Results don't shield a stinker

For many of the 16 years that Marketing has been publishing its annual 'Irritating ads' survey it has been a thinly veiled excuse to have a pop at Ferrero Rocher's latest work.

And if the ambassador happened not to be in residence one year, there was always another hapless victim to pour scorn upon - if nothing else, the pan-European advertising contingent could be relied on to produce something that was gut-churningly, well, European.

Then, a decade ago, BT started to spoil all the fun. The company's 'It's good to talk' campaign, featuring Bob Hoskins, was voted by the public as one of the most irritating ads in the same year that it took the Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards - generating an estimated £297m in additional revenue for BT and unwittingly giving birth to the insidious phrase 'irritating ads can be effective'.

Since then, the idea that bad advertising is a good thing has been gaining credence, to the extent that senior industry sorts who should know better are quite prepared to say it is not the quality of the work that matters, but the sales chart. I would like to apologise unreservedly for this state of affairs. Marketing has charted the progress of irritating ads at the same time as championing the effectiveness cause, inadvertently giving rise to the idea that any half-baked, over-aired, telephone- or doormat-bothering pestiferousness is OK as long as it plagues the consumer's mind for long enough to get them to visit the relevant aisle at Tesco.

I'm sorry, also, to pick on Andy Cheetham, creative director at CheethamBell JWT, who, after all, obligingly provided us with this quote: 'Ultimately great work is work that sells. That has to be the ultimate measure of any advertising.' Quite right, absolutely. 'Gaviscon has sold shedloads,' he added. Shame on you, Andy. Just because you are able to float it on the pure waters of commercial logic doesn't mean that the ad itself is not excrement.

Irritating ads can be effective, but so too can radically different creative communications, or even quite ordinary but beautifully crafted ideas. Which would you rather produce or, for that matter, buy? After all, the agencies are not churning this stuff out without getting someone's say so.

This is my resolution for 2007: that Marketing ceases to be an apologist for pap. After all, haven't we got all of this the wrong way around? Surely we have reached a point of marketing maturity where we should stop gleefully applauding like simpletons every time what we do is actually shown to work? It's just my guess, but surely marketing's pleas to be taken seriously would go down better if we were less excitable about not having frittered away the budget, and more passionate about superior thinking, originality and quality.

Which brings me back to irritating ads and what's acceptable. Of our top 20 most irksome ads, just two, in my own opinion, are deliberately so: Cillit Bang and Sheila's Wheels. They deserve praise as they are consciously irritatingly effective. That leaves 18 other brands that did not seek to alienate big chunks of the public with their ads, but have done so. The client may have bought the work, as the public buys the product or service, but evidently they could do better - which I rather thought was the point.

- Annoying but engaging, page 14.


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