Thursday, October 25, 2007

Anacin Offers Fast! Fast! Fast! Relief!

I think it was mostly because I found the animation inside the three little boxes so seductive.
Or more likely, I found the parodies of the three little boxes in places like Mad magazine so incredibly funny.

Rosser Reeves of the Ted Bates ad agency was responsible for this campaign. It followed his theories about how to create effective advertising. Reeves called it USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and it was very a very effective sales method in post-WWII America.
USP roughly translated into:
"Hey! Buy my product and you will get this whiz-bang benefit from it!"

USP had three basic rules:
1. All advertisements must make a single pitch to the consumer.
2. This pitch has to be one that the competition doesn't make, or even better, can't make.
3. The pitch has to be so overwhelmingly powerful and convincing that it persuades millions of potential consumers that this pitch is absolutely true.

In the case of Anacin, USP was simple: "Fast relief from headaches, neuralgia, and neuritis."
Now I am not too sure how many people in post-war America were actually diagnosed with neuralgia or neuritis, but if they were frightened that they might be, they knew what the sure-fire cure was: Anacin!

When the commercial begins, watch the photos in the background as official-type buildings fleetingly flicker on and off screen.
And the claim that "Three out of four doctors recommend the ingredients in Anacin" was a dodgy way of saying "Three out of four doctors recommend aspirin."

This commercial is pretty straightforward, with the narrator sounding imperious and looking straight at the camera.
We aren't really quite sure who this guy is but he seems to be an important sorta guy.
I'm so amused when he points at something that looks amazingly like a doctor's prescription pad and says "Anacin is like a doctor's prescription. A combination of ingredients."
As it turns out the most prominent ingredient in Anacin after aspirin was about as much caffeine as in a cup of coffee.

Many other Anacin commercials had little psycho-dramas as a lead in...stuff like noisy kids playing loud and making mom mad until she yells at the tykes and then is filled with shame and remorse.
"Don't worry Mom! Anacin will fix that right up! Three out of four doctors say so!"

At the time, most American consumers polled stated that they intensely disliked the Anacin television ads, however, sales shot up after the campaign was introduced. Versions of these ads played over the media for a long, long time.

Reeves' USP principle was also behind other memorable slogans such as:
Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies in eight ways.
M&M's melt in your mouth, not in your hands.
Colgate cleans your breath while it cleans your teeth.
How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S.

I've been affiliated with the creation of several USP driven campaigns over the last thirty years; particularly when I was active in veterinary pharmaceutical advertising.
I've never really been a devotee of the Rosser Reeves school of thought.
I am an advocate of the Chicago school of advertising as it was developed by Leo Burnett.
I'll be writing a piece about him and his theory of the Big Black Pencil sometime soon.


JJA said...

I am reminded of a pain reliever ad, mentioned in Darrell Huff's How to Lie with Statistics, which promised "fast, ephemeral relief".

Larry Marder said...

Now THAT sounds like a great book!

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