A compendium of great advertising

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Back in 2009, a Writer’s Block question asked, “What is your favorite commercial from your childhood?” Today, Paul Taylor, writer and artist of the amazing webcomic Wapsi Square, posted this video over at Facebook:

The cogs in my mind started whirring, and I thought I’d cross-post my response here, slightly updated.

Alka Seltzer: “Mamma Mia, ‘ats-a some spicy meatball!”

There’s absolutely no competition for this one in my mind, at least not from my childhood.

The character was played by Jack Somack. From IMDB.com:

“Jack Somack acted in amateur productions for many years and didn’t break into professional acting until his fifties. In films, he is probably best known for his portrayal of the father of Alexander Portnoy (Richard Benjamin) in “Portnoy’s Complaint.” But probably his greatest claim to (rather dubious) fame was appearing in the notorious “spicy meatball” Alka-Seltzer commercial in the 1960s. This was really a “commercial within a commercial.” A film crew is trying to make a 10-second spot for a fictitious brand of meatballs. In it, Somack (who was Jewish) plays an actor playing a portly, mustachioed Italian sitting at a little table in front of a small oven. From his left, his ample, beaming “wife” places a plate of meatballs in front of him. Jack is supposed to eat one and say, “Mamma mia, that’s a spicy meat-a-ball!” but something keeps ruining the take. After a string of blown takes (and meatballs), Jack is reduced to a helpless, dyspeptic stupor. Cut to a scene of two Alka-Seltzer being dropped into a glass of water with the appropriate voiceover. Cut back to the meatball commercial, where the next take seems to be going perfectly, until the door of the oven falls open with a clang. “Okay,” says the director, “let’s break for lunch.” This commercial was pulled from the air after protests from Italian-American anti-defamation groups that the commercial promoted unflattering stereotypes of Italians.”

As an Italian-Amerian, I can tell you that the anti-defamation groups had their collective head up their collective culo – this is one of the funniest ads ever, and I’m very proud of my heritage. Then, as now, social outrage over insignificant issues was driven by soulless attorneys hungry for billable hours. An LJ friend posted a response to this question that invoked the Frito Bandito – there again, outraged Mexican anti-defamation groups, swimming against a public tide that found the character amusing – lobbied and agitated and sued until the character, voiced by Mel Blanc, was retired. A handful of disgruntled Chicanos and a hundred hungry attorneys caused a hqiz of a lot of trouble.

Rest in peace, Jack.

There was one ad for Hai Karate after-shave which I have not been able to find, that would rate as “First Runner-Up”. It showed people on an assembly line dropping the self defense instructions into the boxes with little kiai’s: “Hp! Hp! Hp!”. Wish I could locate that one again.

While I’m thinking of funny ads that bump up against the stereotyping issue, I always thought this one was a crackup:

But howcumzit the above commercial was found offensive, but this one – another absolute great – is not?

On the same topic, Pepsi had another winner:

Tabasco’s “exploding mosquito” commercial certainly ranks high on my list of all-time greats:

And this one had me absolutely riveted (pun intended):

Click through for the story behind the Cog commercial.

Here’s a winner from TNT in Belgium (the sequel is pretty great as well):

The “Devolution” ad from Guinness was a lot of fun:

And if you’d like to see that film run backward (or forward, as the case may be), click here.

And lastly (I could go on for a long time, because there are some really wonderful ones), a PSA that truly has me in tears every time I watch it (dang; just happened again):

Always wear your seatbelt.

For better or worse, our world is built on commerce, and customers can’t find what they need if they don’t know a product exists.[1] For the most part, sadly, advertising is obnoxious and intrusive. When Madison Avenue and other creative minds manage to come up with commercials that are not only informative but entertaining and/or moving, that’s advertising at it’s very best, and there needs to be more of it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] This post was made possible by our sponsor, the distributors of DistilPure organic-source MSM. Don’t be shy, pay them a visit.

4 responses to “A compendium of great advertising

  1. Pingback: You will read this blog post now! (Available only for a limited time!) | Playing in the World Game

  2. Pingback: Change Nothing, Sell More | Playing in the World Game

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