7 Highly Questionable Toy Commercials from the 1970s

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The 1970s was a seminal decade for the advertising industry. Televisions were in 69 million homes in the United States, with some viewers watching for up to six hours a day. Even better: Research showed that kids under eight years of age were believed to be unable to distinguish between a TV commercial and a regular program. That meant commercials appealing to young consumers—and their cash-wielding parents—held high potential to make a real impact on toy sales.

As toy companies looked for that one big hit that could help subsidize all of the misses, they tried shilling everything from dolls that grew breasts to plastic cows that could be “milked.” Take a look at some of the more puzzling ads to run on TV tubes in the '70s.

1. THE MANIACAL LAUGHING DOLL (1971)

It’s hard to imagine that the director of this spot for Baby Laugh a Lot had any intention beyond scaring the souls out of children. As the Remco-produced doll sits and rocks on a chair, her ceaseless laughter demanding psychiatric evaluation, quick cuts reveal her giggles are becoming contagious—first in her human play pals, then in the voiceover narrator.

2. MILKY THE MARVELOUS MILKING COW (1977)

A jointly-produced oddity by Kenner and General Foods, Milky offered a replica cow-milking experience. After “drinking” some water, Milky’s rubber udders could be squeezed to produce a cloudy-looking liquid. (Kids dumped a discoloring tablet into Milky before operating.) As vile as the secretion looked, Kenner still blared warnings for kids “not to drink the pretend milk you get from Milky.” A look at their 1978 catalog reveals Milky was intended to be part of an entire line of barnyard toys, including Gobbles the Goat. He came with pieces of garbage.

3. THE DOLL THAT SIMULATES PUBERTY (1975)

Picking up Mattel’s Barbie spin-off doll Skipper at a toy store and examining her packaging didn’t really sell girls on her most distinctive feature. By tugging on her arm, kids could cause Skipper to grow in height and seemingly develop protruding breasts—an action that was easily demonstrated in TV spots. While ads avoided using the word “breasts”—Skipper instead became “curvy”—public reaction was negative to this sudden-onset simulation of puberty: When Skipper returned to shelves in 1979, her upper torso was fixed in place.

4. A DISTURBINGLY INTIMATE CARD GAME (1978)

Hoping to replicate the success of Twister, Hasbro introduced a game titled Great Moves in 1978. One player would wear a small whiteboard while someone else used a pen strapped to different parts of their body: The two would then attempt to draw a picture. Depending on where each wound up, the results could be something you’d see late at night on Cinemax.

5. ICE BIRD, THE TOY THAT DEMANDED CHILD LABOR (1974)

Many people have fond memories of the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, a plastic device that shaved up ice cubes so kids could make frozen treats. Kenner’s Ice Bird followed the same premise, except it required a giant block of ice that users would have to laboriously scrape in order to get their precious shavings.

6. BALL BUSTER: THE HOME GAME (1975)

It’s hard to say whether or not the minds behind this Mego tabletop game knew of the idiom they were referencing or if it pre-dated the popular term for annoying someone. The former seems unlikely, as FCC regulations for networks in the '70s were far too stringent for such innuendo to get on air. Either way, the commercial spares no opportunity to explain how players can “bust each other’s balls.” Be sure to watch until the end.

7. THE ALIEN ACTION FIGURE (1979)

The parasitic, murderous alien designed by psychosexual artist H.R. Giger for 1979's R-rated film Alien would be a curious choice for a toymaker—unless that toymaker is Kenner, masterminds behind Milky the Marvelous Milking Cow. Kids could stalk other kids with the giant-sized figure, which mimicked a face-chomping motion when users squeezed the back of his phallic head. Despite these missteps, Kenner still had a very profitable decade: They were the licensee for Lucasfilm's Star Wars franchise.

8 Gripping Facts About Hands Across America

LoveMattersMost, Flickr // CC0 1.0
LoveMattersMost, Flickr // CC0 1.0

Viewers of the new Jordan Peele thriller Us may walk out curious about the daisy-chain of humanity depicted in the film and whether it had any basis in reality. It does: Hands Across America was a nationwide effort to raise awareness (and money) for the plight of the hungry and homeless in America. The event took place on May 25, 1986 and involved nearly 5 million people across 16 states and Washington, D.C. joining hands for 15 minutes in a sign of solidarity. While promotional expenses ate into some of the profits, the stunt helped raise an estimated $15 million for charitable causes.

For more on this audacious '80s moment that featured Oprah Winfrey, Mickey Mouse, and Michael J. Fox, check out our round-up of facts and trivia. (Just don’t expect it to be as creepy as Peele’s interpretation.)

  1. Hands Across America wasn’t the first time someone had tried to get people to join hands across the country.

Hands Across America was the brainchild of advertising executive Geoffrey Nightingale, who had worked with USA for Africa founder and music promoter Ken Kragen on “We Are the World,” the star-studded 1985 single that raised money for the starving citizens of Ethiopia. During a New York City Ballet rendition of “We Are the World,” Nightingale told Kragen it might be a good idea to try and get people to join hands across state lines as a way to raise awareness for domestic hunger issues.

Kragen ran with the idea, but it wasn’t the first time it had been attempted. Back in 1976, a man named Marvin J. Rosenblum tried a similar event with the same name, but a lack of corporate sponsorship led to a weak turnout. (There was just one 10-mile line that formed outside of Chicago.) Rosenblum’s trademark on Hands Across America lapsed in 1977. Kragen maintained he hadn’t heard of the prior project until he had already started working on his own.

  1. There were protests against Hands Across America.

You wouldn’t imagine people having a problem with a charitable effort, but Hands Across America faced controversy early on for mapping out a route that began in New York City's Battery Park and ended up in Long Beach, California. States and cities that weren’t included in the route snaking through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, and Arizona, among others, objected to being left out. Senator Ted Kennedy voiced his disapproval that the link wouldn’t be running through New England.

  1. Prince sponsored a line.

Grammy and Oscar-winning recording artist Prince performs the song 'Purple Rain' at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center on February 8, 2004 in Los Angeles, California
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

In order to successfully mount Hands Across America, Kragen looked to corporate America for underwriting. His first—and biggest—sponsor was Coca-Cola. The second was Citibank. Together, the two companies contributed an estimated $8 million to the effort. It was even advertised on McDonald’s placemats. But other sponsors could chip in for the registration fees that cost between $10 and $35 per person. Musician Prince bought a mile for $13,200. Together, sponsors and corporations accounted for roughly 2000 miles of the 4125-mile chain.

  1. There were a lot of gaps that had to be filled.

When Hands Across America launched at 3 p.m. eastern time on Sunday, May 25, 1986, the Associated Press estimated that approximately 4,924,000 people would be participating based on counts gathered from local community organizers. While concentrations were heavy in some states like New York and New Jersey, others found themselves short. Indiana needed 400,000 people, but just 250,000 showed up. In Sanders, Arizona, 109 people stood in a section that needed 1320 to appear complete. When there was a gap in the line, organizers filled it with ribbons, ropes, banners, or even cattle. When a bus driver in New Jersey saw a break in the line, he pulled over and asked his passengers to complete the connection.

  1. Prisoners participated in Hands Across America.

With a presence in 550 cities, Hands Across America made for some strange bedfellows. Major League Baseball players gathered for a game in Cincinnati, Ohio and held hands with Little Leaguers; nuns and Hell’s Angels members stood side-by-side in Pittsburgh. At Rahway State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, inmates formed a line.

  1. There were weddings during Hands Across America.

Although Hands Across America was expected to last just 15 minutes, a number of people took the opportunity to use the gatherings as a springboard for other activities. A total of five marriages were reported to have been completed during the event, as well as baptisms and at least one bar mitzvah.

  1. Ronald Reagan was criticized for getting involved in Hands Across America.

President Ronald Reagan joined Hands Across America on the front lawn of the White House alongside his wife Nancy, the Reverend Billy Graham, and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. But Reagan was the subject of protests in Detroit’s Lafayette Park and was criticized for even being involved, as his critics believed he had done little to combat the hunger epidemic in America. The previous week, Reagan had cited a "lack of knowledge" among the poor about charitable resources as a reason they did not have access to food. The comment raised eyebrows. Reagan, however, denied his participation had anything to do with the backlash.

  1. Some people stiffed the event out of money.

Kragen had voiced hope that Hands Across America might be able to raise $50 or even $100 million in charitable donations. An estimate released a year after the event put the total number of donations at $24.5 million, with $9.5 million going to costs and $15 million to charities. In order to fill out the expected gaps in lines, USA for Africa had invited people to come join the group without registering or paying the $10 to $35 donation. Additionally, thousands of people showed up for the event who had pledged to donate but never did. An August 1986 story in The New York Times estimated the lost earnings to be between $7 and $8 million.

America’s 10 Most Popular Dog Breeds

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iStock.com/Bigandt_Photography

The American Kennel Club recognizes 193 dog breeds, and while they're all very good boys and girls, some get more love than others. After analyzing its registry, the AKC has released its list of the top 10 most popular dog breeds of 2018.

The Labrador retriever ranked first in 2017, and tops the list once again in 2018. "The Labrador retriever shows no signs of giving up the top spot anytime soon," AKC executive secretary Gina DiNardo said in a statement.

The classic breed is joined by other perennial favorites, such as the German shepherd, golden retriever, and French bulldog. The only change in the list from 2017 to 2018 is the German shorthaired pointer climbing one spot from 10th place to ninth. According to DiNardo, "This jack-of-all-trades in the pointer world has slowly but steadily risen in popularity over the years. People continue to fall in love with its versatility, extreme intelligence and willingness to please.”

Saturday March 23 is National Puppy Day, which is a great opportunity to welcome a new dog into your family—whether it's one of the breeds below, or the shelter dog you've fallen in love with.

You can check out the AKC's full ranking (and adorable pictures of each pooch) below.

1. Labrador retriever

Labrador retriever.
American Kennel Club

2. German shepherd dog

German shepherd.
American Kennel Club

3. Golden retriever

Golden retriever.
American Kennel Club

4. French bulldog

French bulldog.
American Kennel Club

5. Bulldog

Bulldog.
American Kennel Club

6. Beagle

A beagle puppy
American Kennel Club

7. Poodle

Poodle.
American Kennel Club

8. Rottweiler

Rottweiler.
American Kennel Club

9. German shorthaired pointer

German shorthaired pointer.
American Kennel Club

10. Yorkshire terrier

Yorkshire terrier.
American Kennel Club

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