Any ad industry types who are over 50 remember the classic “I could’ve had a V8!” commercials that Campbell’s aired beginning in the 1970s.
That’s a tough act to follow if you’re an ad creative, but I can’t believe how much material there is for me to write about in the ‘Nutrition Competition’ spots Campbell’s released last winter.
The first thing that leapt out at me, about both spots (there’s one directed at men and one at women) is that the trim and attractive V8-drinking protagonists are both well into their 50s, and they’re competing against much younger rivals who are all caricatures.
In the female version of the spot, a 50-ish woman (cheered on by two friends who appear to be 30- and 40-something) competes against a Millennial and her friend. The basic premise is straightforward; it’s a race to see who can consume two servings of veggies first. When the announcer says, ‘Go’ the older woman opens a bottle of V8 and chugs it. Meanwhile the Millennial phones in a fancy made-to-order juice… only to be interrupted by the confetti cannon that indicates the competition’s over.
The spot closes with a close-up of the smiling winner—a beautiful woman no doubt, but they’re not trying to hide her crow’s feet.
That’s what first captured my attention about the spot. How refreshing, I thought, that first, Campbell’s cast a mature actor and second, they definitely didn’t retouch out those wrinkles.
But when I sought out the ad and watched it a few more times, and did a little research into who the actors were, I realized there’s way, way more to write about.
It’s clear that Campbell’s has done the math and realizes that the average age of a V8 consumer is 60-plus. So of course they cast a mature woman as the winner of the Nutrition Competition. What’s interesting to me, however, is the way they’ve cast and portrayed the loser(s).
Campbell’s didn’t hold back, either. That Millennial brunette is Christina Masterson (better known as Emma, from Power Rangers Megaforce.) As the competition begins, she and her friend are smugly on their phones, dialing up ‘Juice Universe’, but before they get around to ordering their rutabaga smoothie, that woman who’s their mom’s age has already kicked their butts.
In a marvelous bit of writing, direction, and acting, one look from the Millennials says, We’re young, we’re with it, we’re sexy, and you’re… well you’re just not. But even in 15 seconds there’s time for a second plot point and reversal, when the Millennials are reduced to pathetically complaining, “That’s not fair!”
After spending a decade railing against ad industry ageism, I was instinctively drawn to a spot in which a beautiful mature woman (she's on the cusp of Gen-X and the Baby Boom) wins out over the conventionally hot Millennial. But things got even more interesting when I tried to determine the actual age of Angela Nicholas, the actor who Campbell’s cast as their 50-something female protagonist.
I still can't pinpoint her age. But Googling her name quickly established that she was the Penthouse Pet of the Month in August, 1985. Even if Bob Guccione shot her the moment she turned 18, she’s now over 50. But wait, there's more: As Angela Davies, she went on to have a career in 1990s soft porn (NSFW link) which certainly hasn’t hurt her when it comes to being cast in TV commercials—she’s appeared in spots for Kay Jewelers, Del Webb, and Hunt’s (dinner sauces) among other national brands.
If anything, Angela Nicholas’ background makes Christina Masterson’s dismissive glance even more tragic. Knowing what we know about Angela it’s, like, No, you’re not hotter than she is, either; you’re just young and stupid.
All that’s kind of fun to write about. I can’t blame Campbell’s for wanting to create a spot in which a Gen-X/Boomer protagonist wins out over Millennials. And I love that they’ve cast the beautiful Ms. Nicholas—an actor with a backstory that makes her even sexier.
But I’m in the unfamiliar position of criticizing these commercials for their reverse ageism
I’m sure V8 consumers skew older. But why go out of your way to antagonize younger consumers? Eventually, the brand will need to attract new customers. There had to be some way to have the mature consumers win without it coming at the expense of typecasting the younger ones as self-obsessed dimwits.
Maybe it’s time for the kids to realize, “I could’ve had a V8!”