Ad Breakdown: Altoids’ “Metal Box”

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Altoids' metal box ad

Breath mints. How many of those are out there? A damn lot, that’s for sure. 

Today’s ad is a great example of how you can stand out but still be the same.

Here’s the ad:

In my last breakdown, I touched on the importance of being distinctive rather than different. And this is another example of that in action.

You see, rather than trying to create a functionally different product – I don’t know, a mint with like gel oozing out of it and turning it into a mouthwash (??) – they become distinctive with their style, personality and tone of voice.

Over time, this personality grows. And it’s what moulds the brand we connect with.

(And as a creative, it also gives you a lens to view the world.)

The ad

From what I could find online, I think the ad was written by Steffan Postaer and art directed by Mark Faulkner in the 90s – during their time at Leo Burnett.

Steffan has a blog site where he’s discussed another ad that was re-launched in 2013. You can find his site here.

The key takeaway

As creatives, it’s pretty normal to lean into the product and its benefits when searching for a “big idea”. 

We also get told to zoom out. To imagine other contexts for our products…

Things like…

  • How is your product used?
  • What happens with too much (or too little) of it?
  • What’s life like with your product? Without it?
  • When using your product, what happens immediately? In 2 weeks? A year?

“Big ideas” come from everywhere. And good creatives know this.

And as much as we like to think outside the box, there’s reason to consider the “box” itself.

Because when it’s done well – like in today’s ad – the packaging of your product can reinforce a message.

Here’s what I mean.

The message that keeps on giving

After you’ve seen the ad, the tin acts as a cue, a reminder, of how strong the mints are.

Imagine that. All those future ‘touch points’ on shelves, desks, pockets, and glove boxes. Heck, even future ads.

Each time, those neural pathways get deeper and deeper. And the mental availability of Altoids = strong mints gets more prominent.

It’s very effective.

Steffan, the copywriter, who worked on the account for ~7 years shared this: 

“The campaign exploded into popular culture. Sales boomed. Within a couple years, Altoids became the number one selling mint in North America. Later, in a parlay with Life Savers candy, Kraft sold the brand to Wrigley for over 1.5 billion dollars. Pretty sweet, especially for a confection that wallowed in obscurity for over a century.”

There’s magic in the obvious

The best kind of ‘aha’ moments are the ones that are glaringly obvious. The ones that force you to think about something you’ve thought about before… but in a different way.

And this ad does that. 

Because it literally states (and plays with) the obvious. It’s refreshingly simple.

Potential for more?

The only thing that ever-so-slightly disappoints me is how they didn’t take the campaign further.

It’s such a brilliant idea – yet they stopped. Imagine all the new avenues you could explore with a “strong box”.

Is it bombproof?

Can it withstand a car crash?

An explosion?

Can I sit on it without denting it?

There are endless ways you could demonstrate (and dramatise) the strength of the box – whilst implicitly reinforcing the strength of the mints.

I’m sure they had their reasons.

Anyway, that’s the lot. Short and sweet today.

Want more?

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