Although wacky and funny on screen, Martin Fine Furniture commercials are actually a sentimental subject for John McDermott.
John’s father, Marty McDermott, was the big star of these spots in the late-1990s and mid-2000s.
“He stole the show,” John said. “Those commercials were the best times of my life.”
When he was about 30 years old, John started working in the furniture store every day doing operational work, but sometimes, he’d get to do the fun stuff—collecting props and making appearances alongside his dad in his cheesy commercials.
“I was his little sidekick,” he said. “I don’t think too many people knew I was even there. But I was there in every one of them.”
Although the commercials never lost an ounce of their crazy concepts, as he aged, Marty stopped running around as much and sitting down more.
“[My favorite part] was being with him, dressing him, putting—you know, as he was getting older—put the pants on him and put the shirts and all the different things to get him ready to do the spot,” John said. “And, for me, that was the best part of it. Being with your dad and doing that.”
In 2012, Marty died, and the spots stopped. John took over as the fifth-generation owner of the furniture store, along with his sister Suzanna.
It was just, more or less, my dad’s passing that stopped them,” John said. “I tried it a little, but it was hard without him. It wasn’t the same.”
THE MAKING OF
Although some Martin Fine Furniture commercials have found their way online, many of the nearly 100 commercials Marty filmed and aired over his 17 years of TV advertising remain only in John’s memory.
The commercials began after a family and staff brainstorm lunch at Red Lobster.
After that, the wacky ideas started to really take off.
In one, Marty chops prices, karate-style, while wearing a black belt around his head.
In another, he wears an eye patch and makes a woman walk the plank for purchasing furniture from a competitor.
But some of John’s favorite commercials his dad came up with had to do with Marty’s favorite things: baseball and westerns.
For a baseball skit, Marty loaded up a truck and took furniture to the University of Indianapolis baseball diamond—laying a couch on first base, a dresser on second and so on.
“And that was our backdrop for the spot, the baseball diamond,” John said. “Marty loved baseball.”
For a western-themed commercial, John went around town—notably to Costumes by Margie—to pick up cowboy hats, leather vests and little pistols for the shoot.
“After the shoot, by accident, one of the girls—after she said ‘You got that right!’—she had that pistol, and she had it pointed, and she shot Marty right in the—I mean, it was just a fake gun, but she kind of shot him right in the head,” John said. “It wasn’t planned at all.”
John thinks his dad was ahead of his time in his advertising.
Marty’s ads always centered on humor and getting people to laugh—one of the key elements on getting consumers to engage and remember a commercial.
“We’d get the phone calls saying, ‘You got to stop playing those stupid commercials,’ and ‘That was the worst commercial I’ve ever seen,’” John said. “And of course, we kind of laughed about that because we kind of knew that it really must be working good if people would take the time to call up and criticize them.”
The commercials even got national attention. One ad, nicknamed “Marty in Space,” appeared on Conan and The Jay Leno Show.
It was also featured on E! Entertainment Television's “Wildest TV Show Moments” segment in the late 2000s, where comedian Loni Love compared McDermott’s looks and sales pitch to the likes of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate: “I’m John McCain, and I approve this message.”
Misty, a 30-year employee of Martin Fine Furniture, often appeared at the end of the commercials to say the store’s famous slogan: “You got that right!”
The slogan was developed on a typical shoot day when one of the Channel 13 producers Marty worked with asked to try saying the line.
“And it just went off from there,” McDermott said.
Now that John is running the store, he advertises—but not with the same effect as the old TV commercials.
“At the time, I didn’t realize the kind of effect that they were having,” John said. “Because I advertise today, and actually on just as big of a scale—but his commercials had a lot more impact than the ones that I’m doing. They actually came in. You knew people were seeing them because they would come in and say something.”
John said people still come into the store, talking about the commercials and asking to see Marty.
“It just blows my mind because he’s been gone for three years,” he said.
“Maybe I should play some reruns or something.”
Take the quiz to rank Martin Fine Furniture commercials amongst 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.
Submit yours here.