Rants on all the ads that suck. Updated whenever it tickles my fancy to do so. Now moved to http://adsthatsuck.ca

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Character depth

One of the most frustrating things in the world for me is when I see an ad and think, "Okay... I don't get it." I like to think I'm pretty smart (which should be blatantly obvious to anyone who reads this site regularly) but every once in a while a spot or series of spots just leaves me staring blankly.

A few months back, Smirnoff Ice introduced "Uri," the generic Arctic-dwelling Eastern European with a fake accent (what's with that?) who uses his back yard for a fridge, and loves his Smirnoff Ice.

Okay, I'm with you so far. He lives in the Arctic, and likes Smirnoff Ice. Makes sense.

Then they started developing that campaign and the character further. Now, usually when companies do that, they mean to keep a character around for a little while. Sometimes it's a character like Ronald McDonald, or sometimes it's a real person like Dave Thomas. Either way, the method of character development in a commercial is much different from the character development in a play or a movie. It's simple. It's linear. Every element works together to create a total picture of that character.

Then I saw this - a bus shelter ad near my house.

I pose this question to you, loyal readers. What in the holy Hell does this have to do with anything? It has nothing to do with the Arctic, it has nothing to do with using your backyard as a fridge, and I don't remember any references to Uri asking stupid questions that belong on the sign of a wacky dry cleaner in a small town.

In fact, I should point out that it wasn't until resizing this image to fit on the Web that I even realized that this ad was for watermelon flavoured Smirnoff Ice. And I walk past this stupid thing EVERY DAY.

Essentially, this ad took my understanding of Uri as a character, and threw it for a loop. I didn't expect it, it didn't fit it with what I already knew, and it didn't back up the brand the way a character like this should.

Bottom line - if I don't get it, chances are most of your audience doesn't either. That's a dangerous game to play, especially in the formative stages of a made-up corporate shill. As soon as I don't understand, I don't care. And as soon as I don't care, I'm no longer engaged. After that, you're wasting your breath - and ad budget.

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What do you do when they just don't get it?

Sometimes they don't - get it, that is. And that ignorance is the birthplace of ads that suck.

I recently had a rather heated discussion with a member of a charity that I work with. He argued that we were spending far too much time and money on designing our collateral material and coming up with a strategy, and not enough time communicating. I argued that we were spending the bare minimum of time and money on strategy and design.

To him, we should take all of the money we spend on full-colour printing, designing and writing (all of which is heavily subsidized by sponsorship) and spend it on photocopying a million flyers so that everyone in the city would have our message. He also suggested that money spent on a publicity person could be saved by hiring a volunteer.

Of course, this is the case of one voice in a very small not-for-profit group. But this is the type of attitude I see in a lot of organizations. "It doesn't matter what we say or how we say it, as long as a lot of people hear."

That's why you see things like this, this and this.

I preach to anyone who is listening about the power of design. It's important, and if you don't think so then your advertising probably looks like crap. Would you buy groceries from Loblaws if it were dank and dirty inside? No, and that's the same impression you get from a company who has a website that looks like it was programmed in 1992 and a brochure that was photocopied at Staples and folded by hand.

If you still don't believe me, put on a dirty track suit, go to your bank and try to get a loan.

People receive messages a thousand times a day. If yours is just another one of the bunch, then you've wasted the money you spent on that message, however meagre. The only way to break through is to talk to the people who are listening and to engage them. When you have a small budget, it's even more important that you break through that clutter, otherwise you're nothing more than a raindrop in a thunderstorm.

Personally, I think it's better to be the thunder.

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There is a certain poetic irony in getting spammed on a site that is dedicated to talking about ads that suck. While that irony is not lost on me, it still fills me with impotent rage every time I read about what stock is p0is3d to sKyr0ck3t!

Imagine my boyish glee as I noticed that some eager reader had commented several times since I'd left work, leading me to believe that readers the world over were now visiting me to read my cheeky remarks and discuss the world of advertising.

And then, dear readers, imagine my dismay, as I read davenelson70's comments telling me about " ='Brand New News Fr0m The Timber Industry!!'=".

I really like it when people comment on here. I love hearing the different points of view about something that affects all of our lives, for better or worse. Since I'm not about to turn the commenting off, those wishing to post (and I really do want you to) will have to go through an extra step of word verification. It's easy, and it elminates comment spam.

It makes me incredibly angry that these less-than-disgusting excuses for human beings would use something like this for something so stupid. Posting links on Blogger does not increase Pageranks. Spam does not get read. It seems like the only reason to do this anymore is just to prove you can.

I would love to see the day when spammers are hanged publicly for wasting people's time, costing companies money, and generally ruining things for everyone. Since I'll probably never see that day, I'll settle for them getting taken to court and losing everything. Their houses, their computers, all their assets. Put their face on milk cartons so that the entire world knows that this is the face of an asshole.

In closing, I will say this: davenelson70, if I ever see you walking down the street, you better start running the other way, bitch. It's on.

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Best slogan ever!

God love the Japanese.

As if their culture wasn't weird enough already, a company has begun marketing a guarana-infused non-alcoholic beer imitation aimed at kids. Fittingly named "Kidsbeer," the carbonated drink comes in beer bottles with authentic looking labels. The company started out shipping about 200 bottles per month and has now expanded to over 75,000 monthly.

Besides the obvious things that are completely and utterly wrong with this product, it bears what is now my favourite slogan of all time, translated from Japanese.

"Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink"

I hear ya, kids. Playtime is fucking rough sometimes.

Original article: Japan Times - August 6, 2005

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When opportunity jumps up and bites you in the ass...

... I have no idea how to finish that sentence, but no matter.

I know I've veered slightly off the topic of advertising to public relations and marketing over the past little while, but, to be fair, it's what I do for the better part of my waking hours, so it's to be expected, really. While this entry is about PR specifically, it's about missing the point even more.

Long story short, guy is locked into two rents, is having trouble getting by, much less buying furniture for his new place. Instead of sleeping on the floor, he uses a bunch of FedEx boxes to build furniture. It's not just your typical milk-crate and stolen plank type of furniture, either... this is good stuff.

So, he posts them online at www.fedexfurniture.com.

What results is a cease and desist order from FedEx and the threat of legal action under the... wait for it... Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Yes. Copyright. The lawyers for FedEx, who I'm guessing are a lot of fun at parties, maintain that this fellow was clearly doing this for profit, because he registered a dot-com as opposed to a dot-net.

Mind boggling. But what is even more confusing to me is why FedEx chose to go this route. When was the last time a major corporation made themselves look like heroes by suing a guy who couldn't afford to shop at Ikea? They had a loyal customer (according to him) who was promoting them for free. It even backed up their message that if you ship with FedEx, your package would arrive in tact because "look how strong the boxes are!"

Even if they didn't want this to be seen by many, suing the guy gave him international exposure. This has been posted on some of the biggest online communities around, including a story in Wired Magazine. Now millions of people know the story and FedEx comes off looking like a bunch of douchebags who sue poor people for liking their products instead of a company that makes their boxes really, really tough.

Great issue management, guys.

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The product is you

I ordered some nicer clothes in April, and they finally got here last week. According to Joe, this makes me a yuppy (despite my distaste for latt├ęs), but it actually helped me realize something that I've been preaching for years.

Design matters - as much, if not more, than content.

Oooooh. The journalists didn't like that, I bet. Read on. I'm about to contradict myself.

These nicer clothes that I speak of are a new custom merino wool suit and three custom french cuff shirts, which is great, because I have a weird, ape-like build that makes it very difficult to buy off the rack. Prior to this acquisition, I didn't dress badly, but I was definitely more business casual than I am now. I like it all - they're good quality, and I'm a fan of french cuffs. They're just ostentatious enough.

The clothes changed how I look, if only slightly, but something else changed, too - and that's what surprised me.

The way people interacted with me changed dramatically. All of a sudden, salespeople were flustered when talking to me, random people were greeting me, opening doors for me, smiling at me. The property manager of the building I work in apologized to me about the carpet in the hallway not being finished on time while I was on my way to the little boy's room. In general, I've been treated far better since I've started wearing slightly more expensive clothes.

To me, this proves a very important point. People decide whether or not they like someone before they interact with them at all. We make snap decisions - it's our nature. As Seth Godin put it in All Marketers are Liars, if we had to spend a half hour deliberating whether or not cro-magnon man was friend or foe, we're pretty dead.

Marketers would be stupid to ignore this idea. Look at the iPod and iBook. Everyone I know who owns one of these has, at some point commented on how "cute" they are. How many times do you think you didn't pick up what would become your favourite book because you didn't like the cover?

Of course, design isn't everything. But it is everything for that first impression where people are deciding whether or not they like you, or dislike you. If I turned out to be a complete ass, or completely incompetent, all the shirts in the world wouldn't make them like me. But, assuming I'm a worthwhile product (which my mom assures me I am) then I've crossed that first hurdle of making people like me, and once they interact with me more, that suspicion will (hopefully) be confirmed.

Have a great product? Skimp on design, and you're doing yourself a disservice. The reason iPod is successful is because it combines "cute" with a really well-made product that delivers what it promises.

The lesson is far more important in the world of advertising, where first impression is everything. It would be strange for someone to warm up to an ad, or learn to like it after they got to know it a little. The greatest copy in the world won't help a badly designed ad sell your product.

Think about that next time you have a college student design your corporate stationery.

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This post censored by QCC Legal Standards

If you've seen the Mott's Clamato ad that begins with a warning about how they had to cut out all of the good bits of the commercial because they were too racy, you're probably curious as to who, exactly is keeping this clam-juice related lascivity from you. And, if you're like most people, you don't care enough to actually do the research. Gotta say - I can't blame you.

The first time I saw it, I assumed it had something to do with a Quebec communications regulatory committee, just because of the initials (QCC). Regulations on advertising are different than the rest of Canada, and they're usually more strict, especially when it comes to marketing to children. Then it occurred to me that since the ad is not being shown in Quebec (as it is in English) there is no reason that this fictional regulator would have anything to do with it.

So, curiosity got the best of me, and I did some research.

QCC stands for Queue Communications Corporation, which, if you visit the site, it tells you is an affiliate of the agency. Queue Communications Corporation is, in fact, a trademark of Omnicom Group (a rather offputting name, if you ask me), which is the parent company of DDB Canada, which is the agency of record for Mott's.

So, fear not, lover of advertising-based soft-core pornography. There is no governmental big brother keeping those Caesar-toting, laytex-clad naughty nurses from your airwaves. It's just a clever (?) ploy to make you think that Mott's just just too hot for TV. There is no banned campaign... just the illusion.

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More infiltration

In discussing the infiltration of advertising with colleagues lately, I've discovered another surprising sore spot for ads: movies.

Okay... show of hands, who absolutely abhors those commercial spots that play before films in the theatre?

Even in my office, the verdict was unanimous that these ads are the most offensive thing that has ever transpired in the history of man.

I remember when these first started showing up on a regular basis, and friends of mine often railed against it. Their argument was usually along the lines of the fact that they paid $10 to get into the movie, so they shouldn't be subject to any commercial messages. To me, paying $15 for popcorn and a drink is more offensive than any of that, but that's neither here nor there.

That got me thinking about the sanctity of certain things when it comes to advertising. Clearly, to these people, the space before trailers (also ads) was holy ground. I'm curious as to the places (other than the obvious) that people would find advertising unacceptable.

What's sacred to you?

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Advertising Lifestyles

As someone who works in PR, I don't actually buy or create a lot of advertising. When I do, it's usually what we call 'advocacy advertising'. We're not selling a product, but rather, an idea. Because this is what I do from nine to five every weekday, lifestyle advertising is something that I take fairly personally. Mainly because I know what a dangerous tool it is in the hands of the wrong people.

Atkins was in the business of selling an idea. That idea was simply, that carbohydrates were bad and everything else was fair game.

Atkins Nutritionals sold this idea like crazy, and had millions evangelizing their products. Of course, they did this through more than just traditional advertising, but they were marketers nonetheless.

A few things came of the Atkins revolution. First, people realized that eating a loaf of Wonderbread after dinner was possibly bad for their health. Second, and I would say more importantly, people became extremely confused about nutrition in general. Just when they thought they understood, Atkins came along and told them that carbs were bad - which is, of course, false. The result was a lot of people abandoning muffins for bacon, which was now apparently a diet food.

Now, Atkins Nutritionals has filed for bankruptcy, which just goes to show you that you can sell an idea as much as you want, but if that idea is fundamentally false, people are going to find you out. Maybe this wasn't the case in the 20s when the tabacco marketers were doing the exact same thing, but it is today and this is living proof.

Atkins Nutritionals Goes Belly-Up Link via: Seth's Blog