Wednesday, March 5, 2008

centenarian brand ambassador

According to MySpace, he's 99 years old. Aries. Single. With only 49 friends. And that's including dead ones like Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody.

This month, he's on the cover of Playboy. The back cover.

Speedy Alka Seltzer, from Bayer, the makers of aspirin and heroin, is being revived by BBDO in the hopes he'll hold vintage appeal for a younger market, according to the NY Times today.

Speedy was created in 1951 by the now defunct Wade Agency and dumped ten years later by Jack Tinker Partners, a hot creative boutique in the 60s. (Tinker was formed by CDs tired of being managers at McCann, who wanted to get back to creating work. They convinced Interpublic to set them up in a suite at the Dorset Hotel, next to a great source of visual ideas before the internet: MOMA. Alka Seltzer was among the first clients to walk in the door.)

In the swinging 60s, the Speedy mascot (and stop action animation) was seen as staid and corny and declasse.

Tinker replaced Wade's work with "groovier" spots, including a simple-line animation commercial that William Steig illustrated using pre-computer animation, penning the drawings with a sharpened bamboo reed. Gene Wilder was voiceover.

As yet, there was no plop, plop, fizz, fizz. One of the creatives at Tinker was Mary Wells who tells the story behind the tagline. The creative team milking R&D for ideas met a doctor who said that two aspirins work better than one. Knowing that aspirin is the main ingredient in Alka Seltzer, the team got the doctor to agree that two Alka Seltzer tabs also worked better than one. The client was only too happy to up the dosage on the pack. (When was the last time your idea doubled annual sales?)

Eventually, Tinker lost the account to DDB who did spots that still rank among my favorite commercials of all time:

The spots won all kinds of awards, but the client hated them, contending that indigestion wasn't funny. Unfortunately for the agency, viewers loved "Spicy Meatball" but thought that the product it sold was spaghetti.

The client brought the account back to Mary Wells who by now had left Tinker to start her own shop: Wells Rich Greene. She lured the client with another groundbreaking idea: do 30 second spots instead of 60s.

And today's powerhouse concept for the brand is...recycling?


Anonymous said...

Well, given America's obesity problem, I feel sure a creative team could convince the doctors to up the dose again for the larger customers, of which there's probably a high percentage given the nature of the product. Here to help.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we can resurrect Reddy Kilowatt and Choo Choo Charlie while we're at it. I don't think it's a horrible thing to bring back an icon that anyone under 40 would see as "kitsch", the creative is very uninspired though. Mr. Peanut is still out there and he works, so there's not rally a rason this can't. Gene Wilder's voice is perfect, a nice iteration of the blahs.

Anonymous said...

Oh, someobody once told me A-1 wanted to know how to increase steak sauce sales. Someone in a meeting from their agency said "make the hole in the bottle bigger". Don't know if it's true, but if the agency can double alka-seltzer tablet sales by doubling the dose, it sounds plausible.

Anonymous said...

Trend of the moment 'bring an icon to life’ will probably look cool, but how does that play when the product tastes like crap. Have your icons, but take the Buckley's approach instead: tastes lousy, but it works.l

Alan Wolk said...

Interesting history Ad Broad.

Can you imagine a holding company putting their new agency up at a suite in a hotel these days.

Ah Don Draper... how the world has changed.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

ouija-you should call this in to DDB's creative tipline. At least it's original.

Auntie--I haven't heard A1 story, but it sounds right to me, too.

Logo-thanks for making me look up Buckley's.

Toad--yes, imagine. Full bar and room service. But mea culpa, errata, this just in: The "no supervisory" line was a face-saver constructed for the press. The original Jack Tinkerers weren't creative hotshots, they were heavyweights who'd been passed over at McCann, who Marion Harper didn't have the heart to retire. He literally put them out to pasture. Dorset shop wasn't a boutique until after Mary Wells got there, luring a few young turks to come with her. (Full bar, remember?)

Anonymous said...

Put out to pasture? That's how Gotham got started....LINTAS spun them off with the Revlon account to basically get rid of them. Who had the last laugh?

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

I didn't know that about Gotham, Auntie. Lintas?!!