“Hey! Hardly any of this stuff is helping me with my schoolwork!”
If you grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, chances are you have seen at least one version of today’s commercial. It was the jewel of Nickelodeon commercial breaks – you were learning to read and probably not old enough to reference the products advertised in the commercials, but you totally remember the person in the commercial and his attitude.
The year is 1988. Encyclopedia Britannica begins an advertising campaign featuring a kid whose current method of research is not benefiting his already procrastinated-to-the-hilt school paper on space. It’s due tomorrow, but he needs something to help him complete the project. Enter, Voice Over Guy.
What happens next is a miracle of modern advertising – all your problems solved in one minute or less (in this case, one minute), and the kid has everything he needs.
It all started in 1988, friends. Click play to see it all come together for Encyclopedia Britannica Kid!
This was the time he didn’t say “Excellent” over the displayed 800 number.
The Encyclopedia Britannica Kid in these famous commercials was played by Donavan Freberg. He’s a professional photographer, and worked as a voice actor as a child, playing Linus Van Pelt and Charlie Brown in commercials and Public Service Announcements between 1977 and 1980 (first as Linus in 1977 and 1978, and as Charlie Brown from 1978 until 1980), and also voiced Tom Little in The Littles from 1983 until 1985, and Montgomery Moose on The Get Along Gang.
Donavan played “The Encyclopedia Britannica Kid” from 1988 until 1993, talking about space (he got a B-plus on it – paper was too long due to all the great information he found), his followup report on the human body (he now knows where his mandibular is), and he’s pushed more information catalogs and mentioned the free gift many times over several different commercials.
The commercials were produced by his father, Stan Freberg, and elevated Donavan to cult status. The campaign itself was the most successful in the encyclopedia company’s then-200 year history. He was named the “Most Annoying Geek of the 90s” by TV Tome (a site that covers English-language television programs in foreign countries), as well as a “Pop Intellectual” by GQ, parodied by Saturday Night Live, and #83 on VH1’s “100 Greatest TV Stars.”
Not bad for a kid whose commercials aired on Nickelodeon for years and probably aggravated more than a few parents. Heck, I was a kid and he was annoying!
Do you remember these commercials on Nickelodeon (I mean, they aired elsewhere, but didn’t it always seem like they aired during the afternoon on Nickelodeon?). Did your family take Encyclopedia Britannica Kid’s advice and call the 800 number for the catalog, preview the series, and get the free desk reference set? Did you think this kid was annoying?
I’d like to thank my friend Ashley for this commercial – it was included in a few videocassettes she sent me to look at. I actually forgot about this particular commercial – I remember the followup one more, with the red-shirted kid telling us about his human body report (the one he got an “A” on).
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He seems annoying, but he’s an example of advertising that works, catering to the right audience, and reminding us of how a set of encyclopedias was our internet during a simpler time.
Indeed, it was excellent.
Oh, and when did the phone number change?
That just tripped me up a little bit!
I’ll try not to think of it too much.
Have a fantastic Flashback Friday, and a great weekend!