The Rise of Anti-Advertising

We get it. It’s hard for ads to stand out from the crowd. There’s a lot of noise out there and it can feel like the big, expensive, TV campaign you’re funding is just going to sink into the void, making only a tiny splash for your efforts. Stuff like ad jingles don’t just cost money, nowadays they might not even be an appropriate use of your budget spend, given the number of options out there. TV viewership is dropping, especially in the younger demographic, who probably watch more Netflix and YouTube than TV, and likely have adblockers to skip past any prerolls on YouTube. To get wide viewership on your ads, chances are you’re going to have to get people to share it around and choose to watch it. How do you get someone to watch your ad when people are increasingly time-poor and there’s so much free content about cute animals out there?

Do you touch on an issue that you know is going to get traction by being “controversial”, like Gillette?

(We watched the ad and don’t understand why it’s considered controversial.) Spend big money on a star who’s highly popular on social media?

Or like Skittles, make an ad that isn’t an ad?

How about Ricky Gervais’ hilarious non-ads for Optus?

Or Geico’s unskippable and unusual pre-rolls?

That’s just the thing, isn’t it? Anti-ads are funny. They tend to get shared, because face it, if you ask any non-agency member of the general public out there whether they like being served ads, they’re likely to say that they don’t. But they’re likely also to have seen ads before that they liked, even if they don’t like ads in general. Chances are, that’s because the ad that they liked was not at all like ‘ads in general’. They were funnier, different, useful, or touching — in some way, the ad had risen above the usual crowd. They were, in some way, not a waste of time.

How To Make Ads That Aren’t a Waste of Time

The reason ads get such a bad rep is because a great deal of advertising is useless fluff created to get people to do something that they don’t want to. The harder the thing is to do (change their insurance provider, for example), the better the ad has to be. The ads have to be entertaining, one way or the other. Either by being educational, or touching, or funny, or something else. That’s one thing that some clients and agencies don’t quite get. An ad — whether offline or online — is at its most effective a piece of entertainment created with a message. Unbranded content is all well and good–the sponsored short film without direct product placement is popular nowadays, like this collaboration between Morton Salt and OKGo:

These films do go viral, but after watching that OKGo film, do you feel the intense need to buy that particular brand of salt? Or salt in general? Thought not. Maybe the stills can go into a tacked-on addon campaign or onto other touchpoints, and they definitely haven’t wasted the viewer’s time, but was it worth making? Maybe. Consumers might now be aware that this particular brand of salt exists. The next time they buy salt, they might — maybe — give it a go.

Good advertising, anti or not, is pretty about finding the sweet spot between creating a piece of entertainment that someone is going to like to engage with and a product that has a decent return on investment for a client. Think of it this way: there’s so much free unbranded content out there, like funny cat videos. If your ad is somehow even fractionally as worth watching as a cat trying and failing to make a jump, you’re nearly there.

The Elephant in the Room

The elephant in the room in advertising is cost. Anything in life that’s worth anything costs something. Same goes to a good ad — although nimble agencies like us can do a lot with less, we can’t do a lot with nothing. You do often get what you pay for, especially if your ad needs voice-overs, talent, CG, or styling. Advertising can feel like a risk, we understand that. And for certain organisations (NGOs, government etc), a splashy ad budget can look out of touch and lead to bad press. That’s where anti-advertising can come in. If you have a small buck and want to make a big bang for it, it might not be a bad thing to do something different. It’s best to talk to a few agencies to figure out what can or can not be done with the budget you have, if you aren’t sure. And you’d be able to get a decent feel for the industry. Want to have a chat about it, no strings attached? Get in touch.

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