The celebrity as pitchman concept is an advertising strategy that has been tried and true for many years, but the summer of 1998 brought out the newest concept in celebrity plugging – the dial-around service!

As I discussed yesterday, the concept of “dial-around,” or dialing a set of numbers before dialing your chosen phone number was not a new or novel concept in 1998. The groundwork for dial-around service, which directly competed with 1-800 COLLECT and 1-800 CALL ATT, found its way into saving money on long distance calls beginning in 1996. However, it was 1998 that the services really took off, due in part to commercials that heavily promoted the perks of using such services.

Celebrities both prominent and, well, doing commercials because it was work, promoted the services and talked of the amazing savings one could obtain on all long distance calls. Because, as those of us know who lived during that time, long distance was not cheap, and it certainly wasn’t free. Maybe on the weekends, and depending on who your carrier was, but if you wanted to call your loved one 40 minutes south in the same county (yes, true story), it would cost you.

The rise in use of cell phones, and plans that allowed for unlimited long distance, led to the eventual decline of the services, but they’re out there if you really want to use them.

Today, we’re sticking around in 1998, and visiting another of the “Celebrities Dialing Around” collection, courtesy of one of those other services owned by Telecom USA (then owned by MCI, now part of Verizon), 10-10-220. I first started seeing commercials for this service in September 1998. I remember the first one (not the one featured here today) being after a summer rerun of Saturday Night Live (it was on one of my videos until I unceremoniously recorded over it; I’m still grateful this gem of NBC advertising – also from 1998 – didn’t meet the same fate). The episode ended, and boom, Dennis Miller is on my screen talking about this incredible service that saves you plenty.

How much, you ask?

Well, we don’t wanna get off on a rant here, but…there’s a smart kid sitting next to this smartass, and he knows all about the service!

Well, why don’t we just let him tell the moviegoing public who thinks popcorn in 1998 is “an arm and a leg?”

I’ll also except “wanna make out?”, because that’s what Miller told the old guy in a different version of this commercial!

Dennis Miller was the consummate advertising pitchman, appearing in commercials throughout the mid-1990s. I was watching his HBO show at the time, and had been since 1995. Yes, I was 12 years old, but man, did I find this f-bomb dropping guy with Barry Gibb hair hysterical. By 1998, I was almost sixteen years old, and I’d seen him in movies, I was interested in reading his books, and he was in commercials everytime I turned around. I had started watching Saturday Night Live reruns from the 1980s during the summer a few years earlier, so I was really introduced to this man and the earliest parts of his earliest career.

I’ve even seen that Star Search clip when he lost to Sinbad. I haven’t seen it since the mid-1990s, but it totally made me laugh back then. He referenced it in one of his rants back in the 90s, in only a way Miller could.

Miller’s advertising cred runs the gamut of products and services. In addition to 10-10-220 and all of the commercials he did for the service, he also did voiceover work for a Pizza Hut commercial around that time, chatted it up with Red and Yellow M&Ms, NetZero, Miller Beer (yup, seriously!), and TD Ameritrade. I even saw him in a print advertisement recently, but I don’t remember what it was for. The commercials he’s done play out like his standup act – witty and fast. I’ve seen him perform live twice – the first time in 2005, the second time was from the second row of Caesar’s Circus Maximus Theater in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Not as close as the first time I saw Kenny Loggins live (these were rows of tables), but close enough that I’ve told the story of seeing him spit in the middle of his act.

Because we’ve all done it, but he’s actually famous, and I’m just a normal person who can’t control their spit.

As for the kiddo with all the information about 10-10-220 charging 99 cents for the first twenty minutes of your long distance call, that isn’t Miller’s son. I remember being a teenager and thinking these two were related, but no, they aren’t. His name is Joey Zimmerman, and he was appearing in those Halloweentown movies around that time.

This particular 10-10-220 commercial aired for – no lie – over a year, with several different closing lines by Miller. I actually have two versions – this one and one where he asks the old guy “wanna make out?” Guess which one my lazy self found first and put on YouTube?

Yup, this one!

This may have been another feather in Dennis Miller’s commercial pitchman cap that gained lots of feathers in the 1990s, but this was also another attempt to cash in on the trendy “dial-around” numbers that seemed to pop up in every other commercial we watched at the time. And like all good trends, they eventually lose their luster. Miller appeared in the commercials until the time the service became antiquated, which was pretty much around the time his long-running HBO show was coming to an end.

Guess which one I was more upset to see go?

If you said “dial-around” service, you don’t know me very well, do you?

Ah 1998, you’ve never disappointed me. Except you didn’t talk about how popcorn pops. But you saved money for people to buy more popcorn in bigger tubs, so you did something right.

Have a fantastic Flashback Friday, a great weekend, and I AM OUTTA HERE!

No seriously, have a great weekend!

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