Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Jingle All The Way

It’s the week before Super Sunday, in the year 2027, and GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons is battling with Disney/ Flickr network censors to allow the new GranDaddy “girl” to pop out of her black carbon diode camisole and flash her six sets of light-up, DD fiberglass breasts. (He promises that this year they will be engraved with “special” twinkling, tasteful domain names.)

Kevin Federline and Robert Goulet, who met at the party for B-listers back in the year 2007 and went on to become the Siegfried and Roy of rapping, are set to entertain at halftime. (There will also be an appearance by Monsieur G in holographic form, as just a turtleneck, black mustache and wig.)

Meanwhile, Minister of Culture Simon Cowell, who in 2020 famously opened the Simon Cowell Center for Critical Rehabilitation, a sort of Betty Ford Clinic for contest judges, has announced a moratorium on consumer-generated anything. “I apologize for the tsunami of astonishingly awful rubbish that has been dumped on U.S. advertising and pop culture since the start of American Idol 25 years ago,” he said. “I hope, with federal funding going to the two remaining American advertising agencies, RSCGBBDOWKGBS/MothFall and Crispin, to restore the ancient art of the beautifully crafted, meticulously produced, cleverly strategic 60-second TV commercial.” As an example, he showed by rotoscope a 60-year-old spot, “Speecy-Spicy Meatballs.”

Back to the present, where a certain someone is obviously a bit burned out on the hype. Yeah, and don’t get me started on the marriage proposal guy. It’s my view that the best husbands are romantic and thoughtful in private.

Be that as it may, we’re still toasting the Year of Consumer-Generated Everything. While Doritos, the NFL and Chevrolet have been basking in the media attention of their respective Super Bowl contests, Alka- Seltzer, one of the more old-school clients, has also entered the C-G fray. Its “Battle of the Bands: Bring Back the Fizz” contest, with Cyndi Lauper as one of the judges, challenged consumers to rewrite the brand’s famous “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” jingle. The winner will perform his music in a spot to run during the pre-game show.

Talk about combining old and new. This is the brand’s 75th anniversary and BBDO has already remade two classic spots, “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” with the late, great Peter Boyle, and “Try It , You’ll Like It,” with Kathy Griffin.

Much of the Alka-Seltzer work from the late ’60s and ’70s was iconic (although it famously didn’t sell much), but has there ever been a more elegant line etched into the English language than “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is”? Had Shakespeare been alive, he couldn’t have crafted a better iambic pentameter for the inner gizzard. I’m only half-kidding. Even though I always found the double “plop” part vaguely gross, the fizz-fizz portion adds something hypnotic to the mix.

Some history: The line was originally written in 1953 by Paul Margulies. (He’s the father of actress Julianna of ER fame. Perhaps he used to hang with Matthew Perry’s dad, who was the original Old Spice sailor.) Despite its catchy mnemonic hook, the jingle wasn’t released to the airwaves until 1975, with Speedy Alka-Seltzer singing it. (The odd-looking guy with the hat and the round, blue tablet for a torso.) It became famous in 1978 when Sammy Davis Jr. recorded two covers of the song (rock and big band versions) and performed them on The Frank Sinatra Show.

I’m sure Sammy brought a knowing, satiric edge to the job. That’s the thing with trying to become a singing star by writing serious new lyrics and music for the message of plop, plop: the ghost of Spinal Tap hovers everywhere. And these people are crooning about gas and indigestion. But this is America and there was a $10,000 prize offering, so hundreds entered. Some sent their work to the Web site, and others tried out at American Idol-style live events in various cities. (One earnest entrant even brought a harp.)

From what I could tell, the results were the usual mix of mostly terrible entries and a few good finalists. One woman sounded just like Lauper, but I guess her sassy spirit wasn’t right for singing about heartburn.

The winner, Josh Anderson, a radio DJ from North Carolina, has a great voice. His take on the music is rockpoppy: fast-moving, fizzy and memorable. And the resulting commercial, directed by Nigel Dick (no, he’s not a cast member of Spinal Tap, but an award-winning music video director), is cute. The crowd waits for Josh to perform by chanting “Alka-Seltzer, Alka-Seltzer”( a nod to a famous Alka-Seltzer prison commercial from the ’60s) as he stands with his band on stage. Some of his lyrics are way out there, including, “When pain and indigestion seem to have their way, I unleash the beasts from the foil sheaths and everything’s okay…” Luckily, his hook is heavy on the “fizz” and easy on the “plop.”

And there’s a twist: When his performance ends, each audience member holds up his or her glass of lit-up Alka-Selzer. Which is perfect for the generation that regardless of age, or level of embarrassing heartburn, wants to keep the flame alive.