I wrote the above copy for Altoids in 1997. A year or so before, Mark Faulkner (art director) and I created the “Curiously Strong Mints” campaign for Altoids. The two of us would run this creatively driven account for about 7 years, producing myriad posters, print, ambient and digital pieces.
The campaign exploded into popular culture. Sales boomed. Within a couple years, Altoids became the number one selling mint in North America. Later, in a parlay with Life Savers candy, Kraft sold the brand to Wrigley for over 1.5 billion dollars. Pretty sweet, especially for a confection that wallowed in obscurity for over a century.
Those ads were game changers: for the client, for the agency, and thankfully for yours truly. Mark and I (plus a growing and talented team) would go on to win tons of creative awards for our work, including, in 1997, the $100,000 Grand Kelly Award for best print campaign in North America. Which, fortuitously, brings us back to the above execution: “Makes Other Mints Feel Inadequate.”
Imagine my surprise discovering it in the latest issue of People magazine! Holy crap. After all these years and all that history, they’re rerunning our ad. The headline. The typography. The color scheme. Save for a different (and in my opinion) crappier looking tin, it’s the same exact ad.
Big deal? Well, sort of. For whatever reasons, rerunning old advertising is unprecedented. Creative has a super short lifespan. Like cicadas, campaigns appear, create buzz, and then die. Precious few last longer than their first flight. Once gone, even the most successful ad campaigns stay that way. Yes, taglines or other assets get resurrected all the time. But never the ad itself.
Until this one.
What can I say? Of course I’m flattered. But seeing my ad after all these years is also discombobulating. Like running into your ex and her new beau. Altoids was and is so personal to me. I still remember pitching the above headline to my client. In fact, I recall telling them Altoids’ smart and cynical audience would appreciate a quirky word like “inadequate.” The subtle innuendo was highly intended. (As the brand grew, its widening audience would appreciate much sillier copy. But my favorite pieces always remained true to that “smart and cynical” core.)
So, having perhaps lost its way, is Altoids’ advertising returning to its base? Literally. Look, I don’t blame agency and client for rerunning our copy. There’s a whole new generation of “smart and cynical” out there. It’ll be new to them.
Special note: I discovered a website devoted entirely to Altoids advertising. In it, you’ll find “Inadequate” along with all the others, far as I can tell, pretty much in the order we produced them. I have no idea who hosts this site or why. Pretty cool, though.
April 26, 2013
What’s more unsettling? That a car commercial for Hyundai makes a commercial extolling clean emissions by depicting a botched suicide or that it is only the latest car company to be attached to such grim fare? By now you’ve seen the spot. Likely only once. For who would want to watch it again?
More than advertising technology, it seems this morbid story is telling us something about ourselves. Something sad. Trying for adult wit -I suppose- what I take away from watching these films is no less than the death of hope. The undertow of despair is unavoidable. Regret permeates. In particular, in the Hyundai commercial, where a man, having survived an attempted suicide, forlornly walks back into his tidy suburban home, shoulders slumped, wearily accepting another day of existence. Maybe he is in a loveless marriage. Perhaps he has lost his job. Was he chronically depressed?
Honestly, it’s not the lack of sensitivity I question. The Hyundai film is quite sensitive. To a fault. By going for complete realism it achieves melancholy resembling an Ingmar Bergman film. And that’s the problem. We are left pondering the human condition. Not the nifty car.
I appreciate, sometimes even adore, dark humor in films and TV. But in advertising? Here it seems, well, just plain wrong. Ultimately, advertising should leave the viewer feeling something positive about what it’s selling. Emphasizing a negative about life is perfectly acceptable when the advertisement provides the solution. Dramatizing a fire to sell insurance for example. But in these spots the solution is unintended, bittersweet at best. Misguided to a fault.
Besides, aren’t cars supposed to bring joy and freedom to Everyman? Not so for these blokes. By choosing their automobiles for coffins these sad sacks have unwittingly made them symbols for all that has gone wrong in their lives.
I have to wonder: After coming up with the concept and its clever irony (forgiven) didn’t the copywriters then realize this deeper, sadder one? We think about our work, don’t we? If not the authors, the wise creative director or planner or account executive (let alone the client) is supposed to. Creative license like this is unacceptable.
I’m not saying death is off limits in a commercial. Or that it can’t be funny. Below is one of the most famous TV commercials of all time. It’s about a car. It’s about death. Yet, it handles both with life-affirming joy. Failing to kill oneself in a car because it has clean emissions does neither.