An Italian actor was seen in the 1969 Alka-Selzter commercial “That’s a spicy meatball” fumbling his lines while eating a meatball, until he was clearly in need of an antacid at the end of the commercial.
DDB’s Roy Grace and Evan Stark were located fifty miles apart at that time.
As they had filmed a commercial earlier, Roy was at an editor trimming it, while Evan was stuck in the snow in Northern Westchester. While Roy was taking a look at a splice the editor had made, Evan had a flashback to a commercial he had done for Buitoni in Rome. This happened while Roy was gone from the phone, and the two were discussing potential new spots. There were four children on set, and not a single one of the performers could speak English. After Buitoni produced three different varieties of quick pizza, the fourth child had to declare, “I love them all,” while the first three were to describe their favourite.
The fourth child became ill and needed a two-hour pause until he felt better, as nobody informed him that he wasn’t meant to eat them on every take. Roy and Evan discussed the situation over the phone upon Roy’s return; they both thought it would make a great commercial, so the next day they developed the commercial, created a storyboard, and pitched it to the client.
Roy and Evan questioned if anybody else had done a similar ad before. Howard Zieff was the director, and because no one had ever offered something like that to Alka-Seltzer before, they went ahead and produced it.
On a side note, they originally had the sentence “Mamma mia, that’s marinara” in our storyboard. However, a customer requested that we could also make the item hot, so we quickly changed it to a spicy meatball.
Members of the DDB were doubtful that the plan would materialise. According to an art director, the client’s identity would be forgotten once people laughed at the spot.
After attending a weekend party where the spot was all the rage and everyone knew it was for Alka-Selzter, the same person later apologised to Evan the following week.
The customer got a tonne of kind letters, some of which they even sent to DDB. Reportedly, he cracked his ass on the floor from laughing so hard. There were several media mentions of “Spicy Meatball,” and Bob Hope even produced a TV parody of it (which was a poor choice, as the advertisement was a parody of itself, and you can’t make a parody of yourself humorous). It made an appearance in Playboy’s “Little Anny Fanny.”