Doctors’ waiting rooms are full of dull posters, but occasionally there’s a good one.

When I was young, there was a poster encouraging people to use handkerchiefs, it said: COUGHS AND SNEEZES SPREAD DISEASES.

It’s a good line, but it didn’t catch on until Tony Hancock used it in his TV show.

He was in an empty doctor’s waiting room, bored with nothing to do, eventually he stopped at this poster and repeated that line.

Then, with his hand raised in the nazi salute, he goose-stepped around the waiting room singing: COUGHS AND SNEEZES SPREAD DISEASES, to the tune of “Deutschland Uber Alles”.

People still remember that line and quote it today, not because of the poster, but because of Hancock singing it to the German national anthem.

Of course, nowadays that would be considered bad taste.

Which is exactly what made it funny and memorable.

Years later, in 1982, Stills Price Lintas did an ad for a cheap mass market ice cream.

It had an Italian name so naturally they wheeled out all the Italian clichés.

It was shot in a gondola in Venice, a loving couple drift dreamily along one of the canals, then a gondolier coming the other way grabs her ice cream.

And, to the beautiful strains of “O Sole Mio”, he sings in a fine operatic voice: JUST ONE CORNETTO, GIVE IT TO ME.

In 2004, Walls sold 80 million Cornettos, and thirty years after the ad last aired, 70% of people  still remember it.

Taking a beautiful Italian song and destroying it with the subtlety of an air raid is bad taste.

Which is exactly what made it funny and memorable.

Around the same time, John Webster had to advertise Unigate milk.

Everyone knew milk was good for you, so John thought he’d try the opposite, he’d talk about what happened if children didn’t drink milk.

He remembered a poster campaign from his childhood in the war, it featured “The Squander Bugs”, little creatures covered in swastikas telling people to waste everything.

So John did ugly little characters that hated milk.

The planner, Jim Williams, said it got the worst test results he’d ever known.

In fact, Jim said, feelings were so strong that he suggested John try reversing the campaign.

So John made the little creatures love milk, instead.

He named them “Humphries”, and you never saw them, just a straw sneaking into frame.

But, for me, the cleverest part was that John stole the strapline from a police campaign to prevent car crime: the line was: WATCH OUT, THERE’S A THIEF ABOUT.

John  turned it into a song with the chorus: WATCH OUT, THERE’S A HUMPHREY ABOUT.

The campaign went massively viral decades before the internet even existed.

It was bad taste to steal a line from a serious subject like crime, and trivialise it for a joke.

Which is exactly what made it funny and memorable.

In 1973, Allen Brady and Marsh wrote a TV ad for R.Whites.

It featured a man in his pyjamas sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to get some lemonade from the fridge.

While he drinks it, he sings:

“I’m a secret lemonade drinker: R.Whites.

I’ve been trying to give it up but it’s one of those nights.”

In 2000, the ad was rated seventh in Channel 4’s poll of ‘100 Greatest Ads’.

But the phrase “secret drinker” refers to an alcoholic “trying to give it up”.

Today that ad would certainly be considered bad taste .

Which is exactly what made it funny and memorable.