My Altoids can beat up their Altoids!

March 13, 2008

New Altoids ad next to one of mine. Mine’s bigger!

In 1995, Mark Faulkner and I created the “Curiously Strong Mints” campaign for Altoids. We made all of the work and managed the account for a decade. When we left Leo Burnett in 2003, we handed the reigns to our best lieutenants and they carried on marvelously.

Now the business is at BBDO Chicago. And while that agency is a direct competitor and Altoids is my dearly beloved I will try mightily to avoid sour grapes –unless of course referring to a new flavor.

The new campaign does not suck. But it is not brilliant either. What is brilliant about the new campaign is that it does not suck. No small feat. Altoids advertising seized popular culture in a way few ad campaigns do. Repeating that success with something different is perhaps a no-win situation. But doing more of the same an even dicier proposition.

So Altoids did what Absolut vodka did. They evolved their campaign, retaining elements, redesigning some, and losing others. You can still see the brands DNA in the language and typography as well as in the tone and manner. Whether it comes across as a crude face-lift or a brilliant recreation I’m still on the fence.

BBDO & Altoids walked away from “Curiously Strong” and replaced it with “a slap to the cerebellum.” The latter is a nifty headline; much like the ones I treasured writing. A big, antiquated noun in cerebellum. Fun verb like slap. Love it. But tis no ‘curious strength.’

For me, the pairing of those two words was everything: the brand essence, the strategy, a business idea, and the best expression of a brand I’d ever seen. In fact, we look for such words for all of our clients now. Finding them is hard. Hold on to them when you do.

To walk away from “Curiously Strong Mints” as theme for Altoids is ballsy but a mistake. I suppose in some respects a slap to the cerebellum is curious, implying strength. But it’s also peculiar and small. True story- At the campaign’s birth we had a great line: “Mints so strong they come in a metal box.” There was considerable debate to make it our theme. And it almost was. Thankfully, it became our very first headline instead. That should have happened here.

The headline BBDO are using in their first ad “Awakens like a horsewhip on the back flesh” is certainly curious and strong. Brutal too. Though not my style, I haven’t a problem with its meanness. It’s not like we never played that card. Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if such a line came from our bullpen.

Relatively new for Altoids is a TV commercial. In it a Victorian gal solves a dilemma for a zany, Victorian inventor by eating an Altoids. Voila! They discover a barnyard animal stuck in his wacky Victorian machinery. Sort of get it. Sort of don’t. It has a Harry Potter look, which is appropriate, if cliché. But, again, the strategy is no longer about curious strength. Instead they are positioning Altoids as a smart-maker, awkwardly reminiscent of Mentos. A disappointment. Last detail: Isn’t the cerebellum used for motor functions and not thinking? Did no one look up the word? The line makes no sense in context with the commercial. This wouldn’t matter (as much) if it were merely a headline in a print ad.

So, a mixed review from the Gods of Advertising. The new campaign will get noticed. And it does pick up where we left off. But it only breaks new ground by abandoning the world’s most money theme line. And that’s not using your cerebellum.


9 Responses to “My Altoids can beat up their Altoids!”

  1. katie said

    Will not have the staying power that “Curiously strong” had. It’s funny, but it doesn’t resonate. Like you said, they used the word cerebellum incorrectly and a lot of friends I’ve asked about it have naively asked “What does cerebellum mean anyways?”. Whether you should know as an adult or not what this term means, some of your audience will not, and the campaign is lost on them. Simple is genius. Curiously strong had curiously strong legs and the campaign went everywhere with out limits for years. When I see the new commercial I laugh. Its by no means bad. I like it, I don’t mean to say I don’t. But it has big shoes to fill and it’s not there yet. I don’t believe in 5 years we’ll be saying “A slap to the cerebellum”. I have a hard enough time saying cerebellum anyways.

  2. peanut gallery said

    The new stuff falls dreadfully short. I think we can all agree it’ll never make the glossy pages of the next annual.

  3. Daisy said

    THAT’S MY MARKETING PLAN I’VE BEEN WORKING ON FOR OVER A YEAR AND A HALF FOR GRADUATION! I agree it’s not as STRONG as the whole “Curiously Strong” campaign. My goal was to market Altoids in a different light. But what is unbelievably frustrating is the fact that I’ve been doing MAD CRAZY research on how peppermints actually helps with alertness and mental stimulation etc… and for my senior thesis/portfolio show for my REALLY REALLY important Marketing Ad Campaign Plan somehow someway they “have it”. WTF! Out of all the mints I could of chosen to use for my senior project! I really want to say someone sold them my idea!!! Now when I graduate in a couple of months and employers come to check out my show… it’s going to look like I did a case study instead! It was my idea!!!
    *AND I agree I don’t really like their tag line… and YES Cerebellum is the wrong word to use.. Cerebrum would of been more appropriate. I think my tag would of been better.

  4. Bartsv said

    thats for sure, bro

  5. The campaign has been a savior in many of my pitches. I use it a fine example of a pinpoint execution of a great positioning strategy. The competition spends their ad dollars educating the consumer to a catagory sell, ie. what mints do (freshen breath) duh. Altoids simply focuses on “strong”. Why waste your time and money telling people what mints do they already know.

    Simply. Brilliant

    By the way they are strong but they are not a snap to the cerebellum.

  6. Demaris said

    I was floored when I opened the September issue of GQ and on page 291, there in all its glory, a BIG reference to slavery. I’m not black but I was extremely offended and have complained to the company, not that it will do any good I suppose.

  7. […] Leo Burnett (with Mark Faulkner), came up with the phrase, “Curiously Strong”. In his Gods of Advertising blog Postaer critiques the departure from the “Curiously Strong” for “Slap to the […]

  8. scdoheny said

    Hi there,
    If you have the rights to the “Freeze” ad campaign for Altoids, please contact me.
    Susan Doheny

  9. funkybeast said

    Altoids facebook campaign recently offended facebook fans…“The Like-A-Lot,” “The Oversharer,” “The Lurker” — these are not names Facebookers are going to want to be called, let alone rewarded for.

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