September 28, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Yuppie TV ads of the 1980s

3 min read
In the 1980s, the yuppie phenomenon was latched on to by the advertising industry creating a slew of yuppie TV ads as Tony McMahon discovers
yuppie TV ad

In the 1980s, capitalism was unleashed to its full. For some, this meant the first opportunity ever to make (and lose) considerable amounts of money. For others, it was the removal of basic economic safety nets. The winners of 1980s neo-liberalism formed a new yuppie elite. Young and upwardly mobile. Working in finance, defining themselves by financial success, and entirely self-absorbed. The advertising industry latched on quickly and soon we had a veritable slew of yuppie targeting TV ads.

Gillette – the best a man can get!

The 1989 Gillette ad aimed at professional and ambitious social climbing men has to be the ultimate yuppie TV ad. The well-shaved men using the new Gillette blade were Wall Street brokers bashing the phones to sell, sell, sell! But these super-humans were also triumphant athletes; doting fathers whose sons (God forbid not daughters) were miniature versions of themselves; and astronauts. Seriously. These share dealing bean counters could turn their hand to anything.

And what was the incredible shaving technological breakthrough that if used would raise a man to the pinnacle of yuppiedom. It was a thin strip of white plastic that made the double-bladed razor glide that bit easier across your face. “Gillette Contour Plus with lubricating strip” and then the pay off: “The Best A Man Can Get”.

For the beardless, chiselled male faces of the decade, only Gillette could deliver the goods!

The yuppification of coffee

One of the most inventive associations of a product with the yuppie ethos was coffee. This was before the emergence of Starbucks/Costa/Pret when coffee was still drunk mainly at home or in the office and in the form of instant granules. Nescafe Gold Blend was a freeze dried coffee product launched in 1965. But from the late 1980s, it was advertised as a premium brand for yuppie couples.

The TV adverts featured a professional man and woman living in the same apartment block who steadily edged towards a relationship. In one early “episode”, the woman knocks on the door asking if the man can lend her some instant coffee as she is having a dinner party and doesn’t have any. What an 80s dilemma!!

He reaches for a jar of Nescafe Gold Blend in a kitchen cabinet but asks if this brand will be “too good” for her guests. The dinner party is a success. “How can I ever thank you?” she gushes later. “I’ll think of something,” he creepily replies. The smugness of the two characters was revolting to me but loved by millions of wannabe yuppies at the time.

Mocking the Yuppies in 1980s TV ads

Some ads mocked the yuppie phenomenon, though pretty gently. In this ad for Fosters, the Australian comedian Paul Hogan chats to a yuppie at the bar who boasts that he’s just bought a warehouse at the docks. Never mind, Hogan counters sympathetically. Working on a 1970s assumption that such an area would be bombed out, de-industrialised hellhole. Ho, ho!

Another yuppie moans that he’s lost loads of money on an investment as the price has fallen by 20p per share. A pitying Hogan pushes his small change along the bar towards him.

Privatised companies strive for a new image

The Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom privatised state-run assets like British Airways and British Telecom. What had previously been viewed as services subsidised by the taxpayer now spent huge sums on advertising to give themselves some kind of corporate personality. British Airways became “the world’s favourite airline”. While British Telecom presented a more human face with actor Maureen Lipman as a Jewish Mum chatting on the phone about her grandson’s educational qualifications.

DISCOVER: Britain in the era of nationalised industries

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