Classic Ad Review: Wisk's Ring Around the Collar

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"Those dirty rings! You've tried scrubbing them out, soaking them out, but you can still come out with"—gather round, readers of a certain age, and repeat after me—"RING AROUND THE COLLAR!" As indelible as a nursery rhyme, that weirdly accusatory line was launched in 1971 in an ad campaign for Wisk laundry detergent and became one of the most memorable ad phrases ever written.

Why? Sheer repetition, for one. It was heard an average of five times per 30-second spot. Created at BBDO by Jim Jordan, inventor of "nameonics," "Ring" packed a punch. Secondly, as ad historian James Twitchell explained, it embodied what motivational psychologists call "constructive discontents." Instead of needing something, he said, consumers are "persuaded to remove ... dissonance and reestablish equilibrium."

Wisk's Ring Around the Collar
Wisk's Ring Around the Collar Credit: Wisk

Ah, yes, perceived equilibrium. The early 1970s saw "women's lib" grow in force, but Wisk went old-school—just straight-up housewife stain-shaming.

Indeed, in the '50s and '60s, marriage was considered a woman's ticket to happiness and those big-ticket items: house, children, gleaming washer-dryer. "The Feminine Mystique," released in 1963, built its thesis on "the problem that had no name": middle-class white women infantilized at home, considered "bad" unless they treated cleaning as a divine calling. Any dirt was seen as a stain on the family, to be rubbed out like a scourge.

In the spots, women were repeatedly humiliated by the line, as performed by children's voices, and in one execution, even a super-judgy parrot. Just as with the Rosie, with "Ring around the collar," we all fall down.

Wisk became a No. 1 seller. Manufactured by Sun Products and sold for 60 years, it's no longer. In 2016, Henkel bought Sun Products, ended Wisk, and now offers Persil in its place.

But "Ring Around the Collar" lives on, coded into our collective ad DNA.

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