Jun 212013

In The Quality of Mercy, Don and Ted have this exchange:full-color-speedy-alka-seltzer-large

Don: ( to Ted) St. Joseph has been doing the same commercial for twenty years, they’re bread and butter. Why did you pick them to push?

Ted:  They kept asking me for their ‘plop plop, fizz fizz’, and all of the sudden she comes up with this? She can smell the Clio, Don!

It was  a great scene, but there was just something so wrong about it, and it’s  this:  Ted’s reference to Alka-Seltzer is a BIG anachronism in the Mad Men Universe.  Although  it’s a great jingle, this is the totally wrong time period for it!

According to the site Ad Slogans, this is the history of Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz”:

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is. ‘Plink, plink, fizz, fizz.’
The original “Plop, Plop” jingle was written in 1953 by Paul Margulies, father of actress Julianna Margulies (of TV show ER fame). The tune did not hit hit the airwaves until 1975, when the sprightly spokesperson Speedy Alka-Seltzer first sang it. Three years later, Sammy Davis Jr. gave the jingle his touch when he made two covers, one “Rock” and the other “Big Band,” and performed them on “The Frank Sinatra Show.” The original lyrics are simply: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!!”In 2007, Alka-Seltzer recreated its classic jingle in a TV ad released during the 2007 Super Bowl. The commercial was the end result of “Bring Back The Fizz”, a national “Battle of the Bands” competition held in December 2006, one of three advertisement re-makes connected with the 75th anniversary of Alka-Seltzer
Advertiser: Alka Seltzer
Ad agency: Jack Tinker & Partners

Now, I’ll give that the jingle had been written in 1953 and that Ted may have been aware of it.  But  herein lies the rub:  If the jingle wasn’t used until 1975, how can Ted use this as an effective argument about it’s success since “Plop Plop” was still on the shelves at this point?

I checked print ads for Alka-Seltzer in 1968 and there’s no print reference to “Plop Plop…”  The  main focus of most print and TV Commercials was ‘Speedy’ the little half boy/half Alka-Seltzer creation voiced by actor Dick Beals.  But even if if wasn’t used until the 1970’s, Alka Seltzer had a great spread of commercials from the 50’s through the 70’s, with the edgier ones starting around 1967 with “The Man and the Stomach”    Enjoy these epic examples of commercials from a time when the average spot lasted 60 seconds:

The original Speedy extols the miracle of Alka-Seltzer nationwide:

Alka-Seltzer  commercials get a lot edgier and funnier  starting the mid 60’s.  This great one featuring the art of R.O. Blechman in “The Man and The Stomach” voiced by Gene Wilder. 

Alka-Seltzer “The Blahs” , also voiced by Gene Wilder.

The prison riot featuring George Raft — How many kids mimicked this commercial in their Elementary School Cafeterias?

(Maybe Peggy will think up the following one:)

Mama Mia, that’s a spicy Meatball!

Now Speedy did sing the ‘Plop, Plop Song, but this wasn’t until much later in one of his many comebacks:

Now Speedy’s in CGI:

Alas, after hearing Ted mention the yet-unused jingle in this 1968 episode, I think I’ll need an Alka-Seltzer!


  23 Responses to “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz… A Mad Men Anachronism that Upset my Stomach!”

  1. Plop, plop… is another in a long list of ad tag lines, slogans and jingles in Mad Men Logic.

    Remember the first episode, a re-cut version of the pilot?

    When Don Draper comes up dry presenting to Lee Gardner Sr of Lucky Strike in 1960, on the spot he tells the room, “All other cigarettes are poison. Lucky Strikes are toasted!”

    Unfortunately that slogan for the Lucky Strike brand of American Tobacco was created by the Lord & Thomas Advertising agency prior to WWI under the direction of agency owner Albert Lasker. L&R became Foote, Cone and Belding in 1941 when Lasker gave it to his 3 branch managers. Emmerson Foote became the account executive on American Tobacco in the early 1930s and personally handled that account after FCB took over. Foote created the WWII slogan ‘Lucky Strike Green Goes to War’.

    After WWII Foote had a change of heart. He famously wrote an open letter saying he was resigning from the tobacco advertising business. He paid to run that letter in many leading newspapers, not just the New York Times.

    Obviously the Mad Men researchers knew about Emerson Foote’s letter. They had excellent research for the spec script which became the Pilot, so MW had to have known how long Lucky Strike had used ‘It’s Toasted’ prior to 1960.

    This is called ‘poetic license’ by some and ignoring the facts by others.

    • Yes, I knew about the Lucky Strike usage in the pilot — but this one just seemed a little more off. No big deal anyway, but it gave me a good excuse to post some of the great Alka-Seltxer commercials!

    • I think those are entirely different cases; having Sterling Cooper (at the time) invent an ad campaign that already existed makes sense in a fictional world. Since SC doesn’t really exist, it stands to reason that some real campaigns will shift slightly in the fictional world to accommodate SC’s presence.

      On the other hand, things outside of Sterling Cooper (or SCDP or SC&P) are assiduously real. Just as every politician (Kennedy, Nixon, Lindsay) and musician (Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Beatles) is real and historically accurate, so has every ad campaign (the VW “lemon” ad) provided the campaign hasn’t been created by SC.

  2. From page 34 of From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, by the great Jerry Della Femina (former show consultant), originally published 1970:

    The blame isn’t with the client. He’ll take whatever is right for him. If he can’t get it out of an agency that may be giving him garbage, he’s stuck with that agency unless he makes a change. Braniff was at a little agency in Wisconsin when it moved over to Mary Wells, who then was working at Jack Tinker & Partners. The advertising improved right away. Take Alka-Seltzer. An agency called Wade had invented this little fairy, Speedy Alka-Seltzer, who could have passed for the son of Johnny from Philip Morris. They were trying to sell Alka-Seltzer with this little Speedy creep. Well, one day they moved the account over to Jack Tinker and the first thing Tinker did was to kill off Speedy. Or if they didn’t kill him they had him arrested in the men’s room of Grand Central Station on a charge of exposing himself. And they came up with a great campaign, ‘Alka-Seltzer On The Rocks.’ In 1969, Miles Laboratory pulled it out of Tinker and gave it to Doyle, Dane. I don’t know why, but I do know that everybody concerned with the move praised Tinker for the superb job they had done.

  3. Even if that classic Alka-Seltzer campaign had been around in 1968, I’m still wondering how Plough Inc (maker’s of St Joseph Aspirin) would have ever considered the Rosemary’s Baby take-off spot “their Plop Plop Fizz Fizz.” What I think the client would actually want, for a more appropriate comparison, would be their own catchy (and hopefully award-winning) jingle for their product.

    And, besides being way over budget, I’d think the entire concept would really turn consumers off. If an infant is in pain, it might be fussy, but certainly not bothersome to the point of being thought to have Satanic parentage.

    Granted, you could argue that Peggy and Ted were going for the over-the-top humorous thing, but even in modern America, I think an advertiser and their agency, would think twice before inviting controversy and connecting their wares to devils, covens and such. And, attempts at humor in ads don’t always work. People might recall the commercial, but not necessarily the product.

    The whole point of an ad is to move products off the shelves and to make the cash register ring. Anything that potentially gets in the way, spells trouble.

    • The more recent rise of fundamentalist activism may have something to do with this literalistic sensitivity to occult themes. (One might note how Procter @ Gambel dropped their vintage 19c. man-in-the-moon logo because fundamentalists were convinced it depicted the devil.) Though Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, did denounce Harry Potter as leading children away from a good Christian development.

    • A study has argued that the use of sex in ads distracts from the product, concluding that sex only sells itself. So .perhaps Don Draper was right.

  4. Great post, Therese! Just about every campaign Alka-Seltzer did, turned into a classic.

    Dick Beals, who died a little over a year ago, took the lemon that life handed him and turned it into a long, successful career as a voice actor …

  5. Alka-Seltzer ads certainly were classics. So were ads for Anacin and Bufferin, they both used hard sell. St Joesph’s Aspirin adult products were not merchandised like that. St Joesph’s is most famous for its children’s aspirin that was orange flavored and sold with a low key soft sell approach. It always mentioned St Joesph’s adult aspirin in all its ads for child aspirin at the end of the commercial.

    • We have Rosser Reeves to “thank” for those Anacin ads. His approach was repetition and the hard sell, in the hope that viewers would actually get a headache and go buy Anacin. Or, if nopt that exactly, they’d at least remember the product’s name, when they were shopping for a headache remedy.

      As a child of the 60s, I saw those commercials a lot. I can almost recite the copy from memory: “Sure, you have a headache. You feel tense and irritable, but don’t take it out on … wife – husband – mother – children – neighbor …”

      And, the announcer always pitched the hell outta that stuff: “Anacin works fast, f-a-s-t, F-A-S-T!”

      I forget what the special ingredients in Anacin actually were, but one was caffeine (which got it into the bloodstream quicker). The copy never mentioned just what these ingredients were, but the pitch was always brilliantly constructed and really played up its curative properties. Before the FTC made ’em change the copy, the spots subtly suggested that the stuff even helped with depression and nervousness.

  6. And leave us not forget, while we’re talking aspirin ads (or as Bert calls them, “aspirine”)…the Elizabeth Moss one that’s been re-airing, since her Mad Men fame.

    I really believe she has a headache in that commercial.

    That girl can sell.

  7. I thought Alka Seltzer’s first great post modern ad was around 1964, with “No matter what shape your stomach’s in”. The song by the T-Bones was hip and charted on WABC’s Top Twenty. Always a laugh, and it swung, too.

    • I loved that one as a kid! I especially remember a cop directing traffic and someone tapping a man’s fat belly!

  8. No matter what shape your stomach’s in. A classic!

  9. It isn’t an anachronism afaik. The Ad Slogans entry you are relying on seems erroneous and contradictory. The caption under the video clip, which includes the jingle, at their site is “TV Commercial, 1965”, though they state that it didn’t air until Speedy sang it in 1975( though the clip in 1965 was a couple in bed-not Speedy), and Sinatra didn’t even have his show after 1960, so that section seems obviously incorrect.

    There are many references to plop-plop on the intertoobz, at better known sites than AS, and, while there seems to be little agreement on exact dates, they all seem to support a debut before MM’s current 1968 (with a later re-release in 1975).

    I have to award the win to MM on this one. Sorry!

    • I found that a bit odd too, but I still don’t recall ever hearing plop-fizz fizz until the 1970’s. Yet if you can find a print ad or TV commercial that has it in the pre-1968 period, please let me know!

  10. Radio, folks. Alka Seltzer had a radio show back to 1932. Speedy was created in 1951 and – on TV – featured in over 200 commercials between 1954 – 1964 WITH the “plop plop fizz fizz ” jingle, among others. You can find the jingles on old time radio collections. Dick Beals provided the voice.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3cqg2NCubI. Enjoy the tip down memory lane with Pepsodent and Schlitz too.

    • To add, here’s a 1960’s commercial featuring the jingle : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxjb2UJZ-5I&list=PLFD530B364205A694&index=2

      The music was written by Tom Dawes in the mid 1960’s around 1966. Speedy was losing his attraction for the young and around 1971 Alka Seltzer changed advertising agencies and began the “stomach ” series of ads, classics all.

      • Actually, this is a commercial from the 1970’s (Alka Seltzer Gold didn’t exist in the ’60’s — the video is mis-labled) This was one of Speedy’s comebacks. HOWEVER — The fact that there was a 60’s radio commercial that used the “plop,plop” totally deflates my argument, but thanks Floretta for pointing this out — it’s the smoking gun I was looking for; just forgot all about radio.

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