Best (and Worst) Ads of '06

Best (and Worst) Ads of '06
It Was the Year of Cavemen,
YouTube and Anti-Advertising;
Meeting Viewers 'Head On!'
December 22, 2006; Page B1
People may remember 2006 as the year of anti-advertising, when marketers and their ad
agencies went to great lengths to make sure their ads didn't look like typical Madison
Avenue handiwork.
To promote its new malt iced tea, Diageo PLC's Smirnoff created a two-minute spoof of
a rap video and posted it on video-sharing Web site YouTube. The iced tea was
mentioned only in passing. Almost 2 million people have viewed the Smirnoff ad on
YouTube so far. "As soon as you do the classic bottle close-ups, big company graphics or
lots of shots of sweaty bottles -- people reject it," says Kevin Roddy, executive creative
director at BBH, the New York firm that crafted the video.
Which ad tactic did you like the
best?'s video
KFC's "blind" spot
Philips Norelco's Web site
Apple's Mac-PC ads
Sprint Nextel's locker room
See the results without voting
A spot for Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s Geico insurer could have been mistaken for a
segment from a business news program on CNBC -- if interviews with cavemen were
more common. In the parody spot, crafted by Interpublic Group of Cos.'s Martin Agency,
Geico's prehistoric pitchman is interviewed by an anchor, then spars with other guests
about the public image of cavemen. Only at the very end does a voiceover intone: "Geico,
15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance."
The low-key approach is a major reversal for an industry long keen on marketing
messages delivered with a sledge hammer. It comes as new technologies -- such as digital
video recorders -- give consumers more control over what ads they see. As a result,
marketers' top priority is no longer selling but simply getting the public to watch an ad.
"There is a blurring of the line between advertising and entertainment," says Greg Stern,
chief executive officer of Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners. "You have to bring consumers
in first just to be able to talk to them."
Below is a list of our choices for the best and worst ads and other marketing gimmicks in
The Best
Monkey Business
Click the image to go to the Monkey email site.
CLIENT:, a Web concern jointly owned by Gannett, Tribune and
AGENCY: Cramer-Krasselt
CONTENT: Consumers were able to construct a humorous video email featuring a
chimp, and craft a customized message by recording a voice greeting via the telephone,
which the chimp would repeat to the person the email was sent to. The emails were meant
to drum up pre-game hype for two Super Bowl TV ads CareerBuilder was running
featuring chimpanzees managing a corporation.
FEEDBACK: Eleven months later, the monkey emails are still circulating. So far,
CareerBuilder says, more than 80 million monkey emails have been played. The site's
traffic rose 34% this year, due in part to the email campaign. CareerBuilder says one of
the most important results of its Super Bowl viral push was that it held the interest of
consumers, most of whom spent six to nine minutes playing with the make-your-own
monkey emails.
TiVo Buster
Watch the KFC ad aimed at consumers with digital video recorders.
CLIENT: Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC
AGENCY: Interpublic Group's Foote Cone & Belding
CONTENT: KFC carefully designed a TV ad to circumvent Madison Avenue's latest
nemesis: digital video recorders. One frame in the ad contained a secret code word -"Buffalo" -- which viewers can use to redeem a coupon for a free KFC "Buffalo Snacker"
chicken sandwich. Only viewers who used their DVR, or an analog video cassette
recorder, to slow the ad and watch it frame by frame could see the code. To get people to
participate, KFC ran newspaper ads with details of when the ad would run.
FEEDBACK: With ad-skipping devices threatening Madison Avenue's age old way of
doing business, KFC and FCB were among the first to experiment with ways around the
pesky devices. Roughly 103,000 people claimed "Buffalo Snacker" coupons after
entering the hidden code on KFC's Web site. Furthermore, the publicity prompted an
increase in the number of people visiting KFC's Web site. In the weeks the ad ran, the site
drew 3 million page views, 40% more than the amount of traffic it usually gets over a
similar period of time. The chicken purveyors also managed to land 852 mentions in the
media, KFC estimates, including from some TV stations that ran the commercial free as
part of a news report.
An Edgy Shave
Click the image to go to the Norelco
Bodygroom site.
CLIENT: Philips Electronics NV's Philips Norelco
AGENCY: Omnicom Group Inc.'s Tribal DDB
CONTENT: Philips knew it couldn't hawk its unique "Bodygroom" shaver -- designed to
help a man shave hair on his back, chest and intimate body areas -- on a mass medium
like TV. The product wasn't for everyone, and might even be seen as offensive. So the
company's ad agency, Tribal DDB, went the lighthearted route -- creating a Web site
starring a man wearing a bathrobe chatting about what the shaver could do. To get the
word out, the agency alerted friends of employees. Publicis Groupe SA public-relations
firm Manning Selvage & Lee also helped drive traffic to the site by getting the product
mentioned on Howard Stern's program on Sirius Satellite Radio.
FEEDBACK: Marketers are fast learning that they can address their promotional
messages to specific audiences, rather than shouting something out to the whole world.
Philips's Web ad uses various fruits and vegetables to refer to parts of the male anatomy - a tactic that might prove shocking on TV, but is palatable to the smaller audience that
flocked to the Web site because of its frat-boy jokes. Philips says sales of the product
were way above its original projections and says the site drew 1.8 million unique visitors
as of Dec. 12th.
Apple's Bite
Watch two of Apple's Mac-PC ads, "Better Results" and "Counselor."
CLIENT: Apple Computer Inc.
AGENCY: Omnicom Group's TBWA\Chiat\Day
CONTENT: A series of ads that played out on TV and the Web show the Apple Mac,
represented by a hip-looking young man, debating its features with the PC, represented
by a paunchy, nerdy-looking fellow. The Mac-man -- played by actor Justin Long, star of
the film "Accepted," is clever, fun and handy -- he can communicate with all sorts of
different people, and knows how to come up with pictures and music. The PC, played by
another actor known to the youth crowd, "Daily Show" commentator John Hodgman, is
decidedly less hip, and is always amazed, humbled or befuddled by Mac's never-ending
range of abilities.
FEEDBACK: Pepsi pokes fun at Coke, and Miller Brewing has smacked AnheuserBusch, but this is razzing of a more sophisticated, and sustained, kind. Apple's knife cuts
deep, but by the time rivals feel it, they have already started to bleed.
Hurts So Good
Watch Sprint-Nextel's locker room "crime deterrent" ad.
CLIENT: Sprint Nextel Corp.
AGENCY: Omnicom Group's TBWA\Chiat\Day
CONTENT: Two men are in a locker room and begin to compare cellphones, in an effort
to see who has the most sophisticated gadget. One of the men says "I can watch live TV."
His friend responds: "My Sprint phone has TV and downloads music." In response, the
first man says his phone has a "crime deterrent" feature, which he demonstrates by
throwing the phone at the other guy's head.
FEEDBACK: In a crowded category, where telecommunication giants are spending
hundreds of millions of dollars to woo customers, this ad got attention. Not only did it
leave people laughing out loud but within 30 seconds a message about what the cellphone
offers comes through loud and clear. The company received emails from consumers
applauding the spot and Don Imus mentioned it during his morning radio program after it
initially ran during the Super Bowl.
The Worst
Flogging In Arkansas
CLIENT: Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
AGENCY: Edelman, a unit of Daniel J. Edelman Inc.
CONTENT: Edelman set up a blog called Wal-Marting Across America, which tracked
the life of "Jim" and "Laura," a couple who drove cross-country in an RV visiting WalMart stores. On the pro-Wal-Mart blog the duo conducted interviews with happy WalMart workers.
FEEDBACK: In a sign of how things can quickly go wrong for brands online, critics
complained the company failed to disclose on the blog the full identities of two people -one the sister of an Edelman employee -- whom it enlisted to write the pro-company blog.
The controversy quickly spilled over into the mainstream media. Richard Edelman,
president and chief executive of the public-relations giant and a long-time proponent of
PR transparency and blog ethics, ended up apologizing on his blog.
We Heard You The First Time!
Watch the bare-bones ad for the headache treatment Head On.
CLIENT: Miralus Inc.'s Head On
AGENCY: Created internally
CONTENT: In a commercial notable for its bare-bones look, an announcer tells viewers,
"Head On! Apply directly to the forehead!" She speaks the phrase three times in a row.
The action follows the announcements. A person applies the product directly to the
forehead. The announcer tells viewers where they can buy Head On. That's it.
FEEDBACK: This topical analgesic is supposed to dispel headaches, but the ad ended up
giving TV viewers one instead. YouTube is filled with spoofs of the spot. With its
distinct lack of Madison Avenue frills, the Head On ad would seem to be the video
equivalent of an Internet search ad -- it essentially gives the product's name and little else.
The company never wanted to annoy people, says Dan Charron, Miralus's vice president
of sales. It just wanted consumers to remember Head On when they went to the drug
store. He says sales of the product increased while the ad was on earlier this year. One
later version of the commercial showed a consumer interrupting the voice over to say: "I
hate your commercial. But I love your product." Mr. Charron says, "We're putting out
there what America is telling us."
Not So Sharp
Watch the ad Gillette used to introduce its Fusion razor during the Super Bowl.
CLIENT: Procter & Gamble Co.'s Gillette
AGENCY: Omnicom Group's BBDO
CONTENT: In a Super Bowl ad meant to herald the launch of its five-blade (plus one for
targeted trimming) Fusion razor, Gillette let loose with an anticlimactic ad that shows two
scientists flying in a helicopter to a top-security secret desert base. Inside, they open the
contents of two metal briefcases -- a canister of blue light that an announcer says is "a
revolutionary technology" and a canister of yellow light that is meant to represent "a
unique idea." The two colored lights combine to form the Fusion razor.
FEEDBACK: Super Bowl ads, so the experts tell us, are meant to play to big crowds of
people who are drinking and looking for a good time. The Gillette ad, however, is too
abstract. The razor being advertised doesn't make its first appearance until more than 30
seconds into the commercial, and by that time, buffalo-wing eaters would likely have lost
their taste for this difficult-to-comprehend effort. "As North America's #1 new consumer
product this year, Fusion is successfully reaching guys, which was our goal with the
Super Bowl ad," said a statement from a Gillette spokeswoman.
Steak Out
Watch the Outback Steakhouse "Good night, sir!" ad.
CLIENT: OSI Restaurant Partners Inc.'s Outback Steakhouse
AGENCY: Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group
CONTENT: An offbeat Australian-sounding man waxes poetic about Outback
Steakhouse and some of its dishes. In various ads, he compares himself to a boomerang,
which he tries to remove from a restaurant wall, and bites the head off a shrimp after
telling it "Good night, sir!"
FEEDBACK: Huh? Funny characters promoting products are common techniques on
Madison Avenue, but when the figure is too offbeat, the advertiser has got a challenge:
Will this person's antics distract consumers from the real message? At present, Outback is
running ads featuring shots of food and peppy music -- a typical maneuver for a
restaurant chain in the midst of an advertising holding pattern.
Dr. Zero
Watch two ads from DaimlerChrysler's "Dr. Z." campaign, one for a minivan and
one about the company's environmental awareness.
CLIENT: DaimlerChrysler AG
AGENCY: Omnicom Group's BBDO
CONTENT: A series of off-beat ads starring DaimlerChrysler AG Chairman and Chief
Executive Dieter Zetsche show the executive blathering about how Chrysler cars share
engineering and design features with higher-priced Mercedes sedans.
FEEDBACK: While CEO as pitchman is a widely used ad approach, it's a tricky ad
technique to pull off. The Dr. Z. ads fall short and left consumers scratching their heads -some weren't even sure Dr. Z was a real person (he is). The spots failed to jumpstart
sales. The ads paled in comparison to the popular 1980s' ad effort starring the blunttalking former Chrysler chief executive, Lee Iacocca. DaimlerChrysler defended the Dr.
Z ad effort saying it did its job of informing consumers about what Chrysler stands for.
The campaign also increased traffic to the Web site and "we had great consumer reaction
to it," says a Chrysler spokeswoman.
Write to Suzanne Vranica at [email protected] and Brian Steinberg at
[email protected]
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