The 1993 "Aaron Burr" spot for the California Milk Processor Board's long-running Got Milk campaign is considered one of the best TV commercials of all time. It's also the ad that made San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein agency famous. And it almost didn't make it onto the air.
Here's how the San Francisco Chronicle tells the story in an article about the agency's 25th anniversary:
Goodby, Silverstein is synonymous, of course, with "Got Milk?" The campaign for the California Milk Processor Board tells of the horror of milk deprivation. The first of dozens of ads, "Aaron Burr," appeared in 1993: The host of a radio contest randomly calls an Alexander Hamilton specialist and asks him, "Who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel?" Unfortunately, the Hamilton scholar - he has the bullet from the duel among his Hamiltonian paraphernalia - has stuffed his mouth with a peanut butter sandwich and is fresh out of milk. His correct response, "Aaaaawon Buuuuhh," is unintelligible, and there goes the $10,000 prize.
"Aaron Burr," like many other Goodby, Silverstein ads, bombed before a test audience. It was too arcane. People asked, "Who is Aaron Burr?" Goodby persuaded the client to go with it.
Smart client. Really smart agency. Really dumb focus group.
Vox populi is all too often vox boobus americanus. Buyer beware.