Anti-Advertising: Do it right or not at all

Anti-advertising is a marketing strategy that deliberately parodies or subverts traditional advertising techniques to critique consumerism, corporate culture, or social issues. This approach offers both advantages and drawbacks for brands willing to take the risk, and has been utilised by numerous brands since the 1950s. When the Volkswagen Beetle ‘Think Small’ ad subverted the typical advertising structure of years prior in 1959, other brands followed suit. We’ve seen some great examples throughout the decades of brands utilising self-deprecation and the unexpected to shake things up, so in this article we’ll be sharing a few of our favourites, as well as the pros and cons of the anti-advertising approach.

The pros

  1. Attention-grabbing: Anti-ads often stand out in a cluttered media landscape, capturing audience attention through their unexpected nature.
  2. Memorability: The shock value and uniqueness of anti-advertising can make campaigns more memorable than conventional ads.
  3. Brand authenticity: When executed well, anti-ads can portray a brand as honest, self-aware, and aligned with consumer values.
  4. Viral potential: Controversial or thought-provoking anti-ads are more likely to be shared on social media, increasing organic reach.
  5. Social impact: Anti-advertising can raise awareness about important issues and stimulate public discourse.

The cons

  1. Misinterpretation risk: The irony or satire in anti-ads may be lost on some viewers, potentially damaging the brand’s image.
  2. Alienation of customers: Strong statements or critiques in anti-ads might alienate certain customer segments.
  3. Legal issues: Parodies or subversions of other brands’ ads can lead to copyright infringement claims or other legal challenges.
  4. Brand inconsistency: If not aligned with overall brand strategy, anti-advertising can create confusion about a company’s identity and values.
  5. Potential backlash: Poorly executed anti-ads can result in negative publicity and damage to brand reputation.

Our favourite recent anti-advertising campaigns:

Oslo’s ‘Is it even a city?’ (2024)

This campaign to promote tourism to Oslo actually gives tourists reasons not to visit, with the ad’s protagonist spending over a minute and a half complaining about various aspects of the city. Of course, these complaints are actually compliments in disguise, for example: “everything is just so…available, you know what I mean?” The ad, which underhandedly compliments various aspects of the city, from the easily-walkable size to the way there’s something or someone to see around every corner, is undoubtedly marketing brilliance.

Surreal cereal’s AI ads (2024)

Surreal, the brand who leverage true authenticity, bluntness, and dark humour to promote their cereals came out with a brilliant set of billboard ads tapping into the global conversation around AI-generated content. Their ‘written by AI’ campaign included a billboard with an AI prompt of “write a headline that tells people to buy our cereal”, with the AI-generated content underneath simply reading “Buy our cereal”. The true genius of these ads is that they are in fact, 100% written by humans. Surreal have accompanied these billboards with social posts explaining that the ads were written by humans who wanted to keep their jobs by presenting deliberately-bad ads to their bosses and telling them they’re AI. The brand itself taps perfectly into peoples’ suspicion of larger brands and corporations, presenting audiences with a refreshing, humorous, often expletive-laced radical candour that sets them apart from competitors.

Patagonia’s ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ (2011)

Subverting the typical buying pressure of the typical marketing campaign, Patagonia’s Black Friday ad in November of 2011 actually encouraged people not to purchase. These adverts were so successful because they clearly demonstrated Patagonia’s ethics and commitment to their sustainability principles while making the audiences think. Removing the pressure-to-buy element, Patagonia boosted audience trust by distancing themselves from corporate greed. The adverts read: “we ask you to buy less and reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else.”

RyanAir’s social media presence (ongoing)

Talk about knowing your customer! RyanAir’s social posts have generated huge conversation among marketeers and customers alike. By jokingly switching the narrative from ‘the customer is always right’ to ‘we are always right’, the airline has redefined what it means to be transparent. With their antagonistic, self-deprecating approach, they tap perfectly into the mentality and sense of humour of Gen Zs and younger Millennials, who constitute their key audiences (between the ages of 18-35). A great example is a Tiktok stitch of a woman showing how she avoids extra luggage charges by hiding personal items under her clothes. RyanAir’s stitched response video was of one of their jets with a superimposed mouth and eyes, smiling sarcastically with the caption “just buy a bag babe. Nothing is worth this much effort.” Simple, funny, effective.

Anti-advertising can be a powerful tool for brands seeking to differentiate themselves and make a statement. However, it requires careful execution and a deep understanding of the target audience to be effective. When successful, anti-advertising campaigns can generate significant buzz and foster strong connections with consumers. Yet, the risks involved mean that brands must weigh the potential benefits against possible negative outcomes before embarking on such strategies, especially in an age where consumers (rightfully) have little patience for corporate tone-deafness.

For more content like this, give us a follow on socials! Click the icons below.

Copyright ©2024 - TC Communications Ltd. All rights reserved