Retro Commercials: Hershey’s Kisses Christmas Bells

I don’t know about you, but commercials can often take me back to my formative years as quickly as any song or movie can. That is why we will continue this semi-regular feature on ’80s commercials that I consider particularly memorable, noteworthy, or forgotten. Television commercials were much more influential back when we were forced to watch them without the luxury to fast-forward through and/or stream shows with limited or no interruptions. This issue will cover the Hershey’s Kisses Christmas Bells.

Hershey’s Kisses were first introduced in 1907 and have become one of the most popular candies in the United States. As of 1989, the chocolate drops wrapped in foil were the 5th most popular chocolate in the U.S., spawning sales that topped $400 million. People love Kisses not just because of their chocolate taste, but because of positive associations the candy has had in moments in their lives such as getting them as parts of a gift. This is a brand that became an American staple being passed down for generations and that people could remember enjoying as a kid. Some of this positive connection is due to TV commercials.

Since Hershey began marketing its products nationally in 1969, its message has been as consistent as the chocolate recipe that made the Pennsylvania company the largest candy maker in the United States. That’s because by 1969, nearly seven decades after Milton S. Hershey launched his chocolate empire, the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar was one of the most identifiable products in the country. TV ads didn’t need anything fancy; they could simply pitch it as America’s favorite candy bar. The strategy worked, and company executives have rarely dared to deviate from it since. This goes for Hershey’s Kisses as well with TV advertising for Kisses changing remarkably little since the 1960s.

This brings us to one particular Hershey’s Kisses commercial that began airing in 1989 and has stood the test of time since it is still being used even to this year. It is simple yet elegant and entertaining all packed into a 15 second spot. I am quite certain you all have seen it many times. It begins with eleven Kisses in the shape of a tree. They become animated when the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” begins and are transformed into Christmas bells. At the end, the words “Happy Holidays From Hershey’s Kisses” appear and the intended sentiment is precisely communicated. Again, all this impressively happens in 15 seconds. You can watch the original spot here…

Brilliant and magical! I love it all the way down to the little wipe of the brow and sigh of relief, “Whew.” New York City’s Ogilvy and Mather was the advertising agency handling Hershey’s when this spot was created. The commercial was apparently directed by animation expert Carl Willat (you can find more of Willat’s work at Carl’s Fine Films). The fact that the commercial is still evoking the same sentimental response over 30 years later is a testament to its greatness. I know I personally appreciate it each year when the holidays come. It might even deserve to be considered one of the most effective 15 second commercial spots ever created.

Part of that comes from nostalgia, familiarity and tradition. Well, in 2020, there is a little bit of an uproar because Hershey’s decided to add an updated version of the Hershey’s Kisses Christmas Bells commercial titled “Bells to Blossom”. You can watch it here if you are so inclined. In the new version, it starts the same, but then a child’s hand pops into the frame and grabs a Hershey’s Kiss after the candies play a few bars of the song. Then, a father and daughter use the Kisses to top some peanut butter blossom cookies as the carol continues to play on brass instruments instead of bells. There is nothing wrong with the commercial other than that it is not the original. In a year that has already had its share of difficult change, many don’t want to see the classic commercial modified.

After the backlash, Hershey’s released this statement: “We made the decision to make a slight update to the original that kept the opening holiday melodies and incorporated another holiday tradition, baking — melding together these two time-honored traditions. From playing the bells to baking peanut butter blossoms, it’s Hershey’s Kisses that have stood the test of time. For viewers who love our original – don’t worry, we’ll be running both holiday ads this season. Keep your eyes peeled for our classic and iconic Bells spot as well as the newest ‘Bells to Blossoms.'” So, don’t fret too much, our beloved 1989 commercial will continue to run and ring in the Christmas season!

That will wrap up another trip down memory lane in the form of TV commercials. Hershey’s Kisses have been produced continuously since 1907, except for the period of time between 1942 and 1949 due to rationing of aluminum foil used for the wrappers which was a scarce commodity during World War II. More than 80 million Hershey’s Kisses are produced each day at the company’s two factories. So the candy has been being produced and sold for over 100 years yet, to me, its most endearing commercial is (you guessed it) a product of the great decade of the ’80s.

…and Happy Holidays from The Retro Network, too!

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Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.