Three All-Time Greatest All-Star Television Advertising Gaffes


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John Cameron Swayze was a respected newsman of the fifties and sixties. Timex execs decided that he would be the ideal spokesmen for their watches so he was the one who introduced their once-famous slogan “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. " To prove it, the watch was put to some pretty stiff tests on live television so the competition couldn't claim they were fake.

Things went along splendidly. The watch passed several on-screen test until one fateful night when Mr. Swayze came on and strapped a timex onto an outboard motor propellor. The motor was attached to the side of a transparent tank and you could see inside of it. Swayze started the engine. After letting it run for several seconds, he hit the stop button. “And now you'll see just how tough a Timex watch is, " he said, swinging the motor up out of the tank. To his shock, the watch wasn't on the propellor blade. It had to be somewhere in the tank, so he moved the camera in closer. The television viewer could plainly see everything in-or not in-the tank. The watch was nowhere to be found. “We seem to have misplaced the watch, but if we found it, I'm sure it would still be running. Just remember, a Timex will take a licking and keep on ticking. " That was the last of the famed Timex challenges.

The second was in the eighties and should have had a great appeal to seniors because it advertised a much-needed product. At that time there was no adequate crisis alarm system for older people in distress. With the advertised system, all a person needed to do was push a button. They used a gravelly-voiced elderly woman to advertise the system. “I've fallen and I can't get up. "

This was an alarming statement for every senior and their families. Unfortunately it immediately became a target of ridicule and was repeated over and over in the national media. It even made it to the Johnny Carson Show. “And now we have a very rare treat, " Johnny said. “Scientists have found a thousand year old sequoia that can speak. Listen. . . " Of course it was the gravel-voiced granny. “I've fallen and I can't get up. " The Ad agency must still be scratching their head about what went wrong.

Reaction to the third gaffe would have been perfectly predictable if anyone had done some test marketing. A few months ago, Burger King had an ad with a man waking up in the morning. He's obviously very surprised to find someone in bed with him. It's a grinning Burger King holding a breakfast sandwich. “Wake up with the King. " My wife and I roared. Who had dreamed that one up? And even more important, how did the BK executives let it get by them?

Assuming it may have just been us who thought it was a tremendous mistake, I asked others if they had seen it. Those who had had the same reaction. We wondered who BK saw as their target audience. Even the gay community would think it was making fun of them.

Since then, the King has been made a great deal more macho. He's catching touchdown passes and walking the iBeams on skyscrapers under construction. But some people will never forget the time he was in bed with a customer.

John Anderson has been a student of popular culture his entire life. He has been a historian, stamp dealer, and antiques dealer. Most recently he has been an author. The Cellini Masterpiece was written under the pen name of Raymond John. If you have questions or comments you can contact him at You may read the first chapter at the site


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