Sweet but also strange. My reaction to resurrection of classic Altoids campaign.

May 7, 2013

Altoids, circa 1997

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.

I’m baaaaaack… as seen in People, May 2013

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.

3 Responses to “Sweet but also strange. My reaction to resurrection of classic Altoids campaign.”

  1. Diane Cimine said

    Ironic timing with this post… this past Sunday I came across a batch of photos from 1996, including the OBIE Awards at the Puck Building in NYC — and guess who was on stage accepting the Best of Show Award for Altoids? You may have been at this even earlier than you think. (Happy to scan/ send you but need your current email address… )

    As for your point in this blog, I’d agree your discovery is odd at best and brings up a laundry list of issues: a) whose intellectual property do the ads become once in the public domain: the client, the agency, the creative team? b) out of courtesy, might you not have been alerted/ engaged in some way in the reuse? c) if agency/ client thought it was a cool idea to dust off the retro copy, why not use as a jumping off point/ evolve to underscore the efficacy of the brand – over time, across generations… whatever.

    It was a cheap action and good on you for calling it out – with class and restraint, I might add.

    • Steffan1 said

      Diane- Interesting perspective on intellectual property rights after time. I’d assumed none existed. Also- I’m not irked at all by any of this. Yes, it would have been cool for someone to ping me but I’m not surprised. 15 years!

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