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2009: The Year in Badvertising

Posted on: December 30th, 2009 by: Tom Groff

Compulsory year-in-review content is reaching a climax on the web right now, but at least there are plenty of entertaining reads, including our favorite genre: “worst ads of the year” articles.

Wired takes a look at “Outrageously Annoying” tech-centered ads, with embedded videos for each. Certainly, the Microsoft spots are an easy target of scorn. The success of Windows has never been driven by compelling TV ads (some of the Windows 7 launch notwithstanding).

However, as for the rest of the Wired list, we’d classify about half of it as closer to amusing—and actually pretty effective. For example, the Wired crew kind of missed the point of the GE locomotive piece, a lighthearted complement to GE’s strong imagination at work brand.

Meanwhile, Slate.com has its own rundown of 2009 “badvertising” encompassing a broader array of consumer products. This one has more thumbs-down that we agree with, especially complaints about the Audi Q5 “Identity Theft at School” spot. There, the supposedly “unmistakable” Audi actually looks just like all the other crossover SUVs, but with black paint and some chrome trim. Come on, Audi, if you’re going to claim a real product differentiation, it’s got to be more than a paint job.

Bonus points go to this current, creepy Palm Pre campaign for making both the Wired and Slate lists:

Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, we haven’t seen any “worst of 2009 web advertising” pieces. It could be because so many of them are so irritating and invasive that critics don’t know where to start.

This is a key challenge to keep in mind, as online advertising continues to grab a bigger share of marketing budgets. Web ads may be a cheaper and more targeted way of getting in front of more people, but it isn’t easy to find a balance between producing an effective ad and driving people away.

If all you’re doing is aggravating Internet surfers, then you may be better off making a mildly annoying TV spot—even one that makes one of these lists.

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