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Defending the “Worst Ads of 2011″

This year, as they’ve done the past two years, the popular Consumerist blog asked its readers: “What are the worst American ads of 2011?” A few weeks ago, they released their results: ads from Luv’s, Summers Eve, AT&T, and Geico were ignominiously awarded spots in the list of finalists, while the Luv’s ad, a gleeful celebration of, well, poop, was named the “Worst of the Year”.

But we actually happen to think these ads aren’t too bad. I doubt any will ever win an award, but many get their point across – and shore up brand differentiators – extremely well, despite the little things that pushed the Consumerist‘s readerships’ buttons.

Read on for the “worst”, and our thoughts on each. And please check out our Marketing Communications and Creative and Content resources, to learn how the best brands generate messages and creative to reach their consumers better.

AT&T – Wife Berates Husband for Unlimited Plan


Consumerist readers and YouTube commenters alike (seriously, check out this video on its actual YouTube page) have panned this ad for a sort of male-directed sexism; the man in the ad is a little dweeby, and he’s quite forcefully and hurtfully berated by his wife simply for getting a good deal on the family’s phone plan. To the critics, this indicates that the American advertising industry is unfairly stereotyping and singling out white men for abuse at the hands of others.

I don’t know about all that. I think the ad captures (in an extreme way, of course) the quite justified frustration a lot of women feel when their partners make unilateral financial decisions. And, with women making more and more of those decisions at the household level, it’s never a bad demographic to flatter.

Geico – Smartphones for Dumb Things

This ad also came in for a lot of abuse, along the same lines as the ad above, for its depiction of the three men idiotically celebrating the weekend, and the exasperation of their female colleague at their behavior.

Again, I think the critics are a bit too sensitive here. I think there is such a thing as “bro culture” – broadly construed, the culture of young, post-college male professionals – and this sounds like exactly the kind of absurd thing my friends and I might have done a few years ago. I didn’t download the app – and I’d be shocked if it were particularly successful – but I certainly identified with the guys in the ad. I’m pretty happy on Fridays, too!

AT&T – Infuse 4G Spider

I think most of the hatred of this particular ad has to do with the extremely convincing, bloodcurdling screams emitted by the woman at the table, and the yelling and banging of the older man. I think we, as television-watchers (and increasingly, as couch multitaskers) hate to have the commercial-break trance broken by a harsh interruption like this ad. I think the typical consumer thinks commercial time is their time, to choose whether or not to focus on the ads, or the take-home work on the laptop, and they resent having the choice made for them by loud ads.

Obviously, the metaphor here is that the Infuse 4G’s screen is so photorealistic that a tarantula appears lifelike enough to inspire that reaction. I think there are probably other ways AT&T could have gone after that differentiator, but this is a particularly vivid (and attention-getting) one, and I think the levity of the situation (grown adults freaking out over the picture of a tarantula) cuts down on a lot of the causticity of the screaming itself.

Luvs – Poop There It Is

Defending this one is a tough task. Sorry. It’s just gross.

I will admit not having a lot of experience with diapers, but it appears as though this campaign introduced/popularized the term “blowout” in relation to diapers, which suggests a pretty disgusting reality that parents will surely pay to avoid.

The other open question for me – not being a parent – is, do parents just think their babies are so cute and perfect, that stylized bowel movements (like the ones presented in this ad) are, too? I mean, are people thinking “Aww, that’s so cute, that cartoon baby made a poopie!” If so, I could imagine this ad being successful among the demographic its targeting; if not, what were they thinking?

Summer’s Eve – Hail to the V

Judging from YouTube and Consumerist comments, this ad was picked as one of the worst for two reasons. First, I think people don’t like ads for feminine hygiene products in general. Second, a lot of women that have commented have pointed out that linking feminine empowerment with a strictly-cosmetic hygiene product is pretty hypocritical.

I don’t really know what to think about this ad. On one hand, I’m a sucker for epic visuals and elements of classical history making their way into commercials; on the other, I can see how the ad might be problematic from a feminist standpoint. As someone who studied the subject, I definitely don’t agree with this particular lens applied to the broad swoop of history (men aren’t the only ones who have done great things, and the men who did do great things did them for complicated reasons that can’t be boiled down to sex). But, at the end of the day, here we are talking about Summers’ Eve, so it’s a victory on that level, I suppose.

What do you think of this year’s crop of “worst” ads? Let us know in comments.

Comments from the Network (6)

  1. Joe
    on November 9, 2011

    I used to ask people, “what is the worst commercial you’ve ever seen?” Everyone remembered one or two. I proposed however, that in fact, the worst commercial is one that you CANNOT remember. And, that there isn’t just one, but thousands that are briefed, created, produced and run. They float into the ether without ever stopping in anyone’s brain.

  2. JK
    on November 9, 2011

    Number 1 is terrible. Nothing going for it.

  3. Karl
    on November 10, 2011

    I agree with your comments almost completely. The worst by far for me was the Summer’s Eve – Hail to the V. Not because of any history related feminist reasons.

    The history element of the ad wasn’t saying that men do great things, women don’t. It was pointing out where babies come from, the religious notations in historic culture and that men have fought for women. This last point is the most pathetic for me, I’m a romantic so I like to think that those men weren’t just fighting to get there end away.

    Hail to the V as a tag line just seems so far from credible is almost a joke.

  4. Suzanne
    on November 10, 2011

    Defintiely the Summer’s Eve.. wonderful build up with the images and mythological references but what a corny end back to feminine hygiene and I am a woman!!!! Yuck, yuck, yuck

  5. Alex
    on November 10, 2011

    Honestly. I totally agree with The Consumerist. Look at these crappy ads vs. some of the best this year (VW “Mini Darth Vader). These ads are just a waste of time and insulting to the viewer on top of it.

  6. Laura
    on November 10, 2011

    I sort of like the geico one, I can relate, becuase my husband has a beer app and lighter app and pulls these stunts all the time.

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