Take Two of These and Call the Bank in the Morning


Alka-Seltzer is an over-the-counter medication which, unlike most others you’ll find in your local drug store, bubbles. You take the tablets, drop it in some water, and it effervesces, and then you drink it. It’s part aspirin, so it’s a pain reliever; it also contains sodium bicarbonate and citric acid, which combine to form an antacid while making the water bubble. It’s pretty neat stuff, as over-the-counter meds go.

But in the early 1960s, the company that made Alka-Seltzer saw a problem: most of the younger crowd didn’t think the bubbling pain reliever and stomach un-upsetter was so cool. Alka-Selzer was seen as the solution of choice for an older generation, and an ad campaign featuring 1920s silent film star Buster Keaton wasn’t helping. Let’s watch some of those ads, below:

(If that doesn’t work, click here.)

The ads above feature not only Keaton but also Speedy, a puppet with an Alka-Seltzer torso (he’s also pictured above). Speedy, in each of the three ads shown, magically makes a cup of effervescing water appear, and then delivers the tagline espousing the value of the product: “relief is just a swallow away.”

Now, let’s compare those to a second ad, probably from 1978 (although the YouTube uploaded labeled it as being from ten or so years prior):

(Again, if that doesn’t work, click here.)

No Buster Keaton, but Speedy’s back. And this time, he has a new jingle — one perhaps familiar to modern ears: “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.” Similar themes — near-instant relief. But there’s one big difference: there’s twice the plop and twice fizz.

As Snopes notes, this wasn’t a mistake — it was, rather, a tiny stroke of genius. Before the 1960s, Alka-Selzer was often seen as a single-tablet solution — you’d take one tablet, drop it into the water, give it a gulp, and you were on your way to feeling better. But when the new ads rolled out later that decade, that changed. They suggested a larger dose — two tablets. The directions on the box changed to match, as did how the tablets were packaged (two per foil pack, instead of only one). Speedy came back in the 1978 ad, above, to drive the point home.

And the results? Not quite double, but close enough. Despite a slow-growing customer base, Alka-Seltzer’s sales climbed, and the product survived.


Bonus fact: According to classic TV site TVAcres.com, there’s a reason why Speedy went on hiatus from the early 1960s until 1978: he was lost. “In 1971,” TVAcres explains, “the original puppet used in the commercials was shipped to the Philippines and lost in transit. However, it was rediscovered in an Australian warehouse in 1976.” (Yes, they could have made — and probably did make — a new puppet for the 1978 ad.)

From the Archives: Aromattic: Another neat ad campaign which was surprisingly effective (but smelly).

Related: Alka-Seltzer also used to make collapsable pill cups — easily transported, ready-made for fizzy aspirin drinks. Here’s one such item.