The 1959 "Lonely Man" TV ad for Strand cigarettes is rumored to be the greatest advertising flop in UK history. Because it seemed to say, "If you smoke our cigarettes, you may become a lonely sad sack wandering the streets at night."
In extreme cases, ill-judged advertising can kill a brand stone dead — even if the ad is well-made and memorable. Such was the fate of cigarette brand Strand back in the long-ago days when tobacco products could be advertised on UK television. In 1959 Imperial Tobacco's subsidiary W.D. & H.O. Wills, a firm able to trace its roots in the business back to a tobacconist's shop in Bristol in the 1780s, launched Strand with a high-profile TV advertising campaign supported by posters, press advertising and coupons that could be redeemed for free packs. The TV commercial, devised by copywriter John May at British agency S.H. Benson, saw actor Terence Brook smoking while roaming the rain-drenched strees of London in stylish trench coat and trilby hat...
The style of the protagonist and soundtrack to the commercial appealed to the public. Once it went on air people began getting in touch to find out if the theme tune was available to buy as a record. Sensing an opportunity, Cliff Adams and His Orchestra booked some recording studio time and laid down the track, The Lonely Man Theme, for release as a single. In 1960 The Lonely Man Theme broke into the Top 40...
Undeniably, the advertising campaign earned Strand tremendous recognition. As Winston Fletcher writes in his book Powers of Persuasion: The Inside Story of British Advertising 1951-2000, 'Public awareness of the brand and its advertising rocketed to over 90% within weeks. This was unprecedented and has rarely if ever been surpasssed.' It was a brilliant achievement, but one with a fatal flaw. Despite the high awareness levels delivered by the campaign, hardly anyone was buying the product.
The reasons why revolved around how the Lonely Man was perceived. Many viewers found the focus on loneliness uncomfortable. If the man was reliant on a packet of smokes for company, did this mean he was a bit of an oddball unable to sustain friendships? Was he an addictive personality, craving nicotine above human company? Could he be on his own because of a failed relationship or even due to bereavement? Might he be depressed?...
trying to position a new tobacco brand around loneliness — rather than something much more positive and aspirational, such as individuality — was doomed to failure. With sales failing to take off despite the high level of standout the advertising achieved, Strand was soon withdrawn from the market.
Science has not yet discovered how to grow hair on a billiard ball, but chemists in the General Electric Research Laboratory here can grow a handsome head of "hair" of a beard on "Aluminum Al," who is nothing more than a sheet of pure aluminum cut out in the shape of a mans head. As shown above, "Al" in a few minutes time can go from complete baldness through the tomahawk-type haircut to the tonsorially-respendent "Mr. Esquire hairdo. Amusing though he is, "Al's" purpose is a serious one of helping provide a better understanding of the most effective ways of using aluminum, which is replacing copper in many critical applications. According to GE scientist, aluminum could be not be used were it not obliging enough to furnish its own protective coating, a thin film of aluminum oxide, when cut. The film keeps air away and prevents further oxidation. "Al" demonstrates a condition under which this does not occur. When his surface is scratch under mercury, the film does not form. Instead the oxide sprouts out along the scratches is an uncontrolled, hair-like growth. Prof. J. H. Hildenbrand, University of California, is credited with the idea of first trying the oxidation principle on a cut-out head.
This is another example of the military's interest in using sound to demoralize the enemy. This device was rather straightforward: "Dropped from a plane, the balloon bomb would drift to earth while the recorder blared out surrender demands or other morale-breaking messages to the enemy."
The winner was 17-year-old Diane Erdos. Some details from the NY Daily News (Jun 25, 1950):
Diane won her title at Cave Tabou, rendezvous of the Existentialists, a year ago, after she put up an awful howl at being eliminated from a contest for the title of "Miss Virtue of Paris." Writer Boris Vian, the promoter, staged a Miss Vice contest to give her another chance.
The sexy brunette showed up with a costume made of three rather small pieces of newspaper — and won hands down over eight other contestants. The selection was popular. The crowd in the smoke-filled Cave Tabou congratulated Diane so enthusiastically that she lost her clippings and was carried unadorned on the shoulders of her admirers until the cops rescued her with a voluminous cape.
NY Daily News - June 25, 1950
Miss Vice, who was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, was soon after arrested for trying to blackmail one of her father's friends, threatening to tell the police that he was trafficking cocaine and illegally exporting ball bearings to countries behind the Iron Curtain.
When arrested, she confessed, saying, "I wanted the money to travel around the country and teach Existentialism to the youth of France. I intended to reveal my body in the interests of this new religion, so the sensation would bring me big audiences of young people to hear about M. Sartre's new philosophy."
Suicide is self-murder, and offing oneself because your murderous insurance scam has come unraveled seems a bit more unlikely than accepting the punishment. Extra points given for swallowing poison in front of the cops. How did he have it so handy?
Source: The Daily Journal (Commerce, Texas) 09 Nov 1956, Fri Page 1
Soundblast was a 1956 album by the duo Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher who met while studying at the Juilliard School of Music. It was marketed as space-age music representative of the kind of music that inhabitants of the "remotest worlds" might listen to.
But the real gimmick of the album was that all the sounds on it, including the percussion, was produced by pianos. Details from the Miami News (Nov 17, 1957):
They perform their hi-fi-jinks on two "gimmicked" Steinways by alternately muting, plucking, strumming and beating on the strings. What comes out they describe as the "sound of tomorrow."
Nor does either of them hesitate to use his elbow, forearms or knuckles to elicit a desired chordal effect—not to mention an assortment of wooden and metal gadgets designed to give the pianos a new personality...
Their goal always is to achieve the maximum tonal contrasts and to simulate orchestral color as vividly as possible within the limitations of pianistic dynamics.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.