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11 Advertising Slogans That Became Catch-Phrases

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Back in the days when there were only three TV channels to choose from and no way to fast-forward through the commercials, advertising slogans stuck with us and were regularly repeated in daily conversation (just like those mad men on Madison Avenue hoped). Today’s rapid-fire special effects-laden spots don’t seem to have the memorability factor of yesteryear’s Clio winners. See how many of these phrases you’ve uttered yourself, even when you no longer remembered the context or product.

1. Try It! You’ll Like It!

This 1971 Alka-Seltzer was one of the first created by the then-new Wells, Rich, Greene advertising agency. The tag phrase soon took on a life of its own (how many mothers used it to convince their picky eaters to eat their broccoli?) and helped to get the commercial elected to the Clio Awards Classic Hall of Fame.

2. I Can’t Believe I Ate The Whole Thing

A year after their “Try it, you’ll like it” triumph, Wells, Rich, Greene came up with another memorable phrase to promote Alka-Seltzer: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” The line, moaned in the TV spot by poor, miserable Ralph to his sleepy wife, came to copywriter Howie Cohen after overindulging at a dinner party.

3. Ancient Chinese Secret

Many folks remember the tag line but not the product from this long-running ad that debuted in 1972. The “secret” being hawked was Calgon, a water softening powder that allegedly helped get laundry 30 percent whiter when added to your regular detergent.

4. Calgon, Take Me Away!

Softer bath water apparently was the key to washing away the daily stress of traffic, screaming kids, barking dogs, and cranky husbands. The original Calgon bath powder was just a slightly different version of the softening agent sold for laundry use (the product name is a portmanteau of Calcium Gone), but later the line was expanded to include foaming milk baths and scented salts.

5. You’re Soaking In It

“Dishpan hands” were the bane of every homemaker’s life before automatic dishwashers became standard kitchen equipment (according to the 2010 Census, 65 percent of American kitchens were equipped with a dishwasher). Rubber gloves provide a solid protective barrier between hot water, detergent, and human flesh, but apparently that was just too utilitarian a solution for the manufacturers of dishwashing liquid. Many brands, such as Vel and Ivory Liquid, boasted that their lack of “harsh chemicals” was gentler on hands than other soaps, but Palmolive took it a step further and positioned their dish soap on the same level as pricey moisturizers. Take it from Madge, the all-knowing manicurist: That pretty green stuff softens your hands while you scrub pots and pans.

6. Don’t Leave Home Without It

This catchy phrase was coined in 1975 by the Ogilvy and Mather agency as “Don’t leave home without them.” “Them,” in this case, referred to American Express Traveler’s Checks, and the somber warning was delivered by actor Karl Malden, who was co-starring as a hard-boiled homicide detective on The Streets of San Francisco at the time. Eventually American Express altered the phrase to promote their credit card (using the successful “Do you know me?” campaign).

7. It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

Stuffing or potatoes? Tastes great/less filling? When it comes to culinary feuds, one of the longest-running and still enduring has to be butter versus margarine. Today, the argument mainly breaks down into a nutritional trans-fat, polyunsaturated technical-type debate. But back in the early 1970s, consumers cared more that their margarine-of-choice tasted like the butter it was 33 percent less expensive than.

8. How Do You Spell Relief?

This tag line was a gold mine for stand-up comedians of the era, who spelled relief from L-I-Q-U-O-R to things we can’t mention here. However, the “relief” sought in this case was for acid indigestion, and Rolaids was the remedy. The minty antacids lost a lot of market share after H2 blockers (such as Pepcid AC) began selling over the counter, so the company recently resurrected their catchiest slogan in a series of commercials featuring Food Network chef Guy Fieri.

9. Does She or Doesn’t She?

This somewhat titillating tease was used for years to sell Miss Clairol hair coloring. (The answer, by the way, was “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.”) It was preferable that laymen (and catty girlfriends) could not tell at a glance that you were touching up the ol’ grey a bit via artificial means.

10. Where’s The Beef?

Retired manicurist-turned-character actress Clara Peller was hard of hearing, which is why she happened to bellow her famous line like a foghorn. A year after filming her first Wendy’s commercial, Peller filmed an ad for Prego pasta sauce, wherein she announced she’d “finally found it” (i.e. the beef). The hamburger chain terminated her contract, leaving Peller (who apparently didn’t thoroughly understand the “non compete” clause she’d signed) to gripe, “I’ve made them millions, and they don’t appreciate me.”

11. Often a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride

The phrase that has entered the lexicon to describe someone who is a perpetual also-ran was actually coined back in 1925 to sell Listerine Mouthwash. There’s an important lesson here: Having camel breath might prevent you from landing a husband, but it won’t prevent your newly-engaged friends from asking you to spend hundreds of dollars on a pink polyester puffy-sleeved dress you’ll only wear once.

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Jug Life: A History of the Kool-Aid Man
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When Robert Skollar joined the General Foods marketing team at Grey Advertising in 1988, it didn’t take him long to realize that there were certain perks that came with the job. As the executive behind the Kool-Aid ad campaign, Skollar inherited the Kool-Aid Man, the anthropomorphic pitcher of sugar water that had been a staple of the brand for more than a decade.

Two stories stand out: The first, Skollar says, is when he was working late one night and decided to try on the Kool-Aid Man’s fiberglass costume for himself. It was like being inside a Christmas ornament. “It’s hard to hear anything in there,” Skollar tells Mental Floss. “You just hope you don’t fall down.”

The second was when Skollar got caught up in the trend of New York professionals putting on elaborate birthday parties for their kids. Skollar asked Richard Berg, the voice of Kool-Aid Man’s “Oh, Yeah!” catchphrase, to actually wear the costume for a personal appearance at his son’s sixth birthday party. (Normally, Berg just recorded the line.) “It was the voice in the costume, which was a first,” Skollar says. “And half the kids were frightened to death.”

Fortunately, that was hardly the typical reaction. Introduced in 1975, Kool-Aid Man became one of the most beloved characters in advertising history, with a recognition factor that sometimes outpaced that of Ronald McDonald. He got his own video game, his own comic book, and his own museum display in Hastings, Nebraska.

Not bad for someone who started out as a disembodied head.

By the time advertising executive Marvin Potts created a sentient pitcher of Kool-Aid in 1954, the powdered soft drink mix had been on shelves for 27 years. Conceived by Edwin Perkins in Hastings, Nebraska, as an alternative to glass bottle drinks—which were expensive to ship—what was then known as “Kool-Ade” became a cheap, popular way to flavor water.

When Perkins sold the brand to General Foods in 1953, their contracted advertising firm of Foote, Cone & Belding trialed a few different television spots. Potts’s idea—a large, bulbous container of Kool-Aid with an animated mouth and eyes named Pitcher Man—was the most popular. (Company lore says Perkins came up with the idea after watching his kid draw a smiley face on the condensation of a window.)

In the 1960s, Kool-Aid opted for celebrity spokespeople like The Monkees and Bugs Bunny, relegating Pitcher Man to the sidelines. “I think they found out Bugs was overwhelming the whole campaign,” Skollar says. “Kids would remember him but forget the ad was for Kool-Aid.”

That ceased to be a problem in 1975, when Alan Kupchick and Harold Karp at Grey Advertising developed the idea for Kool-Aid Man, an evolution of Pitcher Man. His face stopped moving, but the addition of arms and legs gave the character a more bombastic personality. It also allowed him to commit sensational acts of property destruction.

Skollar recalls that the iconic breaking-through-the-wall sequence wasn’t necessarily planned. “From what I’ve heard, someone on set said that Kool-Aid Man really had to make an entrance, and someone else, maybe a producer, suggested he come through the wall.” Breakaway bricks were set up, and the character's fiberglass shell—“the same material used for a Corvette Stingray,” Skollar says—effectively became a wrecking ball.

Although he was never officially named Kool-Aid Man at the time, the mascot helped propel sales of the drink mix. “It was a phenomenon,” Skollar says. “Here you had this 50-year-old product that’s not really convenient and not particularly healthy, and it’s huge.”

As Kool-Aid Man’s star grew, so did his opportunities to branch out. The property got its own Marvel comic—The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man—as well as an Atari 2600 video game. The latter could be redeemed with 125 points earned from purchasing Kool-Aid, which amounts to about 62.5 gallons of sugar water. (You could also send $10 with 30 points.)

When Skollar was handed control of the campaign in 1988, the advice was pretty clear. “It was basically: Don’t screw it up,” he says, “and make it more contemporary.”

Skollar says he took inspiration from Pee-wee’s Playhouse and the Peter Gabriel music video for "Sledgehammer" to conceive of an entire Kool-Aid Man universe—one bursting with frenetic activity that kids would find exciting and adults would find impenetrable.

“Most kid ads had a storyline at the time,” he says. “This didn’t. It was just surreal.”

This Lynchian Kool-Aid Man was no longer 7 years old, as previous marketing campaigns had implied, but 14 years old—old enough to play guitar and surf. Once naked, he now sported jeans and cool shirts. Skollar believes that the kinetic spots helped usher in a new wave of kid advertising that relied more on visceral, MTV-style cuts.

Not all of Kool-Aid’s efforts were focused on hyperactive kids, however. The drink mix was not without its controversies, having once been associated with the Jonestown massacre in 1978, where cult leader Jim Jones coerced his followers into drinking Kool-Aid and Flavor Ade laced with cyanide. There was also the matter of Kool-Aid suggesting gobs of sugar be added to the drink for flavor.

“We did a campaign targeted to moms, ‘Having Kids Means Having Kool-Aid,’” Skollar says. “And we told them they could control the amount of sugar they used. We also pushed that Kool-Aid had Vitamin C.”

Under Skollar, Kool-Aid sales shot to third place in the soft drink category—behind only Coke and Pepsi.

Kool-Aid Man makes an appearance at the NASDAQ
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Skollar stayed on the Kool-Aid campaign through 1994, at which point the account was passed to Ogilvy & Mather. Eventually, the fiberglass costume became nylon and computer effects began to enhance his features.

CG was something Skollar had already started to experiment with, but eventually discarded it for the analog outfit. “There was something about that rawness, that awkward-looking pitcher breaking through walls,” he says.

One of the original costumes from 1975 sits in the Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Hastings, Nebraska, a testament to the character’s enduring appeal. Skollar says he once had research data supporting the fact that over 90 percent of kids could recognize Kool-Aid Man on sight.

The same wasn’t necessarily true of adults. “I remember one time we were shooting an ad where Kool-Aid Man was walking over a hill at sunset, holding hands with a little girl,” he says. “And a junior brand executive taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘We can’t see his face. How will we know who he is?’”

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The Most Famous Anti-Drug Ad Turns 30. Any Questions?
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Without realizing it, Paul Keye had made the American Egg Board very unhappy. A creative director at the ad agency Keye/Donna/Pearlstein, Keye (it rhymes with “high”) had been partly responsible for a public service announcement in tandem with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In it, actor John Roselius expertly cracked an egg into a searing hot frying pan, watched it sizzle, and proclaimed the scene a metaphor for what happens to your neurons when you use illegal narcotics.

“This is your brain,” Roselius intoned. “This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs.” Then, rhetorically: “Any questions?”

The spot premiered in 1987 and was lauded for its simple, direct, and effective approach to communicating the dangers of street drugs to teenagers. It’s been parodied, revisited, and credited with an actual decline in drug use. But spokespeople for the Egg Board complained that their protein-filled product was being unfairly connected with dangerous and addictive substances.

“Had I heard that,” Keye tells Mental Floss, “I would’ve told the guy to get a good night’s sleep.”

According to Keye, the spot was born out of the advertising world’s desire to “un-sell” something. “The ad world has a guild, the American Association of Ad Agencies,” he says. “One of the board members, Phil Joanou, went to a meeting and said, ‘I think we should put together some kind of effort [against] hard drugs.’”

Everyone at the table nodded. This was the 1980s, when Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was in full force and crack cocaine was becoming an epidemic. Under the volunteer ad coalition named the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Joanou and the agencies got together and convinced television and radio stations to donate airtime to public service messages. The value of the spots was in excess of $300 million.

The problem was that no one was creating any content to fill those empty spaces. “Big ad agencies move very slowly,” Keye says. Eventually, Joanou came to Keye and asked if his firm could come up with a concept before that valuable airtime was taken away by impatient station operators.

Keye agreed. At the time, the drug being targeted by the Partnership was cocaine. “It was the new, 'wonderful,' no-problem drug,” Keye says. “All up, no down. We knew we didn’t want to feature addicts, but put it out there for young adults and teenagers. The message was, there could be irreversible damage.”

At Keye/Donna/Pearlstein, copywriter Larre Johnson and art director Scot Fletcher came up with the fried egg scenario; Keye got an agreement from director Joe Pytka (who later directed the 1996 Michael Jordan movie Space Jam) to film it at no cost. Actor John Roselius was paid $360 to practice cracking an egg with one hand so the yolk wouldn’t break.

“He doesn’t say it, but you get the impression he’s talking to his younger brother or his son,” Keye says of the simple dialogue. “We got razzed a little about it, like it was almost Victorian, or not very hip.”

Once it was edited, Keye brought the tape over to the Partnership’s newly-opened New York City offices. “They didn’t have a playback machine,” Keye says, “so we went into an electronics store and asked the salesman to play it.” Across a dozen or so televisions, Roselius cracked the egg, let it fry, and delivered his line. The Partnership had no questions. “The client was very pleased.”

The ad began airing in 1987 in both 30- and 10-second versions—heavy repetition, Keye says, was responsible for the ad’s longevity. “It ran all day long for three or four months. The Partnership didn’t have [another commercial] ready. In advertising, it’s about repetition.”

And it worked, or at least it appeared to. In 1990, the Partnership announced that market research indicated 88 percent of teenagers believed even occasional use of cocaine was dangerous, up from 78 percent before the ads began airing. (At one point, it was believed 92 percent of teens had seen some version of the ad, and so had a lot of dealers. “Let’s go fry an egg” became slang for using.)

While Keye/Donna/Pearlstein benefited indirectly from the ad’s success—it helped them land a lucrative California anti-smoking campaign two years later—they didn’t own the ads. “The Partnership owned it, and they did another one 10 years later” about heroin, Keye says. A newer spot, which began circulating online in 2016, follows up the “Any Questions?” tag with child actors asking lots of questions.

Last year, the face of the campaign—Roselius, now 72 years old—told Rooster Magazine that passersby will still refer to him as “Egg Guy.” He garnered some ironic press when he voted to legalize recreational marijuana in California and made a curious admission: He had tried cocaine a couple of times in the ‘80s.

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