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What are Anti-Ads?

Interesting phrase right? It seems like two words that should never go together, but they do. Like getting a dish that’s the perfect combination of sweet and sour. What brought the idea to mind and made me want to write about it was the latest burger king ad, which really made me think. I love the ad but I wonder how many Whoppers it’s going to sell? I’m personally not a fan of their burgers but I want to buy one now just to say well done on the campaign! It’s creative, honest and brave, but we’ll have to see how the results turn out.

So what’s the idea behind ‘anti-advertising’? Well, it’s essentially reverse psychology and honesty weaved into an ad. If someone says “Don’t buy this product, this product isn’t for you” it’s human to want to buy the product. Or if a brand is honest with you in a comedic way you’re more inclined to trust and buy from them. Sometimes this is done very well, and sometimes not so much. There has to be a reason behind its use, otherwise, an ad could come across as just sounding arrogant. So without any further introduction let’s look at some examples of ‘Anti-ads’ that got it right and some that got it wrong.

The original ‘Anti-ad’ was the series of VW Beetle ads that came out in the late 1950’s. “Think small”, “Lemon” and several more, they’re iconic and have stood the test of time, being spoken about 60 years later. Why were they so good? Because they were innovative, witty and most of all brave. Just imagine getting the brief of selling an ugly German car to the American population in the 50’s and 60’s, that’s no easy task. So they decided to go with what the audience was already thinking and addressed it with self-deprecating humor. This had the effect of showing benefits like “Small insurance” “Small repair bills”. Showing how the car hadn’t changed in years showed you wouldn’t be afraid about having the latest model. The ads were genius and paved the road for more to come.

Next is a trend that’s become popular not only in advertising but media in general, breaking the fourth wall and being self-referential. This ad for BrewDog literally says it’s an ad and shows their product, nothing else. I know that for me this was a breath of fresh air, an ad that wasn’t trying to sell any lifestyle, health benefits, or social message but just wanted me to know this was an ad and it was for them. I loved it, it reminded me of an Oasis ad I saw when I was younger which just said “Your favourite celebrity would drink Oasis if we paid them” I literally bought an Oasis because of that ad, I thought it was funny. The honesty of some ‘Anti-ads’ is just funny and refreshing to see, and it makes people more inclined to buy your product.

Another ‘Anti-ad’ which has a tagline which at first confuses you, then makes sense is the campaign for Hinge, “Designed to be deleted”. At first, this seems odd, what app is designed to be deleted? Then you realize, a dating app that wants you to find someone special. I’m no expert on relationships but what I do know is if you’re in one it’s best not to have a dating app on your phone. It’s a great riddle of a tagline and personifying the app in the video was a clever choice.

Now one that didn’t get it right. This was a famously poor received ad from Protein World asking the simple question, “Are you beach body ready?” with a stereotypically and unrealistic depiction of a beach body standing next to their weight loss collection. If this ad had been satirical it could have been great, but it feels like there’s no irony to this ad at all. The really sad thing, along with the misogyny, is the fact this ad actually increased their sales dramatically. Whether that makes it a good ad or a bad ad is up for you to decide.

Another that didn’t hit the mark for me, but still came closer than protein world, was Patagonia’s “Don’t buy this jacket” print ad. The reason I’m not a fan of this ad was the fact that it uses reverse psychology so blatantly, and while I’m sure that it will hook the audience’s attention I think they could have been more creative in the way they did it. I’ll say however that this one is really just a matter of opinion, if someone else liked it I could understand why.

Now one last self-referential ad that I think worked well, Oatly milk’s recent OOH campaign. While some are a little condescending, I think they walk the line while keeping their humour. They definitely made me stop and read them, as well as remember them. I now associate the ad with the milk when I see it in the shops and think 'that’s the Milk from those ads'.

All of this is just my opinion, let me know what you think of these ads, some people love them, others hate them. I think the point of a lot of these ‘Anti-ads’ is they create a sense of brand identity and they’re memorable. Just look at the Beetle campaign that came out over 60 years ago, people are still talking about it. I still remember that Oasis ad from years ago, because I thought it was witty and true. A brand poking fun at themselves is one of the strongest things it can do, it humanizes them in the eyes of the consumer.