Unless you are inhabiting a Maroon 5 song, chances are you haven’t had to use a payphone in a long time. Cell phones completely killed off the payphone not only due to the fact that you could bring them with you anywhere, but they were essentially much cheaper to use than those coin chomping machines set up by the phone company. There was a time in the not too distant past, however, when people did not carry cell phones with them everywhere, and often found themselves in a situation where they had to make a call while not having a dime in their pocket.
Phone companies had a way for someone to make a call that would put the charge on the bill of the callee, dialing zero before the number turned it into a collect call, with the other party having to accept the charges before you would be put through. This worked at any payphone, as I know well from my high school and college days in the 90’s.
But phone charges were expensive back in the day, so one of the long distance companies came up with a unique solution that offered collect calls for a fraction of the phone company cost. MCI launched 1-800-COLLECT sometime around 1994, and using a payphone was never the same. Nor were the TV airwaves…
For nearly a decade, 1-800-COLLECT commercials inundated the airwaves with an ever-changing lineup of A through C list celebrities as recurring characters trying to get poor schmucks they came across to save up to 44% (later a buck or two) on their collect calls. Only Geico’s recent ADHD style of advertising can possibly touch the constantly shifting and concurrent campaigns 1-800-COLLECT employed from the mid 90’s through the early years of the new millennium. Let’s take a look back at some of the Hollywood squares who shilled for the alternative to dialing zero…
The Phone Patrol
One of the first and longest running of 1-800-COLLECT’s campaigns featured “Married With Children” star Ed O’Neil as The Phone Patrol. Having the head of the dysfunctional Bundy family offer free collect calling advice to total strangers seemed like a pretty silly idea… but then again, so were some of the Phone Patrol ads. Like this one, for example…
Spade and Melman
The funniest ads in the 1-800-COLLECT series belonged to David Spade and Calvert DeForrest. You know the latter man better as David Letterman regular Larry “Bud” Melman. David Spade extolls the virtues of using 1-800-COLLECT, using the endearing putz Melman as his patsy. While Spade’s usual partner in silliness Chris Farley was still alive when these commercials were made, apparently even Farley had his limits as to what he was willing to shill… but that’s OK, because anything with Larry “Bud” is instant gold…
“Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?” is one of my favorite scenes in a TV ad ever. Really!
Nothing shows a desperate attempt to grab at 80’s nostalgia and washed up acts like signing up Mr. T to pitch your product. For those who weren’t alive in the 80’s, Mr. T was cast to play the character B.A. Baracus on the popular, but short-lived 80’s dramedy “The A Team”. Thirty years later, he is still making money off of the popularity he gained solely from the exposure he got from that show. He is famous for no reason other than his mohawk, 300 pounds of chains he wears around his neck, and the fact that he’s the ultimate trash talking badass.
So now 1-800-COLLECT has resorted to threatening people into using their service rather than dial zero. There must be a better way, isn’t there?
In the late 90’s, 1-800-COLLECT decided to add some sex appeal to their ads and hired budding bombshell Alyssa Milano to play the leather clad heroine Eva Savealot. Eva was a lot like Mr. T’s Inspecta Collect, only much more pleasing on the eyes…
She’s come a long way from when she used to pitch her workout video Teen Steam incessantly on Nickelodeon back in the late 80’s. And color me surprised that commercial is nowhere to be found on YouTube…
The Guardian Angel
Why be badass and sexy when sometimes just sexy will do?
Having Playboy model Jaime Pressly dress up as a tempting angel in white to guide dialers to the correct collect calling option was really scraping the bottom of the gimmick barrel. But since 1-800-COLLECT was about to become a dinosaur by the time Pressly was baring her wings anyway, why not make a desperate grab for some extra brand awareness with a little eye candy? It was certainly better than the approach rival 1-800-CALL-ATT was using….
Here’s to the days when making a call was a whole lot harder than reaching into your pocket and pushing a screen. To a day when you had to brave the germs and drug dealers to use a public phone to make an emergency call. To a day when dialing about 20 digits would save your friends and family some money, and not doing so could possibly get you a visit by a deranged man in a mohawk, an angel with cameltoe, or heaven forbid, Carrot Top. The Nest salutes 1-800-COLLECT for all the great commercial memories of the grunge decade, and for never thinking that putting Terry Bradshaw and Alf together would be a great idea…
I remember using paid phones in the city, I was so grossed out that I would put my tshirt over the speaker so it wouldn’t touch my face.
And a quarter was not even a minute.
I had to look for the Alf video and found this one:
Oh yeah! 10-10-220 had a whole cast of pseudo-celebs for their ads, only unlike 1-800-COLLECT, they mixed and matched them together in their commercials. I miss these phone ads for some reason…
i miss the thrill of walking to find a payphone when my car broke down, and trying to find change under my seats )
I miss payphone and video game roulette! Going through all the empty return slots to see if someone had left a coin! Probably made a couple bucks over the course of my life on left behind quarters….
I hated using payphones at train stations, those were especially disgusting.
Reminds me of the old Weird Al lyric from his song “One More Minute” having to do with public services in train stations. I won’t quote it for the sake of decency… 😉
LOL!! I have had many an encounter with the old pay phones! We even had one in our little town!
I miss everything about payphones except all of the quarters I was forced to put into them!
Although there are still payphones around all over the place, I think the fact that everyone has free minutes on their mobile phone is the reason they’re usually empty. I never use anywhere near my free minutes.
Mr T was recently featured in a Snickers advert in the UK – a football (i.e. soccer) player takes a “dive” and Mr T crashes onto the field driving a tank and chucks him a Snickers. Or something like that. So he’s still going strong!
LOL! That seems to make little sense, but not much with Mr. T ever did!
this was a fun trip down memory lane. thanks 🙂