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Malcolm MacDougall dies at 86; adman best known for Diet Coke campaign

Malcolm MacDougall dies at 86; adman best known for Diet Coke campaign
Malcolm MacDougall, a Madison Avenue adman behind campaigns for top brands such as Coca-Cola and Revlon, has died. He was 86. (Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor)

Malcolm (Mal) MacDougall, a Madison Avenue veteran best known for his "just for the taste of it" ad campaign introducing Diet Coke, died Friday in New York. He was 86.

The cause was complications of cancer, said his business partner, Stephen Judson.

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MacDougall created advertising slogans for a host of top brands, including Revlon ("She's very Charlie"), Heineken beer ("Come to think of it, I'll have a Heineken") and Burger King ("It takes two hands to handle a Whopper").

He also oversaw a controversial campaign for Good Housekeeping magazine in the late 1980s. Designed to appeal to "New Traditionalist" women who saw themselves primarily as wives and mothers, it drew sharp criticism from feminist scholars and activists who said it ignored the movement of women into the workforce.

For his most successful campaign, MacDougall analyzed 17 years of diet-product advertising before concluding that Coca-Cola had an opportunity to exploit a new market.

The advertisers he studied "only wanted to characterize diet drinks as something very special for women only," he told Adweek in 1990. He decided to emphasize taste over health benefits to tap the male market.

The "just for the taste of it" TV commercial, which ran in 1982 and featured the Rockettes on stage at Radio City Music Hall, is considered one of the most successful product launches in history.

MacDougall also worked in politics, crafting slogans for the Republican Party and President Gerald Ford's post-Watergate presidential campaign in 1976 before switching sides to work for the Democratic Party.

Born in New York City on Aug. 21, 1928, the Harvard graduate started his advertising career in the 1950s in the Boston office of BBDO. Most recently, he was a principal at Prides Crossing Strategic Writers Group, a communications consulting company in New York.

His survivors include his wife Mimi, two children, three stepchildren and 11 grandchildren.

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