-opera featuring a young Carlton Banks (née Alfonso Ribeiro), who also showed off his dancing chops in another classic '80s ad alongside Michael Jackson.

  4. Coca-Cola

    "You Can't Beat the Feeling"

    Click to view. The '80s were just so darn exciting that the only way to get all that enthusiasm out of your body was to DANCE! One gets the feeling that spandex and leotards were practically required garb, even at the Plymouth Duster factory.

  5. Commodore Amiga


    Click to view. Commodore packed an incredible amount of '80s star power into this spot for the underappreciated Amiga. But the ending always leaves me wondering. Was there a Tip O'Neill's Congressional Combat 9000 game I missed out on?

  6. Coors Light

    "At the Silver Bullet Tonight"

    Click to view. You know what I love about this ad, other than the hair and the outfits? You just don't see a lot of commercials where people actually know the bartender. Maybe it's seen as a negative to imply that someone's a regular (aka, an alcoholic), but it gives this Coors Light spot a folksy charm that just wouldn't fly now.

  7. Diet Pepsi

    "New Neighbor"

    Click to view. Michael J. Fox braves a mild rain, Kenny Loggins style guitar riffs and the world's least scary biker gang just to impress his new neighbor. The potential threesome at the end shows that this night may be starting with Diet Pepsi, but it's clearly going to end with coke.

  1. Epcot Center

    "This Is Epcot Center"

    Click to view. There's something so intrinsically '80s about Epcot. It was my generation's version of the World's Fair. And even though Disney has modernized the park pretty well, Epcot to me will always be the future, as seen through feathered bangs.

  2. Folgers


    Click to view. Folgers set the gold standard for Christmas advertising with its heartwarming tale of a young man coming home from college. The spot ran for a mind-boggling 17 years, and then, after a brief hiatus, was "modernized" in 2009 with awkward dialogue and vaguely incestuous undertones.

  3. McDonald's

    "Piano Recital"

    Click to view. With a metric million McDonald's ads to pick from in the 1980s, I had to go with "Piano Recital," because it's still all I can think of when I hear Beethoven's "Für Elise." On a related note, Valentina Lisitsa just called and said she's going to strangle me to death with her sinewy arms.

  4. National Dairy Board

    "Milk. It Does a Body Good"

    Click to view. Sure, "Got milk?" may be one of the most successful ad campaigns in history, but its predecessor deserves a little credit, too. "Milk. It does a body good" used good old-fashioned vanity to target tweens who felt milk was a "kid's drink." These ads drenched the airwaves, and apparently they worked, reportedly reversing the decline in milk consumption within 36 months.

  5. Nescafé Gold Blend

    "Gold Blend Couple"

    Click to view. Most Americans had to wait until the 1990s to experience the greatest romance in instant-coffee history, but the Brits eagerly watched it unfold through the late '80s. Nescafé's Gold Blend campaign was such a popular serial, boosting sales 70 percent over its lifespan, that it was imported to the U.S. with the same actors to sell Taster's Choice. And like Folgers' "Peter" spot, the idea was recently resurrected with unlovable results.

  6. Nestlé Alpine White

    "Sweet Dreams"

    Click to view. There was a surprising amount of artistry and melodrama in '80s ads, probably inspired by the music videos of the day. One of the most unforgettable is this Nestlé ad, which, according to one of the actors in the spot, was pulled off the air for stealing the work of artist Maxwell Parrish. Thanks to YouTube, you can see a comparison of the ad and the artwork.

  7. Nintendo

    "You're Playing With Power"

    Click to view. Damn you, Nintendo. Even now, this commercial makes R.O.B. the Robot seem like the most exciting part of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. But it only took about two minutes for the excitement to wear off when you fired up the game machine and realized his name should actually be R.O.B. the Pointless Pile of Functionless Garbage.

  1. Sears

    "Under One Roof"

    Click to view. In truth, Sears has always been the place where your dad buys hammers and your mom buys jeans. But in the '80s, the chain also billed itself as the ultimate place to build a wall-to-wall hi-fi system worthy of your new Loverboy cassette.

  2. Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine

    "Yum Yum Fun"

    Click to view. If there's one thing '80s ads knew how to do, it was sell the hell out of questionable toys, usually through catchy jingles that will never, ever leave your brain. As one YouTube commenter says of the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, "After making about 2 sno-cones we never had the patience to sit there and grind the ice for 5 minutes, so my sister and I would just squirt the concentrated sugar flavoring right into our mouths." Money well spent.

  3. Sweet Valley High Board Game

    "Get In"

    Click to view. Finally, every girl could live the '80s dream: backstabbing her friends and going steady with the biggest douchebag on campus.

  4. Taco Bell

    "It's Just Made For You"

    Click to view. The sad truth is that in the mid-1980s, it really was this exciting to go to Taco Bell. Also, I give props to the Bell for featuring a gay romance subplot all the way back in '84. Oh wait, that's a woman working the drive-through? If you say so.

  5. United Airlines

    "Sweet Rolls"

    Click to view. If there's one thing that sucked a lot less in the 1980s, it was flying coach. Free sweet rolls? These days, you're lucky you don't have to pay to use the bathroom. On most airlines.

  6. Wendy's


    Click to view. There wasn't a whole lot of diversity in '80s advertising, so it's nice to see all of God's children jamming to Kool & the Gang in the Wendy's parking lot.

  7. Whatchamacallit


    Click to view. Candy-bar advertising was all over the map in the '80s, but few spots were more memorable than this hypnotic pop-art concoction for Whatchamacallit. Whatever it is, whatever it was, this thing is locked in my brain for eternity.

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."