Sunday, August 06, 2006


I once heard a Creative Director suggest that having an ad campaign banned is one of the best things that can happen for the brand behind it. A banned ad of course leads to publicity and the inevitable onslaught of ‘should it’, shouldn’t it’ debates. There’s a cynicism here that doesn’t sit very well with me, but I cannot argue that the brand benefits from the circus surrounding the controversy.

Controversy though can be – and usually is – received positively by the intended audience.

The Opium ad featuring a naked Sophie Dahl that was banned in 2000 embodied everything the perfume stands for: raw sexuality, power, liberty etc. The act of banning it merely heightened these ideas by making it forbidden.

There are some fairly obvious discussions around this subject matter. None of this is so far new. The point I wanted to make initially is that “controversy” is one way of getting people’s attention. But there’s another way. And it’s a way that I’ll bet no brand has ever consciously carried through, although plenty have done so inadvertently:

Doing a really rubbish ad.

The cool kids say bad when they mean good. Maybe there’s some truth in that (in which case the kids will probably start saying good to mean bad which means good…)

An excellent current example is the Sky Sports cricket poster for the Engxiand. Oh, I’m sorry. That’s supposed to read “England XI”.

This is the only photo I could find. Clearly the photographer could barely look directly at it:

Leon Jaume, executive creative director of WCRS wrote in Campaign:

“Many ads annoy. Some, occasionally, enrage. But few make you want to rush round to the agency that conceived them, slaughter everyone at their desks, burn down the building and dance a mocking fandango on the smouldering ruins.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but I do have a moment of internal turmoil every time I walk past the poster. I hate it for several reasons, but most of all because I can’t say it. It’s like reading The Lord of the Rings and coming across a character called Arhnaknak (That’s a real example by the way – I just looked it up) and having to mumble incomprehensibly through the name so you don’t break your flow. I usually just replace Arhnaknak with something like ‘Ted’.

Amusingly, when I typed engxiand into Google to look for an image of the poster it responded with the message:

“Did you mean England?”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

I don’t want to slaughter the copywriter, but every time I walk past that ENGXIAND poster I have an Arhnaknak moment. One thing’s for sure though, I know damn well – as does Mr. Jaume – that Sky Sports is screening the cricket. So job done, right?

My second example is a TV ad that makes me physically uncomfortable. I have yelled out loud at least twice in a desperate attempt to prevent myself from exploding. It is for DFS – the home furnishing company.

The ad agency decided that the woman talking about the sofas should have a dog nearby. Nothing wrong with that – create a sense of homeliness and companionship etc. The dog obviously wasn’t going to sit still doing nothing (not for the amount dog actors surely get paid these days) so he leaps up onto the sofas. Aw.

Obviously a dog drooling on the sofas isn’t the best way to promote quality and pride in their products – even if there was a sale – so the agency quickly tweaked the script so the actress would usher the dog off the seats sharpish.

It was at this moment that a copywriter had an epiphany. There was a link between there being money OFF the sofas and the woman wanting the dog OFF the sofas.

My facetiousness can’t even get near painting a picture of the cringe-worthy moment when the actress comes out with her line. “Now 20%... off!” She says, changing the pitch of her voice to aim the last word at the mutt.

Oh dear God. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.
But do I know that DFS is having a sale.

OK, so there are strong arguments against deliberately creating bad ads. Obviously if PlayStation started doing crap ads and Xbox started doing cooler ones it would do Sony no favours.

So for brand building – no, but for announcements where the brand relationship isn’t as strong - maybe.
Sky Sports faltered with the ENGXIAND (Aaarrghh -- Ted) ad, but perhaps the good of everyone noticing it for being terrible out-weighs the bad?

I don’t think bad communications are the answer. Long-term they are of course not the way to go. But I think it’s interesting that we are drawn to everything that isn’t mediocre and when that’s the case there is some value in that which is awful.

Maybe Sky Sports are actually the cool kids that say bad when they mean good? Perhaps they are two steps ahead of the rest of us, dishing up the next wave of post-modern advertising, mimicking crap ads for the savvy audience that demands irony for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I get it now. It was awful – how brilliant!

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Blogger Nathan Midgley said...

Interesting that you pulled out that Sky one Andy - the one that gets me is P&O Ferries' 'P&Ople', and it gets me for just the same reason.
The concept might be great for the brand (though it says little more than 'we're about people, we are - you know, service and that' which perhaps isn't the strongest exercise in differentiation) but their chimera-word is as ugly on the page as it is unwieldy in the mind. You just want to grab them by the collar and shout IT MATTERS!
The thrice-great Don DeLillo apparently takes into account the visual 'architecture' of every line he writes; bonkers behaviour for a novelist, but it should be standard among copywriters.
Nice observation that 'badvertising' stays surprisingly front of mind anyway - I heard on R4's memory season that intense experiences cause more profound biochemical changes in the brain, so there's probably some interesting science behind it.

4:29 pm  
Blogger Ki11er said...

Thanks Nathan.
Absolutely. I think that's what's interesting about the notion of deliberately stimulating a negative response as it is easier han stimulating a positive one. Kinda like slapping a girl round the face on a first date. I recommend neither.
A did a quick search for "badvertising" and found this. A good example of going way too far (more like sawing the arm of a girl on a first date). This falls back into the controversy camp rather than the more sophisticated notion of playing on a savvy audience's understanding of good advertising, but I guess there are some blurry boundaries. Brings back memories of this too. I suppose bad execution and bad taste aren't so far away from one another.

10:20 am  

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