6 Classic and Quirky Chicago Ads We Love

July 09, 2024

8 Minute Read
a chicago marketing agency's favorite Chicago-based advertisements

Every city has their own culture and defining features, but no city flexes their personality through local advertising like Chicago does. Over the decades, local commercial jingles and food spot signage have slowly permeated the zeitgeist of Chicago, weaving themselves into the fabric of who we are as Chicagoans (there’s an Empire Carpet joke in there somewhere). 


That’s right, we are ALL Eagleman. Statistically, we are all ~23% Vienna Beef. If these statements have you intrigued, take a walk down memory lane with me and let me know which Classic Chicago ads I missed!


1. Eagle Auto Insurance's Eagleman

As the description of the YouTube video explains, some consider this to be the worst commercial ever made. Around these parts, though, we know that it was the greatest commercial ever made. So great, in fact, that there’s a little documentary highlighting the making of the ridiculous TV spot.


I’m sitting over here wrestling with which aspect of the commercial that gets me the most: the creepy way Eagleman exclaims “I have something for youuuuu” (we’ve all quoted this), the horrifying baby chick that pops out of the egg he’s just laid on the hood of a car, or the Oscar-award-winning acting from everyone involved. 


Los Angeles, you can keep your Hollywood. We don’t need it over here.


(Video Credit: sibe74 on YouTube)


2. Vienna Beef's "Chicago's Hot Dog" Ad

Classic Vienna Beef Chicago's Hot Dog Poster Ad

If you’re from Chicago, you’ve seen this poster in every condition possible - faded beyond recognition, torn and tattered, covered in grease, plexiglassed with sharpie scribbles Jackson Pollocked all over it, and occasionally brand-spanking new (sus, don’t eat there). 


What I’m saying is that this ad GOES THROUGH IT and still comes out stoically standing the test of time. It’s so iconic it’s even been highlighted by the Chicago History Museum. It is literal HISTORY. Because I know you’re thinking about it, you can buy a print of the poster online (here’s the link), but you better be prepared to serve a dog to anyone who sees it hanging on your wall. 


Personally, I don’t need the poster on my wall at home, but I still hang on to that childhood dream of driving the mustard boat. The tomato barge always looked like too much work.


(Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum website)


3. Victory Auto Wreckers

Instilling a new fear in every Chicagoan’s heart, Victory Auto Wreckers convinced generations of local car owners that car doors just randomly falling off could be an everyday occurrence. Admittedly, the rest of the commercial is pretty forgetful, but that shows you the staying power of first impressions and hamming it up a bit. The commercial has been parodied by local news stations, has its own Wikipedia page, and has been referenced at social gatherings in the Chicagoland area since its debut in 1985.


Victory Auto Wreckers went out of business in 2023 and my car still has all 4 doors firmly attached to the body, so I guess those fears really were unfounded. I wonder if they had any trouble shutting their doors for the last time?


(Video Credit: Victory Auto Wreckers on YouTube)


4. Old Style Signs Outside of Bars

Sometimes, you have to take a step back from where you grew up to notice the little quirks. If you take a few steps back on the street as a Chicagoan (look out for traffic), you may realize that many of the city’s classic neighborhood bars are adorned with theOld Style Sign Outside of GMan Tavern in Chicago same glowing beacon: A yellowed, square, and illuminated sign with an Old Style logo hogging most of the real estate from a few words like “COLD BEER” or “ON TAP.” 

Do these bars serve other brands and beverages? Of course, but the hanging Old Style sign has become the quintessential Chicago signal of, “Hey, should we pop in for a quick one?” If you’re willing to give up your email address, WBEZ has a great piece about how Chicago became peppered with so many of these iconic signs.


(Photo Credit: GMan Tavern on Facebook)


5. Empire Carpet

Say it with me, “588-23-hundred-EMPIRE!” We know him, we love him, and we miss him terribly. Lynn Hauldren, AKA the Empire Carpet Guy, seemed to grow up alongside us in our homes like he was part of the family. Heck, you were probably sitting on Empire-installed carpet as you watched the commercials!


From the early, grainy TV spots to the animated commercials of modern day, the carpet juggernaut’s infectious jingle barely changed since its debut in the ‘70s, forever forged into our brains and, most importantly, our midwest hearts. In fact, if you start singing that song around folks from the area and stop before you finish, Chicagoans are legally required to complete the jingle. I’ve seen people arrested for it before and it wasn’t pretty. That padded cell is NOT an Empire job, that’s for sure.


(Video Credit: Empire Today on Facebook)


6. Kronos Gyro Poster


Hot Dogs aren’t the only food item on our list because, if you’re in or around Chicago, you’re likely also a gyro expert - it just comes with the territory. Listen, we’ve all got our favorite spots that weclassic Kronos gyro poster advertisement swear by… but we all know it’s likely gyro meat from Kronos wherever you go. How do we know? One sure-fire way to tell is that classic Kronos poster on the wall! If you think I’m just grasping at straws to round out this list, here is a plea via change.org asking for signatures to get one of these coveted posters. If that doesn’t speak to the power of Kronos in Chicago, I don’t know what does.


Let’s be clear here, too, I love Kronos dearly and have no qualms about their monopoly over the Chicago gyro scene. Vienna Beef is to hot dogs as Kronos is to gyros. I don’t make the rules, I just enjoy the food.


(Photo Credit: Change.org)


Which Chicago Ads Did I Miss?

I know there is no shortage of quintessentially Chicago advertisements (I went to grade school with a kid whose grandpa was Subway's “wear the horns” guy - IYKYK), but this blog was so much fun to write that it doesn’t feel like work anymore so I need to stop.

Do you have the next iconic Chicago advertisement in your back pocket? Drop us a line and let’s make sure you reach the right folks so you can be quoted at Chicago dinner tables and at backyard barbeques for decades to come!

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Kyle Geib - Director, Marketing & Digital Communications

Kyle Geib

As Director of Marketing and Digital Communications, Kyle brings an extra layer of enthusiasm to BFO’s incredible team of experts. Dedicated to continuing to cultivate BFO’s presence as a unique and knowledgeable voice in the industry, he leans in on his experience marketing in both the B2C and B2B spaces.