As part of our Curious Indy series, we dive into the totally cheesy, regrettably unforgettable world of local TV commercials in Indianapolis.
Q: Every city has those local commercials everyone grew up with. What could be seen as Indy’s most iconic ad campaign?
Submitted by Sarah Fentem, Lafayette. Ask your question here.
A: Local Indianapolis advertising legends and their so-bad-they’re-good commercials get in the way of our favorite TV shows, yet somehow, we’ve learned to love—and even encourage—their gimmicks.
And in some, strange way, Hoosier staple TV personalities like Don Davis, Ken Nunn and Bob Catterson have become a part of our personal Indianapolis stories.
Get nostalgic with WFYI’s top 10 local Indianapolis commercial hall of famers, listed below in no particular order.
10. Indiana Beach
Quoteable: "There's more than corn in Indiana!"
With a slogan recognizable across the state, it’s hard to pass a corn field without someone shouting, “There’s more than corn in Indiana!”
Indiana Beach—perhaps the truest picture of homegrown Indiana advertising—has kept true to its iconic mascot and catchphrase for 20 years.
• The Indiana Beach crow—nicknamed “I.B. Crow”—replaced the park’s previous Rocky Raccoon mascot in 1986.
• The park’s jingle was written by William H. Robertson, Inc., a Cincinnati-based advertising agency that still exists today. Robertson, who worked for 45 years in the amusement park industry, specializes in theme park advertising.
9. Dave Mason Buick
Quoteable: "Because ol' Dave needs the money."
Who knew wearing a suit and tie, standing in a dimly lit room, and speaking in a deep, whiskey flavored voice could sell cars?
Robert “Bob” Catterson did.
Dave Mason Buick was one of many car dealership advertisements to be voiced by Catterson—who rose to national popularity for his deliberately deep voice and simple commercials.
• Catterson owned the Buick dealership from 1964 to 1978, until he sold it to his son-in-law, Dave Mason.
• Catterson was also known for another slogan: “Nobody will sell you a new Buick for less than Bob Catterson Buick … no-o-o-body.”
• Catterson took his advertising talents to a new level by founding Catterson Communications and voicing dealership commercials across the country until he retired in 1993.
• According to Bob Smith, a WISH-TV director in the 1960s, Catterson prided himself on being able to time his pitch to exactly 30 seconds. He received no time cues and used no script.
8. Ken Nunn
Quoteable: “It’s just that easy!”
If Ken Nunn wasn’t an injury lawyer, he’d probably be in marketing.
Ever since a 1977 Supreme Court ruling made it legal for lawyers to advertise, Nunn has been on the air, snapping his fingers and repeating his famous slogan—despite criticism that “good lawyers” shouldn’t have to advertise.
• Although it never happened, Ken Nunn and auto dealers Terry Lee and Andy Mohr once planned to join local TV personality forces to work on a Rocco’s Tacos commercial together in the 1990s, each saying their famous lines.
• To make his reoccurring commercials “more tolerable,” Nunn has 57 in the rotation he’s recorded over the years.
Read more about Ken Nunn’s advertising story here.
7. Eastgate Chrysler Plymouth
Quoteable: “Just 500 North Shadeland, Indianapolis.”
As a state powered by a love of sports, it’s hard not to be mesmorized by Marvin Johnson's shadowboxing and ultra-cool demeanor in these 1980s spots.
Johnson—who was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008—sold cars and joked alongside Vince Gainey, a renowned salesman who has been selling cars in the area since 1978.
• In 2014, Johnson wore his gold-sequin robe and appeared in a spoof of the old car commercials to promote Tonic Ball, an annual music benefit for Second Helpings.
6. WTHR’s Bob Gregory
Quoteable: “Bob Gregory said it’s going to be very cold out.”
Aired: Late 1970s
Winters in Indianapolis do get pretty cold—but maybe not as cold as Bob Gregory made them out to be in his famous commercial.
Weatherman Bob Gregory, who worked at WTHR for three decades, is the father of Kevin Gregory, RTV6’s chief meteorologist today.
• Despite rumors Gregory’s son (Kevin) and wife starred in the ad, the little boy who appears is Peter Billingsley, known for his round-faced role as Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” in 1983. Kevin Gregory later speculated the commercial inspired a scene in the movie.
5. Mayor Hudnut, Indianapolis Clean City Committee
Aired: Late 1970s
Quoteable: “Put litter in its place.”
Shortly after the Indianapolis Clean Cities Committee was established in 1978, then-Mayor Bill Hudnut was showing off his fancy trashketball skills in the national Keep America Beautiful Program.
This notable anti-litter campaign—which depicted the mayor “sky-hooking” a piece of trash into a trash can—was part of a national Keep America Beautiful public service announcement campaign.
• All of the “Hudnut Hook” campaign material was developed by Montgomery, Zukerman, Davis, Inc., an Indianapolis-based advertising firm.
• In a 1984 version of the spot, various local children, business executives, and truck drivers “canned” their litter with their own fancy dunks. In the spot, the mayor performs a backwards Hudnut hook without looking.
Quoteable: “It’s hot, and you need a pool!” and “That’s Watson’s!”
Aired: Early 2000s
If someone in Indianapolis says, “It’s hot,” on a summer day, a Hoosier native in the right age group is bound to echo, “And you need a pool.”
Known around town as the “Watson’s Girl,” Jennifer Eichler starred in the Watson’s commercials, selling hot tubs and tanning beds while wearing a bikini.
She appeared alongside her stepfather and Watson’s owner, Andy Prefontaine, in the spots.
• According to Indiana University professor Kim Donahue, who teaches marketing courses at the Kelley School of Business, Prefontaine intentionally made his commercials look localized so people from the area where the commercial aired thought Eichler was a local. She even served on local boards and appeared in local parades.
• The store still goes by the “Watson’s” name at 18 locations across five states, but the business is now called Family Leisure at nine locations, including the remaining Indianapolis store on Pendleton Pike.
3. Martin Fine Furniture
Quoteable: “You got that right!”
Between fighting off Martian invasions and walking the plank, there are few continuities between Martin Fine Furniture commercials.
But regardless of the costume and cheesy sound effects, commercial star Marty McDermott always mentioned the long-standing roots of his furniture store, which was started in 1854 by his great grandfather and is the oldest furniture store in Indiana.
• According to Marty McDermott’s son, John—who now owns and operates the furniture store with his sister, Suzanna—Marty McDermott filmed and aired at least 100 spots over 17 years of TV advertising.
• Misty, a 30-year employee of Martin Fine Furniture, often appeared at the end of the commercials to say the famous slogan: “You got that right.”
• Marty McDermott used no other medium to advertise other than television.
• The store’s “Marty in Space” commercial has appeared on Conan and The Jay Leno Show. It was also featured on E!s “Wildest TV Show Moments” segment in the late 2000s, where comedian Loni Love compared Martin’s looks and sales pitch to the likes of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate: “I’m John McCain, and I approve this message.”
Read more about Marty McDermott’s advertising story here.
2. 21st Century Paging
Quoteable: “I’m Crazy Mickey, The Beeper King, sellin’ pagers for a buck 19.”
Aired: Late 1990s, early 2000s
Take one look at his wacky commercials and it’s easy to see why Mickey Levy ruled Indy’s beeper business for 12 years.
At the height of 21st Century Paging’s success in 2000, Levy was written up in the papers with Buddy Kallick of Buddy’s Carpet and Don Davis of Don’s Guns as “kings” of low-budget, high-profile advertising in the city.
• Levy’s secondary gimmick—where he promises customers dinner for 13 if they buy a pager from him—stemmed from his friendship with an owner of several Indianapolis Subway shops. Levy handed out coupons for three-foot subs to costumers, which he said could easily feed 15 people.
• When the beeper business was really booming, Levy said he was spending $250,000 a year on advertising across all platforms, including TV commercials, radio spots, bus benches and phone book ads.
• Another commercial—where Levy sells pagers while sitting atop a children’s pony ride—starred his young granddaughter. She’s 23 years old now.
Read more about Mickey Levy’s advertising story here.
1. Don’s Guns
Quoteable: “I don’t wanna make any money; I just love to sell guns.”
Sometimes we wake up in a hot sweat, wishing we were as cool as Don Davis’ smoking gun hand gestures.
Although he has sinced died, through his commercials, Davis made Don’s Guns into an Indianapolis cultural institution and made himself into a TV personality recognizable across generations.
• In his early commercials, Davis wasn’t allowed to show guns on television. Instead, he relied on a gimmick: flashy jewelry and finger shooting gun gestures.
• When Davis was finally allowed to show guns on the air in the mid-80s, Don’s Guns aired a controversial commercial playing on the Iran-Contra scandal. The commercial—in which Davis holds an Uzi submachine gun and wears a Ronald Reagan mask—was pulled from the air, allegedly under pressure from the local Republican Party.
• Don’s Guns was voted “Worst Local TV Commercial” by Indianapolis Magazine in 1984 and 1985. This accolade was broadcasted on the top of the business’ garage band commercial, along with a tongue-in-cheek sentiment: “And we’re got our sights on 1986!”
Missing one of your favorites? Take the quiz to rank these commercials and add your suggestions for other iconic campaigns.
This story is part of WFYI Public Media’s Curious Indy series, a news experiment that includes listeners in our editorial decision-making to strengthen multimedia coverage of Central Indiana.
All Curious Indy stories originate through questions submitted by people like you.
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