A Brief History of Ad Campaigns That Overstayed Their Welcome

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Well, friends, our long national ordeal is over. According to Advertising Age, Old Navy has decided to retire the “supermodelquins,” those terrifying, soulless plastic spokespeople who have dominated their TV spots (and your nightmares) for the past two years. The company’s new senior VP of marketing, Amy Curtis-McIntyre, insists that the campaign put the them “back on the map,” and “clearly re-established Old Navy as a value player with a sense of humor.” Which is true, if you substitute “a sense of humor” with “an understanding that terrible ads don’t really effect people’s desire for a $20 pair of jeans.”

Still, two years? They stuck with this campaign for that long? Then again, plenty of advertising campaigns have proven both inexplicably popular and indescribably durable. Join us after the jump for a look at a few that stuck around well past their expiration date.

The Energizer Bunny

STILL GOING — and going, and going, and going. The Energizer Bunny dates clear back to 1989, its first spot a shot at Duracell campaign in which their copper-top battery outlasts all others, as demonstrated by a group of drum-playing Duracell bunny toys. Energizer’s ad introduced the unstoppable Energizer Bunny, clad in his sunglasses (that’s how you could tell he was cool!), drumming right off the soundstage. The gimmick then became creating faux ads for fake products (like Nasotine Sinus Relief and Chateau Marmoset wine, above) that would then be interrupted by that insuppressible rabbit. The joke, it could charitably be said, wore a tad thin. Twenty-plus years and over 100 ads later, he’s still in their commercials; if you’re a real masochist, you can even go to their website and download an Energizer Bunny screensaver. Try to contain your excitement.

Wendy’s: “Where’s the Beef?”

The ad was titled “Fluffy Bun,” and it hit airwaves in January 1984. In it, a trio of elderly women get a burger from a chain that proclaims itself “Home of the Big Bun.” Two of them are impressed by the size of the bread, but little Clara Peller — the lone voice of reason in this upside-down world — will hear none of it. “Where’s the beef?” she demanded, and the world laughed and nodded, not only because old ladies are funny, but because we, too, wanted to know where the beef was. And for the next year or so, everyone asked it of each other (even presidential candidates!), and Clara Peller kept asking it too, in more Wendy’s ads and even in a novelty song with someone named “Coyote McCloud” (this was, unfortunately, before the reign of the “rappin’ granny”). Alas, when she did an ad for Prego pasta sauce (“I found the beef!”) Wendy’s decided that she’d broken some kind of sacred trust in advertising, and the campaign came to a merciful end.

Miller Lite: “Tastes Great! Less Filling!”

Though it was introduced in the 1970s, few campaigns reek of the ’80s like Miller Lite’s “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” ads: beer-guzzling overweight alpha males, bellowing for no reason. The original idea behind the campaign was that men could drink more Miller Lite without gaining weight, but (traditionally, anyway), beer-drinking guys aren’t usually all that weight-conscious. The resultant ads were more about the celebrity spokespeople anyway (most of them alpha male sports figures), and about that incessant “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” back-and-forth, which became a go-to reference for hack comics the world over. The spots continue to this day, though in more sophisticated forms — like the 2002 “catfight” ad, with its oh-so-progressive female protagonists.

Quiznos and the Spongmonkeys

We’re not quite sure who had the masterstroke of inserting these odd and slightly terrifying internet creations into a national ad campaign for a purveyor of toasted subs, but perhaps some psychological help was in order. The ads — in which the strange-looking creatures are inserted over stills of a Quizno’s location and B-roll of the subs, singing and playing guitar to a tuneless ditty called “We Love the Subs” — are commendable for their sheer weirdness, but certainly don’t do much in the way of pushing the product; we’re not sure we’d want to eat anything that these little rats love.

The Domino’s Pizza “Noid”

Domino’s Pizza was losing the ad wars (and the revenue battle) badly to Pizza Hut in the mid-1980s when they developed this campaign, which did not change their fortunes. “The Noid” was a cackling Claymation villain whose sole purpose was to “ruin your pizza,” and therefore was responsible for all the bad pizzas out there — except, presumably, Domino’s, where they would “avoid the Noid.” So what was their excuse for how lousy the pizza was? At any rate, the Noid dominated their TV spots (they even created a video game for him) until around 1989, when an Atlanta Domino’s was taken hostage by one Kenneth Lamar Noid, a mentally ill man who said the ads were an attack on him. Oh, Mr. Noid. They were an attack on all of us.

The Geico Cavemen

In the fifth season premiere of 30 Rock , Liz Lemon and her boyfriend Carol posed a legitimate question: why on earth does Geico have so many different ad campaigns happening simultaneously? They’ve got the accented Gecko, the pile of money with the eyes, Mike McGlone’s unfunny Twilight Zone-style rhetorical questions — and, still, still, after seven long years, the “caveman” campaign. The premise of the ads — that cavemen living comfortably in modern environs would take offense to the Geico tagline that using their website is “so easy, a caveman could do it” — was modestly amusing the first or second time around, but suffice it say, it’s lost a bit of its comedic luster. That, of course, didn’t stop ABC from building an entire sitcom around the idea, but even that show’s very quick death in 2007 didn’t put a stop to the never-ending campaign. Seriously, Geico — pick a branding strategy and go with it. And when you’re deciding which campaign to shed, go with the oldest one.

So what do you think? Which ad campaigns are you ready to bid a fond farewell?