The most irritating ads of 2009

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LONDON – They may grab our attention and then worm their way into our subconscious, but some commercials are memorable for all the wrong reasons. was voted the most irritating ad of 2009 was voted the most irritating ad of 2009

While 2009 may have been a tough 12 months for the industry, it was a vintage year for irritating ads.

The end of Kerry Katona’s contract with Iceland did remove one regular fixture from the annual list, but a host of other brands has joined the fray. The morbidly obese opera singer of the Gocompare ad propelled the brand into
the top spot of this year’s howlers.

It was closely followed by Cash4Gold – a company that has become one of the beneficiaries of the recession by encourag­ing impecunious consumers to trade in their trinkets for hard cash.

Which commercials irritated you most in the past year?
Rank Brand Agency %
1 In-house 56
2= Cash4Gold Brian Buckley, Hungry Man Productions 46
2= Glade Touch ‘n’ Fresh Draftfcb Argentina 46
4 Swiftcover MWO 40
5 In-house 38
6 118 247 Rapier 34
7= Churchill WCRS 32
7= In-house 32
9= Nintendo Karmarama 25
9= Country Life Grey London 25
11 McDonald’s Leo Burnett 24
12 Kingsmill M&C Saatchi 22
13 BT Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO 21
14 Gillette BBDO New York 20
15= T-Mobile Saatchi & Saatchi 18
15= Peugeot Euro RSCG London 18
15= Dolmio Proximity London 18
18 Orange (Monkey) Fallon London 15
19= Greggs Propaganda 14
19= Tesco The Red Brick Road 14
21 Holland & Barrett WCRS 13
22 Pampers Saatchi & Saatchi 11

Adwatch research was conducted from 24-26 November 2009 by TNS. Prompted interviews took place via the internet. Sample of 1011 British adults aged 16-64 were interviewed.

As ever, many of the brands that top the list relish their most-irritating status. Nicholas Hall, head of marketing at, says that, because the campaign is ‘not vanilla’ it has significantly boosted the price-comparison site’s profile. According to Go­com­pare’s own consumer research, there has been a 200% increase in awareness of the brand since the activ­ity started in August.

One of the oldest truisms about market­ing posits that the bigger the brand, the harder the fall. Those that have the biggest budgets and shout the loudest also run the greatest risk of offending consum­ers. However, while McDonald’s, Gillette and T-Mobile all make an appearance on this year’s list, smaller brands are punch­ing above their weight when it comes to annoying consumers. Of particular note is the fact that three of the top 10 most-irritating ads were produced in-house by relatively new brands – and as well as

The question remains whether being irritating is a successful marketing strat­egy in itself. Proponents of this approach suggest that, like any strong response, irrit­ation equates to aware­ness – the ultimate aim of all ad campaigns. However, Simon White, joint man­aging director of ad agency Grey London, points out that brands that have been accused of irritating consumers in the past – such as Cillit Bang and Radion – achieved a short-term spike in sales, but struggled to maintain this performance in the long term.

This view is echoed by Richard Hunt­ington, director of strategy at Saatchi & Saatchi. He says that while these irritating ads are clearly memorable, whether they can form part of a sustainable commun­ication strategy remains to be seen. Put simply, once a brand has done its best to irritate consumers it is difficult to see where the creative approach goes next.

Given the sharp rise in complaints to the Advertising Stan­dards Authority, it could be argued that consumers are less tolerant of brands on the whole. Not so, according to Huntington. ‘People have become less tolerant of interruption but this is more to do with the entertainment on-demand culture,’ he says.

Yet, there has been a shift in advertising strategies during the down­turn and many brands top­ping the list appear to have attended the Alan Sugar school of marketing; by asking their agen­cies to ‘work harder’ to help them stand out from the crowd they are effect­ively causing brand­ing overkill, often through the medium of the jingle.

Andy Nairn, executive planning direct­or of ad agency MCBD, believes that it is not enough for
ads simply to raise aware­ness if they are not well-liked. ‘Most peop­le have an awareness of Josef Fritzl, but it doesn’t mean they want to spend time with him,’ he says.

Nairn points to the success of brands such as Hovis that have fostered a genuin­ely emotional connection to consumers rather than focusing on direct response. ‘The standard of advert­ising has dropped as marketers increasingly believe they are working hard through excessive brand awareness,’ he adds.

The last word goes to’s Hall, who clearly believes it is better to be on the list than forgotten about. ‘I’d say that the campaign has performed exactly as we’d have hoped so far, and, I’m sure, better than many of those campaigns that weren’t memorable enough to make it into the list,’ he says. ‘However, as much as you’d like to, you can’t please all the people all of the time.’ Whether his brand’s activity pleases any of the people any of the time remains a moot point. thanks Marketing Magazine


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