AdMan: The worst of the worst adverts in 2012

Steve Henry, the advertising legend behind “You’ve been Tango’d” and other iconic ads, weighs in on last year’s shockers

You’ve probably just spent the Xmas break watching more TV than you usually do.

So, how did the ads look?

Like the small grizzled penis on the last turkey in the shop? Like a clockwork monkey on cocaine banging his plastic drum to pieces?

Yeah, that’s the problem with ads - 95% of the time, they’re crap.

Looking for the worst ads in a particular year is like looking for a Premiership footballer with a low IQ. Where do you start?

Yet every year Campaign magazine lists its “Worst 10” in an end-of-year special, designed to send at least 20 creatives home for Xmas worrying about their job prospects in the New Year.

This list is called the top 10 Turkeys, so if the poor creatives have managed to forget their humiliation for a few minutes, it won’t be long before they’re reminded of it once again over the Xmas break. Probably by their mothers offering them a sandwich.

They’re probably hoping it will all be forgotten in the January return - but I need to write a column so I thought I’d tell you what those 10 stinkers were.

Sorry, guys.

And all I can say in mitigation is that I know the feeling. I’ve done a couple of turkeys in my time, and I know the horror of picking up Campaign from WH Smith with my collar turned up, a fake beard and nose on my face, and a patch of drying sweat on my spine.

Straight to the dismiss pile

Three of the 10 Turkeys, we can immediately dismiss as being the usual bland tosh - as will 99% of the people watching them. (The 1% exception being the marketing team involved and anyone desperate enough to need to enumerate a list of terrible ads for a turn-of-year feature.)

Gala bingo is, like all bingo ads, an insult to everyone’s intelligence. But the ad chosen actually includes a fairly extraordinary claim - apparently you can get your money back if you lose, something that would doubtless be of massive interest to the blokes with the rollups and frayed jackets outside my local William Hill. But this fact is overshadowed by the fact that Peter Andre is in the ad, so no straight bloke would ever watch it.

Colgate is awful - as are all toothpaste and oral hygiene ads. But this one sets out to convince a series of doubters that they do actually have gum disease – it’s like those relatives of yours who are both boring AND depressing. You’ve probably seen them in the last few weeks.

It’s bad enough the ad being one of those things, but being both together is unforgiveable.

I can’t find this on YouTube but it is not worth bothering.

Nivea for Men - like most of the ads in the beauty sector - makes people feel inadequate and vaguely appalled. However, this feels like a b**tard version of a normal beauty ad breeding with one for online gambling, because this is the b**tard ad with Terry Venables in it.

Good idea but poor production

Then there’s a Turkey ad with a half-way decent idea, let down by poor production values - the goalkeeper ad for Mars.

Why did they spend so little on it? Given that Mars have been running the same ad with the hyper-sugared-up bell-ringers for about six years now, it may be that the client is quite tight with their money.


Sex doesn’t always sell

There’s always one ad on the list because of its sexism - and this is a Canadian one for Captain Morgan rum. It shows four blokes trying to get away from their womenfolk, and it is pretty lame.

Mind you, while men’s need to get away from women may be an unpalatable topic for women journalists, it has been a fact of life in alcohol ads aimed at men for the last 50 years. (It’s my view that men and women both originally came from Venus, but men moved to Mars to get a bit of peace and quiet.)

My agency once ran a very striking example of it for Molson Ex lager, claiming that the beer was perfect for men who’d “had too much sex”. Misogyny was rarely more elegantly disguised.

Another ad on the list that reminded me of an ad I’d done myself was this year’s number one - an ad featuring a bunch of nudists for Richmond Ham. I once had the same idea for low-fat Danish bacon, and won a gold award at Cannes with the ad. But this version doesn’t have quite enough visual wit for me.

Despite this, and despite the fact that Campaign considered it an example of inappropriate sexiness (is there such a thing in advertising?) – the new Richmond Ham ad has so far garnered nearly 100k YouTube hits - so, there.


Just plain weird, and not in a good way

Then there’s a bunch of weirdies this year - for Mullerlight, Facebook, Bahlsen, and Chanel No. 5.

Now, I like weird ads, and I think we need more of them, not less. The big crime in advertising is to be invisible, and if you can convince me that a meerkat advertising car insurance ISN’T weird, I’ll knock £100 off your quote. 

But, Chanel’s use of Brad Pitt to advertise a female fragrance is weird even by the standards of perfume ads - although I must say that I often enjoy the surreal nonsense of this sector. This may be due to the fact that I’ve found a bookshop in Notting Hill which sells dope over the counter - the revolution is finally coming, guys. Mind you, the dope plays hell with your critical faculties. It makes the Brad Pitt ad seem profound, but it does the same thing for some of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance - so it’s clearly quite dangerous stuff.

The ad for German food brand Bahlsen also sounds weird (“a bunch of middle-aged women dancing around a supermarket singing a version of Britney Spears …”) but I can’t find it on YouTube, or on the agency’s web-site. Failure, as has been said, is an orphan.

Mullerlight, on the other hand, has very wooden acting, but the idea is pleasantly barking mad. However, I can’t find this on YouTube either.

And the Facebook ad - though far too earnest for an English cold fish like me - stands out like the proverbial bulldog’s bollocks , as well as getting you to think about Facebook, in the right way.

Can’t say much better than that for a TV ad, although Facebook’s contribution to advertising has much more to do with Facebook itself than with any TV advertising it might indulge in.

Ah well. Let’s have another look at the nudists working for Richmond Ham.

Yes, the sexiness is completely inappropriate.

Quite right, too. Using appropriate sexiness for boiled ham would have been unthinkable.

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