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5 Famous Ad Campaigns That Actually Hurt Sales

Alka Seltzer Meatballs


Up until the 1960s, advertisers had followed a relatively simple outline. First, present whatever product you're trying to sell front and center. Next, list off a couple meaningless facts and statements that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that your product is the best. And finally, belittle the shit out of women at every possible opportunity.

Then the 1960s ushered in a smarter, more cynical viewership -- one that demanded more than just buzzwords and misogyny to convince them to purchase a product. Thus was the social climate that birthed perhaps the greatest ad of all time: Alka-Seltzer's "That's a spicy meat-a-ball!" Because when misogyny fails, racism is there to pick up the pieces.

It's actually a really clever ad. The setup is that they're filming a different commercial (for some unnamed spicy meat sauce) and the actor in the ad has to do take after take, until finally he gets indigestion and needs some Alka Seltzer.

Later he was found in his trailer, dead of a heart attack.

What made the commercial so unique was that it so directly opposed every advertising standard up to that point. During the ad's 50-second run time, only seven seconds were used to show the actual product, and only for a few seconds at the end did the words "Alka-Seltzer" appear on screen. Instead of forcing anything down our throats, Alka-Seltzer was the first company to attempt to entertain viewers while selling a product. As a result, "spicy meat-a-ball" became an iconic line for decades, only to be later outshone by "Where's the beef?" and that other old lady who fell and couldn't get up.

The "Where's the beef" lady was the only one who got a record deal, though.

So What Went Wrong?

The commercial was a little too revolutionary.

Remember that actual Alka-Seltzer tabs are only featured for seven seconds in the ad. In the other 85 percent, that nondescript jar of pasta sauce sits on the table. This makes sense considering the concept of the ad, but unfortunately for Alka-Seltzer, people just assumed the spot was advertising meat sauce. Alka-Seltzer's sales shrunk while numerous pasta sauces began flying off the shelves instead.

As a result, Speedy's stock portfolio imploded and he spent the rest of his life on the streets, shooting heroin into the tip of his penis.

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty

In 2004, beauty product manufacturer Dove decided to try something new. Up to that point, cosmetics had always been advertised with women who absolutely did not appear to need them. Dove's response to this discrepancy was to launch a massive marketing campaign promising to promote "true" beauty by showcasing "real" women as they naturally were -- completely free of makeup or computer manipulation.

Oddly enough, no one seemed interested in a "real" men campaign.

The goal of the campaign was not just to sell products, but to celebrate the natural variation in all women and encourage them to feel confident and comfortable with themselves. Or so it claimed.

They called it the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, seemingly forgetting that self-esteem does catastrophic damage to cosmetics sales.

It's worth noting that beauty products and curves have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Along with popular print ads, the campaign produced a Super Bowl commercial, as well as one of the most-watched ads of all time. Workshops, sleepover events, books and a play production all encouraging women of different shapes and sizes to love their natural beauty were also part of the campaign. The whole thing went viral, and soon afterward nearly every news and media outlet was reporting on Dove's revolutionary vision.

"Real women are beautiful without makeup! Buy our makeup!"

So What Went Wrong?

Dove was full of shit.

For a few years, the ads were an undeniable success. In the first year of the campaign, Dove sales increased by 6 percent, leading to a $500 million profit for the company. Sales quickly flatlined, however, and by 2007, Dove's numbers were little better than they had been in 2004.

It turns out we like being shallow.

Then a shitstorm of controversy hit in 2008 when digital artist Pascal Dangin admitted to The New Yorker that he had actively manipulated all of the print advertisements in the Dove campaign, which as you may remember was completely centered around the notion that all of its models were being presented makeup- and Photoshop-free.

The other eye was blackened in 2010 when several Internet sites caught wind of a New York casting call by Dove looking for a very specific type of "real" woman.

Notice "real women" is placed hilariously in quotes.

Dove claimed that the Craigslist ad hadn't been approved by the company, but the damage had been done and their credibility was permanently shot. They quietly ended the campaign earlier this year, reverting back to more traditional models.

Which is good, she was beginning to starve. More than usual.

Matthew Culkin is a junior at Tulane University. Contact him at MRCulkin@gmail.com, or follow him at @MRCulkin.

For ads that failed in more general ways, check out 8 Racist Ads You Won't Believe Are From the Last Few Years and 12 'Sexy' Ads That Will Give You Nightmares.

And stop by LinkSTORM to cleanse your palette of all this sticking it to the man.

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