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Urban Legends

Alka-Seltzer

The Legend

The Alka-Seltzer company was having trouble selling enough of their product, so you know what they did? They started telling people to double the number of tablets they took and sales went way up.


Behind the Legend

It isn't unusual for companies to try and increase sales by telling customers that they need more of a certain product for some vague reasons. A certain beer told its customers to buy two versions of its product -- one that "tastes great" and one that's "less filling" -- when in fact they were both the same product. The same can be said of a number of other advertising campaigns, such as Doublemint gum twins, "you got chocolate in my peanut butter," "later, rinse, repeat," "see your dentist twice a year," "it's two mints in one," "it takes two to tango," etc. Possibly the most successful such promotion was the shampoo advertisement that featured a woman saying, "I told two friends, an she told two friends, and so on, and so on..." leading to a chain-letter-like geometric increase in sales that had everyone on the planet using the product within two weeks.

In the 1960s, Alka-Seltzer was in deep trouble. Sales were down, young people were turning to more hip "medications," and people were freaking out because it had been discovered that feeding Alka-Seltzer to seagulls made the birds explode in spectacular fashion. Then the advertising firm of Heartless and Tuff came up with a great idea -- why not convince people to take twice as much Alka-Seltzer? This may seem no different than other "use more for no reason" campaigns, but what set it apart was that this was the first time a drug company had advocating doubling drug dosage without consulting a physician.

Regardless of the medical, ethical, and legal implications, the campaign was an incredible success. Twice as much Alka-Seltzer was sold. Profits doubled. Pains vanished twice as fast. And seagulls made even bigger explosions.


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