Don’t share this with your friends up North…unless you want company

This 1970s commercial—named one of the top 100 TV spots of all time—tantalized people in snow country. Florida historian Gary Mormino tells us how Florida sold the sun starting in the Gilded Age. Has this marketing of paradise changed?

When You Need It Bad We’ve Got It Good (1970s)

Selling the Sun

By Gary R. Mormino

SellingTheSunA TV commercial in the 1970s tantalized New Yorkers, comparing their freezing trudges through snow-clogged streets with alluring scenes of palm trees, soft breezes and fun-in-the-sun frolicking in the sea. “When you need it bad, we’ve got it good,” sang the siren song. “Come to Florida!”

That Florida tourism ad, named one of the top 100 TV spots of all time, is part of a winter marketing campaign that began in the 19th century and continues today. What began with selling Florida warmth to tubercular Yankees expanded to enticing anyone seeking a winter refuge, whether tourists or snowbirds.

The Gilded Age, the era between the 1870s and 1890s, witnessed the first flowering of Florida tourism. In magazines and books, postcards and paintings, the idea of a Florida dream emerged, the notion that travelers could enjoy palm trees, sand dunes, and even a better life. Or at least a better February!

A new, more democratized Florida dream emerged in the 1920s. The Model T brought millions of middle-class winter tourists. Advertisements in print, on the radio, and in the movies portrayed Florida as the new Mediterranean. A new architecture, Mediterranean Revival, emphasized that Americans no longer had to spend winters in Malaga or Portofino; rather, they could luxuriate in Miami Beach, Sarasota, or Boca Raton.

During the Great Depression, Americans heard about Florida while dancing to Irving Berlin’s Moon Over Miami or listening to his Florida by the Sea in the Marx brothers film, Cocoanuts.

The prosperity following WWII ignited a new love affair with Florida. In 1950, a Gallup poll confirmed that the southernmost state was Americans’ third favorite destination, behind California and Hawaii. Florida embarked upon a campaign to become number one.

For decades, newspapers mailed winter editions to tourists. The Orlando Sentinel even scented its annual citrus edition with orange perfume. In New York City’s Grand Central Station and scores of other busy transportation hubs, bathing beauties handed out free Florida oranges, orange juice, and tourist brochures to coincide with the season’s first blizzard.

The new medium of television served as handmaiden for Florida tourism. Miami Beach was synonymous with Arthur Godfrey’s shows. The ukulele-strumming, floral-shirted Godfrey said, “Come on down!” In the early 1960s, viewers eagerly awaited the words, “From the sun and fun capital of the world, Miami Beach, it’s the Jackie Gleason Show!”

Then came Disney. His Sunday-night TV show promoted Disneyland in California. That success inspired him to roll the dice in 1971 and gamble on Walt Disney World, a development that transformed Florida tourism.

The rest, as they say, is history.

GARY R. MORMINO, Florida Humanities Council scholar-in-residence, is the Frank E. Duckwall professor emeritus in Florida Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.