Friday, July 28, 2006

The Shake n Vac TV Ad - 1980s NOT 1979

I have an extensive collection of newspapers, and access to an archive dating back to the nineteenth century. The first reference to Shake n' Vac I've found dates to 1982, when it was a free gift with the new Hoover High Power Junior vacuum cleaner. I am absolutely convinced that the Shake n' Vac ad is later than 1979, and finds like this do nothing to sway my conviction.

Hello, good evening and welcome! Tonight we're going to look at the serious issue of hyping the 1970s. The 1980s, we have decided, are total baddies - full of greed and yuppies. From the first second of 1980 to the last second of 1989 everything was about looking after Number One. The 1960s were total goodies, but they have been overdone. So we must sell the 70s. How do we do it? Well, if something judged by many to be good - a TV programme, toy, fashion, record, etc, came out in the late 1960s, then we'll call it "1970". If a similar item came out in the early (or even mid) 1980s, we'll call it "1979".

1979 is terribly successful - already cropping up an awful lot where it shouldn't, eating up 1980s pop culture faster than Pac-Man ever could. Let's take an example. In the early-to-mid 1980s, there came into being a terrible television advertisement for a product called Shake n Vac carpet freshener. Lord knows when the product itself was launched, the earliest newspaper advertisements I can find date to 1982 when a packet was being given away free with each new Hoover Junior vacuum cleaner purchased.

Free giveaways such as this were a popular gambit with NEW PRODUCTS.

I'm not saying that the Shake n' Vac ad began in 1982 - I suspect it was a little later. I'm not even suggesting that Shake n' Vac itself was launched in 1982. All I am saying is that the famous TV ad was definitely later than 1979.

In the ad, a woman called Jenny Logan, playing a highly intelligent housewife, sang a retro rock n roll (1950s) style jingle, and did a '50s dance, whilst de-ponging her carpet. In the Year 2000, this advertisement was arousing nostalgic twinges. But it began in the early-to-mid-1980s! Oh dear, that will never do - call it "1979"! Yes, that's it! So, in a Channel Four programme called 100 Greatest British TV Ads, the advert, which came 19th, was listed as "1979". It worked a treat.

The Internet buzzed as young 1970s fantasists marvelled at this newly discovered item of "70s" pop culture. Andrew Collins, who was born in 1965 and perhaps should know better, edited the Friends Reunited book, and, it seemed, simply couldn't wait to list Shake n Vac as a "1970s Television advertisement". I'm not sure how Jenny Logan, the ad's star, viewed all this, but nobody else gave a damn so another piece of non-1970s pop culture was added to that decade by 1970s hype-ists. You can still view the ad on the internet today, marked "1979", together with a companion ad from 1988, implying that the campaign ran, on-and-off, for at least nine years. It didn't. We couldn't have stood it.

It all left me pondering over Box Of Delights - a book by TV writer Hilary Kingsley, published in 1989, which states that the Shake n Vac ad began in 1985. Each telly year covered in the book (from the birth of ITV in 1955 to the book's publication year, 1989) contains a "Commercial Break" section, and I quote from 1985:

... an inane housewife cavorted around the lounge doing the Shake 'n' Vac. Was that what Emmeline Pankhurst fought for?

Actually, I hadn't long moved house when the ad campaign started and that move took place around 1982/83.

So another sucessful coup for the 1970s hypers. And not a mention of power cuts, the Winter of Discontent, the 1979 playground shootings (which led to the Boomtown Rats' chilling hit I Don't Like Mondays) or the 1979 ITV strike, which knocked the channel off the air for 11 weeks. In fact not a mention of anything that was, in reality, 1970s. It's all terribly simple...
Well, as it turns out the ad was first shown earlier than I originally contended, but in the 1980s, not 1979 - 1980, to be precise. The product was launched in 1979, but advertising delayed until 1980 due to the ITV strike of 1979. So, there we have it. At last!
The information comes from the World Advertising Research Center site, which contains a great deal of detail from "back in the day". Here's their Shake n' Vac info:
Shake n' Vac: A New Product Launch
Hilary Rose, Mike Stefan and Carol Reay, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, IPA Effectiveness Awards, 1980

Launch of a new powder carpet and room freshener. Sold in 1979, but advertising delayed to 1980 by ITV strike. TV only used. Results: consistent sales growth (Nielsen Food Index); sales growth linked to advertising; awareness, brand recall, levels of trial, all satisfactory. Regional variations on ad weight relate positively to sales and share (Nielsen). Contribution to profit and overheads in first year claimed, though not substantiated.
So, there we are. I wasn't absolutely right. Hilary Kingsley wasn't at all right. And neither were the 70s hypers. Considering that everybody from Friends Reunited to ITV itself have claimed that this ad debuted in 1979, I wonder why pop culture researchers can't seem to do research? Or is a determination to hype the 70s the reason?
Read the full info here.