Friday, June 23, 2006

Alka-Seltzer Belches in Public

One of the worst things about eating bad food is that it has a nasty habit of "repeating" on you. For the uninitiated, "repeating" is the nice way of expressing the fact that the food you've just consumed regurgitates back into your mouth.


Oh, come on. Everyone has barfed up some food they thought was long gone. And while the experience isn't exactly the stuff of which fond memories are made, it is one worth noting, especially now that the advertising and marketing industry is engulfed in an all out belch war.

In case you haven't noticed, the era of retro advertising is now in full swing, with talentless agencies becoming so bankrupt of creative strategies that they must resort to exhuming 40 and 50 year old campaigns to stimulate sales. This week's victim is Alka-Seltzer, which is belching up television commercials from the 1960's in hopes of....of...of something. Nobody knows just what.

If you were alive during the 1960's, you may fondly recall the work of Doyle, Dane, Bernbach and their witty, effective work done for accounts like Avis, Volkswagen and Alka-Seltzer. In those days, advertising led the public, with smart, pointed executions. Not like today, where advertising is so desperately clueless that it hopes and prays it can glom on to any trend it can spot.

Back then, there were several spots that were particularly charming for Alka-Seltzer. One featured an ethnic couple with the husband groaning, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." Another starred an actor in a TV commercial, doing take after take while eating pasta and exclaiming, "Mama mia, datsa spicy meatball!" A third focused on a nerdy fellow's account of his waiter's prodding him to sample the restaurant's special. "Try it, you'll like it!" practically became a national anthem.

They were funny spots. Unfortunately, even back then they did little, if anything, to increase Alka-Seltzer's sales.

Of course, that didn't matter to the geniuses who assumed that by "reviving" those old spots with talents like Kathy Griffin and Peter Boyle, the campaigns would work to boost sales this time around. I guess they figure that if enough baby booomers watch, something will happen. Nothing will, of course. Because if you've seen any of these recently "updated" spots, you know how high of a cringe factor they have. They're embarrassing. Almost as bad as watching your parents fight in public, or staring in morbid fascination at the way sweaty hair separates from the toupee on the back of a guy's head.

For the life of me, I don't know why dopes in marketing departments assume that simply being retro is an E ticket to advertising success. I'm sure they think they're being brilliant by exhuming advertising that's a half-century old. Does it occur to any of them that far from showcasing their brilliance, this kind of empty-headedness only goes to proving their ineptitude? That they simply have run out of ideas?

This, my friends, is the proof that Caretaker Manager Syndrome has spilled over from the production side of the economy into the services sector. No longer are fresh, innovative ideas being generated by clear-thinking strategists. Today's agencies are filled with lazy, naive order-takers, whose only true talents lie in pointing and clicking their way through a catalog digital special effects - but does nothing to increase brand value or sales.

How the mighty have fallen. Ironic how all this has come about from the recent Alka-Seltzer campaign. An effort from which, tragically, there is no fast, fast relief.


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