Ortho Fire Ant Killer provides a fascinating example of how it is sometimes strategically correct to veer from the strategy.
BBDO/West was awarded the Ortho account in 1994. At the time, the advertising in the category focused on the externally driven motive of pride and recognition–in other words, “Use our products and get compliments on how beautiful your garden is.”
While that was a valid approach, we discovered it didn’t go deep enough. There was another reason why consumers loved gardening: an internally driven desire to create and nurture a living thing.
We injected these two dimensions into our advertising program, and the client was able to create a stronger emotional connection with its customers while also differentiating itself from the pack. Sales skyrocketed.
But all our hard work and learning from the gardening experience had to be tossed out when it came to fire ants. Fire ants live in the Southwest. They’re nasty buggers that have been known to attack dogs and babies unprovoked, leaving painful, itchy, ugly welts. And fire ants are dangerous; in several instances, they have killed.
We visited consumers’ houses, spoke to them in focus groups and at the Home Depot shelves, only to discover that dealing with fire ants in no way related to our yin-yang concept. The consumer motive for treating fire ants was driven by a deep-seated hatred and desire to kill them.
In fact, we learned that the more excruciating the fire-ant death, the better. Many people were already using unconventional methods–a favorite was pouring gasoline and torching a fire-ant mound to watch the insects burn. The advertising challenge was to make consumers believe they would receive the same amount of satisfaction from using our product–with better results. Hence, our strategic direction: Ortho Fire Ant Killer gives you the power to annihilate fire ants and keep them from coming back.
The creative team coined the simple rallying cry that was to become the core of the work: “Kick Fire Ant Butt.”
Consumers reacted immediately to the advertising. Sales during the key season–March through September–rose 69 percent over the previous year, far surpassing what was thought to be a very ambitious goal of 30 percent.
The “Kick Fire Ant Butt” campaign hit such a strong emotional chord among consumers that it generated unprecedented publicity and press.
The first event in a long line of activity was a complaint by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that the commercials intentionally persuaded consumers to do harm to animals. The complaint created a pro-Ortho uproar. The first reactions were from local animal-rights groups, which spoke out strongly against PETA’s reaction. Radio station disc jockeys captured the controversy on air, and consumers began calling the stations asking to hear the commercials. In some cases, requests for the spots exceeded calls for particular songs.
Needless to say, all this controversy created more fodder for the humorous content of the follow-up spots.

Jose Marrero, Dir., U.S. Business
Susan Boyle, Ortho Brand Dir.
Dr. Andy Last, Ortho Brand Dir.

David Lubars, Pres., Exec. Creative Dir.
Tom Hollerbach, EVP, General Manager
Nancy Shuford, Senior Account Planner
Steve Czerniel, VP, Management Supervisor
Steve Kimura, ACD, Art Dir.
Mick Kuissel, Sr. Art Dir.
April Winchell, Sr. Copywriter
Linda Lange, Account Supervisor