Don’t buy this – no, really, don’t buy it. You’ve bought it, haven’t you?
Car ads are tediously slick, aren’t they? So I was pleasingly refreshed yesterday when I learnt of a rather hilarious bloke who is trying to flog his “rusty” and “smashed up” old Mercedes on eBay by explaining: “If you are looking for an immaculate, well-maintained example of a Mercedes e320 CDI… you have come to the wrong place. If, however, you are low on self-esteem, with a strapped budget, but shooting for the stars, welcome to my auction.”
Snapshots of his missus modelling the Merc accompanied the text:
It might not seem like the most sensible way to sell your stuff, but the ad won the couple coverage from national newspapers – and bids for the battered banger have now exceeded £200,000.
It got me thinking – what big brands have pulled off that oh-so-clever, oh-so-precarious art of making you want a product by telling you it’s rubbish? And why and when does this approach work wonders?
Here are some of the best:
Pot Noodle – “The slag of all snacks… It feels so wrong yet it feels so right”
You know it, I know it, Pot Noodle knows it: the additive-heavy snack is nothing short of filthy. It’s among the guiltiest of pleasures in the (non-)nutritional cornucopia. Facing a populace increasingly aware that they should be shovelling in fruit, veg, vitamins, and at the very least some “real” food, Pot Noodle had to face facts: it was the dirtiest snack in town.
So massive kudos to agency Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury & Partners (HHCL) for brilliantly playing on that with its “Slag of all snacks campaign”, which toyed teasingly with Pot Noodle’s “dirty” reputation. This genius advert sees a surburbanite husband unsatisfied by his clean-living, sandwich-brandishing wife going in search of Pot Noodle in a litany of seedy sex shops, only to be slapped on requesting it. “I need something filthy, you know, like a kebab,” he confesses.
When he finally finds a less-than-salubrious someone to share his noodles with, while (of course) jigging up and down on a motel bed, he moans: “It feels so wrong yet it feels so right”.
The ad was in fact banned after more than 300 complaints to the ASA – though it’s still racking up plenty of YouTube hits today.
Molson Canadian: “Don’t drink Molson”
This is another one from boundary-pushers HHCL. The early 1990s ad, for a Canadian lager brand, saw a character called Jim Dunk telling people: “Don’t drink Molson”.
Our advertising columnist Steve Henry, who is the founder and former creative director of HHCL and founder of Decoded, was the brain behind the campaign. “My thinking was based on the Garden of Eden – tell people not to do something and they want to do it,” he says.
Henry thinks advertising like this works because: “Conventional advertising is of very little interest to most people, and they’re deeply suspicious of it. People’s scepticism of advertising is the biggest enemy of advertising.”
By playing on that scepticism in the most counter-intuitive of ways, the brand aligns themselves with the consumer and wins them over.
Tesco Value mushrooms: “Ugly as sin”
Tesco Value mushrooms are “ugly as sin”, this TV ad from Lowe London concedes, showing us a veritable freak show of mis-shapen, malformed and tumorous fungi, such as the ones here below:
They are, however, just £1.47, so “who cares?”, says the Brummie doing the voice-over. “They’re going into a steak and kidney pie, not a beauty contest,” he adds.
Quite right too. What a smart way to eradicate the stigma of buying cheap food – make viewers feel like it’s better to have more sense than money. After all, every little helps.
First Direct TV launch campaign
When First Direct launched, it wanted to position itself as offering a completely untraditional way of banking. This was, it wanted to tell us, a financial brand like no other that has come before. So First Direct needed a daring new approach to prove it.
Cue the appointment of HHCL. Henry explains that his agency decided to launch two adverts to run concurrently on ITV and Channel 4, capturing channel-flickers. “One ad had a gospel singer saying [First Direct] is great, the other had blues singer saying it was a really bad idea.”
The thinking was that: “This was a radical new bank – some people will like it, others will hate it. We wanted to polarise opinion.”
The strategy comes back to acknowledging people’s scepticism of advertising, Henry explains. “It’s partly about playing games with people to engage them, but also partly comes out of a healthy distrust of advertising.”
By being frank about the fact that a brand will be divisive, you can create tribes (hear from Seth Godin for an expansion of this idea), and so turbo-charge those who like your brand from mere “likers” to “lovers” of the product.
Which brings us neatly onto…
Marmite: “I hate Marmite”
You can’t get much ballsier than telling people they will hate your products, so hats off to Adam & Eve for this 1997 advert couplet that kick-started a long-running Marmite campaign that no Brit could have missed.This goes to show that when adverts like this work, they really work.
As a brand, you just need to have the cahones to let your agency do everything they never taught you in marketing school.