Liquid assets? Grading a six-pack of Madison Avenue's latest beverage ads

By A.J. Jacobs
July 10, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s a daunting crisis. How to quench our thirst during the sweltering weeks ahead? Don’t worry. TV’s here to help! The summer months overflow with flashy, occasionally persuasive soft-drink ads. Here’s a taste of those that bubble and those that fall flat:

GATORADE Blood, Sweat, and Tears Haven’t sneaker spots covered this ground? Grimacing jocks, pulsating music, an inspirational voice-over (”Sometimes you just have to want it more”). The twist: These athletes are sweating and bleeding Gatorade colors (neon orange, electric blue, etc.). Big deal. Pampers ads have been featuring blue bodily fluids for years now. C+

MILK Ballad Becoming lactose intolerant to those ubiquitous celebrities and their milk mustaches? Drink in the industry’s less-homogenized TV ads. The most recent campaign centers on Drysville, a town without milk. The color-drained images are amusing enough: One boy ogling a pinup of a milk jug, another pouting at a milk-free birthday party. But the ad’s plaintive lyrics and Janis Joplin-like tune strike a truly hilarious note: “Don’t give me no baked goods until things get better/My corn flakes are cardboard/Cake tastes like a sweater.” A-

SPRITE Sun Fizz Sprite’s “Obey Your Thirst” campaign has given us some of the best commercial parodies since a certain pink bunny drummed onto the scene. The soft drink spoofed the PC mind-set with an ad for a foul-tasting bean- curd-based cola, and has tweaked the cheesy Zamfir and his magic flute. (Not the freshest targets—but the execution was clever.) The masterpiece, though, has to be this Wes Craven-meets-the Pillsbury Doughboy spot: A helium-voiced cartoon sun (the mascot for the fictional Sun Fizz fruit drink) comes to life and terrorizes a three-dimensional mom and her kids. “Hey, what’s with you people?! I’ve got vitamins and minerals!” the cute guy squeals as the family runs screaming. A twisted, sunny delight. A

PEPSI All the Luck Maybe I’ve outgrown the Pepsi generation, but this ad for the cola’s new contest leaves me baffled. As a Rod Stewart tune blares, a doe-eyed nightclub vixen seduces a dweeby guy with Pepsi bottle caps inscribed with snippets of catchphrases (e.g., Hasta la vista, baby). Huh? Adding to the confusion: The actor playing the dork (Sean P. Hayes) will star on NBC’s witty, uncloseted fall sitcom Will & Grace, as a guy no female vixen could seduce. C-

MUG ROOT BEER None of This The idea behind this frenetic spot seems to be that root beer—like crack—makes you really violent. The plot: A boxing ref slurps down a prefight Mug, then demonstrates to the contenders exactly what they aren’t supposed to do—bite, crunch, and kick. “The foam goes straight to your brain,” the tag line explains… sort of. As brutal as your average Jerry Springer episode and just as pointless. D

MOUNTAIN DEW Lost Even Madison Avenue has realized that extreme sports have become a commercial cliche. Hence this clever bit of mockery. The black-and-white faux-’50s spot features a toothy dufus of an announcer praising the drink’s “citrus flavors.” Then he adjusts his tie and skydives off a nearby ledge. As the spot itself says, “Dew-rrific.” B+