Wayback Wednesday: U.S. Navy Ad From 1978

by James Thompson

Every Wednesday AdForum's James Thompson features a notable ad from the past that in some way revolutionized advertising by profoundly impacting our industry, our culture, or the way our society interacts with commerce.

(Please keep in mind that many of these ads were made a very long time ago, which is evident in the quality of the videos. Time marches on, perhaps at a quicker pace in the advertising industry than any other known realm.)

Today we honor Veterans Day and Armistice Day by traveling back to the year 1978 and taking a look at a U.S. Navy recruitment ad.

War, of course, is a devastatingly enduring theme in the story of humanity, and one that often features the worst of our collective inhumanity oddly defined by individual acts of courage, honor, and empathy. There are no wars without the people who fight them, and since the beginning of recorded time chiefs, czars, dictators, kings, and presidents have amassed and motived armies through the use of advertising in one form or another.

From patriotic fidelity to personal development, many are called to the military experience. In this particular ad from 1978, the U.S. Navy offers young recruits the promise of travel and adventure—an alluring prospect to anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving their quiet little town or crowded city block for the unimaginable poignancy of the world’s vast oceans and the welcome strangeness of foreign lands.

Advertising and reality, however, are like that couple you know who love and hate each other with an intensity and passion only seen in meteorological events. They must, on one level or another, remain true to each other, or they’ll both succumb to their own weaknesses.

So to provide some balance and reality to the enticing life promised by this Navy ad, the folks at Saturday Night Live—yes, when John Belushi, Dan Akroyd and Gilda Radner were part of the cast—spoofed the ad in what would become a staple segment in SNL’s programming. 

Thankfully, humor and parody are as essential to humanity as violence seems to be.


Watch the original ad below, and the SNL pardoy here.

Happy Veterans Day. Happy Armistice Day. And THANK YOU to everyone who keeps us safe. 

Previous Wayback Wednesday pieces: 

Yogi Berrra orange juice ad from 1957

Oscar Mayer Wiener Ad from 1965

McDonald’s Breakfast ad from 1978

Mean Joe Greene Coca-Cola ad from 1979

Apple Macintosh ad from 1984

New Coke ad from 1985

New York Mets ad from 1986

Darth Vader vs. Energizer Bunny Ad from 1994 

Dumb Ways to Die ad from 2012

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