Chicago ad agency Meacham, Ellis & Young is the talk of the industry this week in the wake of the public's overwhelmingly negative reaction to its much-trumpeted, multimillion-dollar "Small 'n' Flaccid" advertising campaign for Merit cigarettes.
The $450 million ad blitz, the subject of the most intense pre-release media hype since last year's famous "Mmm-mmm, Mama, Show Me What'cha Got" campaign for Burger King, was expected to vault Merit to the top of the $800 billion cigarette industry.
Despite high expectations, the campaign and its slogan, "Merit—Makin' You Feel All Small 'n' Flaccid" has met with universal and complete failure.
"All our focus-group data and statistical analysis indicated a strong psychological reaction to the word 'flaccid' among 35- to 50-year-old males," said Meacham, Ellis & Young vice-president of research Arthur Kennedy. "We really believed limp and ineffectual was the way to go. I guess we really dropped the ball on this one."
As a result of the Small 'n' Flaccid campaign, sales of Merit brand cigarettes have not only failed to improve upon the brand's annual February average of 20,000,000 units per week, but totals have in fact plummeted to an all-time low of 12.
"That's not even cartons, that's 12 packs," clarified a report published Monday in Cigarette Sellers' Report, the leading tobacco industry journal.
Upon realizing its error, Meacham, Ellis & Young implemented several last-minute changes to the failing campaign in an effort to prop up sales. However, despite adding slogans such as "Merit—Love That Limply Dangling Taste"; "Merit—When You're Too Big A Pussy To Smoke Anything Else"; and "Your Tiny, Ineffectual Penis Has Merit," the ads continued to flop.
"We've seen our share of turkeys in this industry before, but this is unprecedented," marketing and media relations expert Norbert T. Raines said. "It makes Pepsi's famous 1989 flop with, 'Hey! There's Clumps Of Hair In This!' look like a mere misstep by comparison."
According to a report in last week's Advertising Age magazine, the Small 'n' Flaccid campaign has beaten all previous records for lack of success in the advertising field "by a wide margin," earning an average of 0.035 cents in sales returns for every $500,000 spent.
The failure comes despite full-page preview ads which ran throughout January in every major newspaper in the country. Featuring supermodels Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, the ads read, "Hey sexy, what's your problem? You seem so small 'n' flaccid!"
"With budget, star power and placement like that, I'd have thought we couldn't lose," a visibly frustrated Jeff Innis, creative director at Meacham, Ellis & Young, said. "Meticulous research showed virility and sexual self-esteem to be of major importance to male smokers over 35. In searching for a theme sure to spark strong feelings in the target demographic, we concluded that male impotency could function as a 'trigger' issue, provoking intense emotional motivators in the buying public."
"Apparently, though," continued Innis, "we misjudged the negative psychological effect associated with the words 'small 'n' flaccid,' which caused customers to shun, rather than buy, our product."
Despite the failed campaign, the agency remains optimistic. "Sure, we're disappointed," Kennedy said. "In this business, you're only as good as your last ad. But we're very excited about our newest client, Tampax. We feel we've really developed a great overall package for them."
The upcoming 30-second TV spots, featuring celebrity spokesperson James Garner and the slogans, "Tampax—For Those Awkward Bleeding-From-Your-Crotch Days"; "Tampax—Inserts In One Quick, Painful Jab"; and "That Ugly Bitch Is On The Rag—Tampax," will begin airing in late March.