A Memorable Ad Can Do More Harm Than Good

Be Wary Of Creating Ads So Annoyingly Memorable That They Create Animosity

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Stop talking!. Getty Images

When an ad grinds its way into your brain through repetition, it’s annoying.

When an ad for a charity does it, it’s even worse.

Listening to the Kars For Kids ad on the radio recently bugged me a lot. This is a charity worthy of our attention (although there is also a Cars For Kids brand, too, so that’s really confusing.)

The song is mind-numbingly mundane and repetitive. And in a monotone voice, a child sings the following lines:

1-8-7-7 Kars For Kids

K A R S Kars For Kids

1-8-7-7 Kars For Kids

Donate your car today

1-8-7-7 Kars For Kids

K A R S Kars For Kids

1-8-7-7 Kars For Kids

Donate your car today

When it comes on the radio, I want to change the channel. And, I do. This is not the outcome any advertiser or client wants.

Should I ever want to donate my car, will I donate it to this charity? No. And the reason is simple: I already have a negative association with the brand. I’d much rather donate to Goodwill or another charity that hasn’t rammed a horrendous jingle down my throat, every single day.

Some may say that this feedback is a little harsh. After all, as Dave Trott has espoused often (and I have agreed with many times), the first job of an advertisement is to get noticed. This ad did not fail in that regard, but sadly, it got noticed for the wrong reasons.

There are other examples of these repetitious and memorable ads.

You no doubt remember “Head On,” the skin treatment that went with this script:

Head On: Apply Directly To The Forehead.

Head On: Apply Directly To The Forehead.

Head On: Apply Directly To The Forehead.

And so on. The YouTube video has had over a million views, so in some ways it was successful. However, it is way too irritating, and turns off most people.

A lot of people will stop and look at a car wreck, but that doesn’t mean they want to be in one.

However, sometimes you can make memorable, repetitive ads that actually have some fun with the ideas, and thus, make the whole experience more enjoyable.

Take this classic from Planter's Pretzels, and the always-reliable John Cleese. Remember, this was done way back in the 80s, before this kind of meta-advertising was popular. It’s beautifully written, and pitch perfect. And the best part – John Cleese saying:

Planter’s Pretzels, Planter’s Pretzels, Planter’s Pretzels, Planter’s Pretzels, Planter’s Pretzels, Planter’s Pretzels, Planter’s Pretzels, Planter’s Pretzels.

This is an ad I have had stuck in my had for the best part of 30 years, and it has in no way put me off buying the product. The positive associations far outweigh any that may come from the repetition.

First, John Cleese is a highly respected comedian and movie star, and that attaches to anything he lends his name to. You also have the self-deprecating aspect of the ads, and the fact that Planter’s themselves have threatened to disassociate from the commercial. This puts all the blame for the ad at the feet of Mr. Cleese, despite the fact that everyone knows Planter’s would never have put an ad on air that they don’t agree with.

And then, of course, you have the ridiculous presentation of the repetitive and memorable phrase, complete with showgirls.

So, what can any business or advertising agency take from this? Quite simply, that a memorable, repetitious ad can work, but it’s got to be done well. By simply chanting something over and over to get it stuck in the consumer’s head, you will alienate the vast majority of your potential customer base. Do it right, or not at all.