Brand: Alka-Seltzer (Bayer)
Link: Click Here
Target: Everybody – at least during the holidays
Peter Boyle, the father from “Everybody Loves Raymond” is sitting upright at the edge of his bed late at night as his wife (Doris Roberts, who also plays his wife on Raymond) sleeps. He begins saying “I can’t believe I at that whole thing” and wakes up Doris who responds first with taunts and then exasperatedly says “Take your Alka-Seltzer!” The spot cuts to a product shot of Alka-Seltzer with a voiceover saying “People overdo it. That’s why for 75 years they’ve reached for Alka-Seltzer – to break up and dissolve stomach discomfort and pain fast.” The shot moves to the familiar product demo of Alka-Seltzer fizzing in water. Then it cuts to a happy Peter Boyle eating chocolate cake on the edge of the bed. He smiles and says “Good Night, Dear” to Doris who grumbles “Drop one crumb and you’re dead!” The spot cuts back to a product shot and introduces the new tagline: “Alka-Seltzer, a rich history of relief.”
Regular readers of this advertising blog know that we love consistency in advertising. Brands which are able to stay ‘on message’ over long stretches of time build brand equity with consumers that can last for years of inactivity. As long as the message is relevant and reinforces an ownable, unique brand positioning, consistency works. Advertising history is littered with the skeletons of tarnished brands who ignored this lesson. Do you remember the last ‘Burger King’ campaign before this year’s controversial ‘King’ spots? If you are like most consumers you will say “Have it Your Way” even though (ignoring a half-hearted comeback attempt this year) the last major campaign behind that theme was a generation ago. After that the brand struggled, replacing campaigns and agencies on nearly an annual basis.
This spot is effective because it takes the rich equity of one of the most famous and best-loved advertising campaigns in television history (one of two the brand can lay credit for, the second being the “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz.” campaign) and builds on it. Although the spot seems to be a straightforward remake of the classic series, it is craftier than it first appears. And it is generating buzz, including a New York Times article and lots of water-cooler chatter. Which is even more remarkable when you consider that another campaign this year for Alka-Seltzer with several different spots failed to produce even a ripple in the pond of pop culture – even though it was written to roughly the same strategy. Great spots like great athletes make tough moves look easy. Here is our deconstruction of what works:
- Positioning – The brand positioning of Alka-Seltzer has actually shifted here from the classic campaign. But it has shifted in a way that makes it more effective and ownable. The classic positioning used the unique action of Alka-Seltzer (the fizzing makes you think that it will be solving your stomach problems very quickly while it’s still fizzing) as permission to believe the claims. Now that argument has been bolstered by heritage. “75 years” gives us reason to trust the brand and the ‘history of relief’ assures us that it will work, unlike our laptop or cellphone.
- Actor Choice – The choice of Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts for this spot was inspired. The notoriously cranky couple from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ work on two levels. For fans of they show they offer a celebrity endorsement in a more convincing way than a straightforward pitch. For other consumers they are an aspirational couple. Aspirational in the sense that Mr. Boyle looks like the perfect test case for indigestion and Ms. Roberts seems like the least co-operative partner imaginable. So if Alka-Seltzer makes Peter’s stomach feel better and helps him get along with Doris, it will certainly work for you.
- Tagline Nostalgia – What separates this ad from other on-strategy, well-produced executions is that it has powerful emotional connections for Baby Boomers and late Gen X’ers who remember this campaign from their youth. By coming almost all the way back to the original tagline (it has been modified slightly – Boyle says “I can’t believe I ate THAT whole thing,” where the original was “I can’t believe I ate THE whole thing.”) Alka-Seltzer and agency BBDO immediately invoke the power of the original spots. Unlike Coca-Cola’s failed remake of the classic ‘Hilltop’ spot this year (sadly called ‘Chilltop’), this one works.
- Repetition – One of the most powerful tricks in advertising is repetition. In this spot, the surprising and effective choice is having Peter Boyle repeat the line ‘I can’t believe I ate that WHOLE thing,’ three times in his deadpan voice without moving the camera off him. His slow and steady delivery makes us focus on both him and the tagline. And BBDO is clever enough not to interrupt him with a product shot or demo before he’s spent the first half of the spot (fifteen seconds) just repeating that line. Because this line is so closely connected to the brand, the repetition establishes the brand even without a product shot or logo. This seemingly simple choice must have been excruciatingly difficult for an agency and brand with only thirty seconds to spare.
While this execution looks simple, it is as ruthless and efficient as David Mamet dialogue. Every word here is crafted to build the brand and sell the product. What Alka-Seltzer accomplishes with this spot is to re-insert themselves into the evoked set of choices for many consumers who may have forgotten the franchise.
Our primary concern with this spot is how it will evolve into a new campaign. Hitting it so perfectly creates great expectations from the viewer. Whether Alka-Seltzer and BBDO choose to continue this campaign with Boyle and Roberts, use other celebrities or just follow the “Whole Thing” mantra into new situations will have a profound effect on the tone and feel of the campaign and the resulting effect on brand equity. Getting it so right this time raises the bar for future spots.
Branding Bottom Line:
Alka-Seltzer boldly goes where they have been before. And makes us wonder why they ever left.