Anacin has had many advertising agencies over the years, but the campaign that put the pain reliever on the map was the "hammer-in-the-brain" effort created by Ted Bates & Co., New York, under legendary Chairman Rosser Reeves. The TV spot not only boosted Anacin sales but also earned the remedy a place in advertising history for the repetition that hammered home its message, "For fast, fast, fast relief."
American Home Products acquired the Anacin brand in 1930 when it bought Anacin's parent, Van Ess Laboratories, to get a hair tonic. AHP assigned Anacin to its Whitehall Pharmacal Co.
First significant effort
Anacin's first significant campaign came in a series of radio spots that ran in the 1940s that said that Anacin was " . . . like a doctor's prescription-not just one but a combination of several medically active ingredients." The effort presented Anacin to consumers as a new and different product made up of several ingredients that must, therefore, be superior to conventional aspirin.
In 1956, Bates won the account and refocused the brand in TV. The advertising took advantage of the visual medium to show what a "tension headache" might look like. The spots were typical of TV advertising of the era: a simple theme was repeated along with a visual illustration. One spot showed a mother suffering from a headache who, turned from saint to devil by the pain, snapped at her child. Then an angelic voice-over reminded her that she shouldn't take her headache out on a loved one. Finally, a male voice-over said, "You need Anacin for fast relief. The big difference in Anacin makes a big difference in the way you feel."
The demonstration segment depicted three boxes inside the outline of the skull of the person with the headache; one contained a pounding hammer, another a coiling spring, and the third, a jagged lightning bolt. Tiny bubbles of Anacin relieved each of these as they made their way up from the stomach to the head in an illustration of the headache-suffer's torso.
During an 18-month period, the spots increased sales of Anacin 200%, to $54 million. The campaign's success stemmed from its clear, potent claim (Anacin is "like a doctor's prescription"), which was repeated in only slightly altered form for years. Mr. Reeves, who once said that the "hammer-in-the-brain" ads "were the most hated ... in the history of advertising, attributed the campaign's success to the fact that it relied on the audience's ability to reason, going against the trend toward emotional, not rational, appeals at the time.
"Unique selling proposition"
In an era devoted to motivational research and appeals to consumers' subconscious needs, Anacin showed the power of positioning as a means to gain market share. The hammer-in-the-head campaign was also a strong example of Mr. Reeves' concept of the "unique selling proposition," in which a unique claim is made for a product, then repeated continuously so that it is always associated with that product.
Integral to the spots were the repeated triplets of claims and images: the three icons shown in the skull; three dishes that displayed the added ingredients; even the wording on the packaging, "Fast pain relief," "Headache, neuralgia, neuritis." Advertising Age ranked Anacin's trademark "Fast, fast, fast relief" slogan No. 19 on its list of the 100 best ad campaigns of the 20th century.
Following complaints that the claims were unethical-ads belittled plain aspirin ("Brand X"), for example, despite the fact that "the pain reliever doctors recommend most" in Anacin was aspirin-the ads were discontinued in the late 1950s. Slice-of-life ads that replaced the earlier campaign positioned Anacin as a tension reliever rather than a headache remedy.
In the 1970s, under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, AHP modified its Anacin advertising and was ordered to spend $24 million in corrective advertising that acknowledged that claims saying Anacin eased tension were false.
In 1969, Whitehall Labs created Anacin Arthritis Pain Formula, making it the first brand to fragment the analgesics market via brand extensions. The success of Arthritis Pain Formula led to the introduction of many other specialized analgesic products. This development, along with competition from newly introduced Tylenol and other ibuprofen brands, significantly reduced the market shares of the major aspirin brands.