Should marketers bother with category-defying advertising?

LONDON - Marketers aiming for attention-grabbing ads need a clear sense of reason, too

It used to be so simple. Advertisers commissioned an ad agency to create an ad, and popped a substantial TV spend behind it; consumers saw it and many were tempted to buy the advertiser's goods.

But times have changed. The fragmented modern media landscape and technological innovations such as Sky+ have made achieving cut-through with TV advertising more difficult than ever for brands in low-interest categories.

Some marketers have risen to the challenge by commissioning mould-breaking advertising in categories that are perceived as so low interest they are better known for playing to generic themes than creativity.

This approach is evident in the latest ad for Nestle Purina's Go-Cat petfood brand, which broke last week. The TV, cinema and online campaign eschews typical category cues in favour of a documentary-style ad featuring a 'free-running' cat called Bobo.

Briony Small, the European account director for Go-Cat at ad agency DDB London, says: 'Petfood might not be interesting, but pets are. The aim was to break away from cliched ads featuring owners and their pets having cuddles.'

Small says the Go-Cat ad has already run in several European markets where the local marketers have brought the proposition to life. In Italy, for example, the brand has run an experiential event using breakdancers.

Attention vs effectiveness

While category-defying ads may earn industry plaudits, however, it is not always clear whether they achieve much more than their staid counterparts.

In recent years, notable mould-breakers have included The Number's 118 118 runners, Cadbury's 'Gorilla' campaign, Honda Accord's 'Cog' and Unilever's 'Dirt is good' positioning for its Persil and Omo brands.

Intense debate arose as to whether 'Gorilla', for all its hype, was actually a success. Conversely, 'Dirt is good' has increased visibility and brand aware-ness in every market in which it has been launched. The latest phase in the strategy, 'Every child has the right', increased Omo's market share in Latin America, from 42.4% in Sept 2007 to 48.3% in February 2008.

In the case of 118 118, the runners defined the category, but a campaign such as this poses a challenge for marketers: how to reinvent a popular ad and prevent consumers from becoming tired with the creative theme.

Most sectors have a brand that has broken the norms, although a few tend to stick to tried-and-tested messages. Supermarkets, for example, are generally conservative, as demonstrated by the largely uninspiring Christmas offerings this year from the 'big four'. This has not impeded their prosperity, however, even through the recession.

One of the year's most celebrated campaigns has been's 'Meerkat' activity. Launched in January, the campaign, created by VCCP, has already entered advertising folklore, such is the popularity of its central character, Aleksandr Orlov. Rival price-comparison sites have watched with envy and even reportedly called reviews with the aim of getting a 'meerkat' of their own.

Mark Vile, marketing director at, says: 'We knew that Aleksandr would help us address the issue of being remembered in a market that has never been considered high-interest by consumers.'

Leaving aside the peripheral impact of the meerkat toys and thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers, since the campaign's launch the brand's site has experienced a 100% uplift in visits and Comparethemarket is now the most recognised brand in its category.

DSGi UK marketing director Niall O'Keeffe raised eyebrows this year with a very different campaign for PC World. This shifted away from product-led ads to executions intended to show how the technology it sells helps consumers indulge their passions.

The multimillion-pound drive is the chain's biggest single marketing invest-ment. It has introduced the strapline 'Whatever your world, PC World', is creatively driven and even features Hollywood actor Christian Slater.

O'Keeffe says the adoption of this strategy was part of a large-scale overhaul, which included refitting more than 70 of PC World's stores and retraining staff to enhance the customer experience. 'It's all very well to bring out mould-breaking ads, but if you don't break the mould with your customer proposition it can all be a bit hollow,' he says.

While breaking brand norms can grab attention and generate short-term fame, marketers should have a clear idea of where the brand is going next, or the work may become a millstone around their necks.



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