I love false advertising


Did you know that Bruce Lee was such a bad-ass that he could play ping-pong using nunchuks! Oh yeah! OK, fine, no he didn’t actually ever do this, and the ad is for the Nokia N96 phone launch, created by JWT using visual effects and a lookalike.


So, sorry… I should say I love ‘False’ advertising, and by that I mean these purposely fake ads that smart companies and brands (often via their agencies) create.


Of course the point is not to create a campaign that will one day be shown via mainstream media, but to create something that people are going find virally, that is going to be forwarded on to friends and spread around by that greatest of all mediums – word-of-mouth.


Of course these things can backfire and being controversial can cause all kinds of problems, take for example the infamous “VW Polo suicide bomber” ad. They took a great deal of negative coverage over this, BUT created a lot of noise with plenty of people talking about it. Even if they took this example too far I’m sure the VW marketing team had in the back of their minds one of my favourite quotes from P.T. Barnum “I don’t care what people are saying about me, as long as they spell my name right”. Another of his quotes ties in nicely here with that kind of business strategy “Every crowd has a silver lining”.


You are always going to upset somebody with any risqué campaign, that’s the nature of marketing, especially when going for viral growth. There will always be somebody taking offence, it just depends on the size of that group and the nature of the complaint as to what happens next (apologise or double-down?). The mere act of being risqué doesn’t justify some of the things that these companies are doing and sometimes campaigns are done as offensive on purpose; there is a fine difference between risqué and offensive.


When you can hear that it was all a mistake, the brand had no intention of releasing their ad, that it was simply a proof-of-concept (the marketing equivalent of a scandalised politician resigning to “Spend more time with his family”) don’t be fooled. They know exactly what they’re doing it and it was the intention all along. And I am not talking about ads that unfortunately do get banned, despite the expectation that they are OK for broadcast, i.e. fall foul of the censors.


There are hundreds and thousands of ads out there within marketing agencies that sit in a vault somewhere, the real proof-of-concepts that a Creative Director came up with, never to see the light of day, let alone be detailed out and polished with post-production work.


I’m also not really talking about advertising campaigns that sit outside planned April Fool’s-style jokes (BMW deserve special credit for theirs)


or Real-Time Marketing done off the back of a specific event; these are also often brilliant, yet have a different planning process and expectations, yet serve to highlight my final thought…


Sometimes the most valuable element of a marketing campaign is not the deep CRM analytics, the user experience flowchart or the multivariate testing schedule to ensure we create something memorable, it is a secret ingredient often found lacking nowadays.


Sometimes you just need to have fun.


Here is a list of examples from Snopes of ‘False’ ads




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