Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz spent six months practicing for the wacky piece of performance art they dubbed “Experiment #137,” planning their choreography and testing various explosive combinations of Diet Coke and Mentos candy.
Inspired by the fountains at the Bellagio hotel, the science buffs hoped to create a geyser-filled spectacle and capture it on video. “We crossed our fingers, and we started,” they wrote on their company’s website of their first attempt at filming their fizzy, hypnotic exploits.
The resulting three-minute video, shot in a single take, became a massive internet hit in the summer of 2006, making stars out of the EepyBird Studios co-founders. They recreated their viral sensation on live TV, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and David Letterman, won Webby Awards, toured several continents and set Guinness World Records for ever-grander experiments. (There was a sequel, sponsored by Mentos and Coca-Cola, and later a soda-and-mint-fueled “rocket car” with a video shot in 3-D.)
Sales of Mentos spiked 15 percent in the aftermath of “Experiment #137,” but it wasn’t the first time the candy, made by Dutch-Italian brand Perfetti Van Melle, had seen big gains. Though it launched in U.S. stores in the 1970s, some fabulously cheesy commercials from the ’90s catapulted it into the popular consciousness and pushed the confection to the top of its category.
Those spots, with “The Freshmaker” tagline, featured hammy acting and goofy scenarios. They looked vintage (they weren’t), and their characters always solved a problem, popped a Mentos and flashed a toothy smile. Thumbs up!
Hate it or love it (consumers did both), the work from German agency Pahnke & Partners was memorable—especially its earworm jingle. USA Today voted it one of the worst campaigns of 1994, and it went on to be one of the most parodied of its time.
Rock band Foo Fighters (lovingly?) mocked the advertising’s stilted style in the video for their 1995 hit single “Big Me,” giving it cult status. (Mentos’ marketers would never say if the ads were intentionally or accidentally over the top.) The brand also made it into seminal ’90s entertainment like Clueless and Baywatch and spawned an exhaustive Mentos FAQ fan blog.
That place in the zeitgeist is a long way from the brand’s origins on a train ride to Poland in 1932, when brothers Michael and Pierre Van Melle dreamed up a bite-size peppermint candy with a crunchy shell and a chewy center. They couldn’t have known that decades later it would hit lofty heights, literally, and get its Hollywood closeup.