Taking apart taking part

Over at AdLiterate, Richard Huntingdon has been doing an infinitely better job, it seems, of my favorite hobby – disecting pointless brand ‘immersion campaigns’.

We now have a very wide selection of examples  of supremely stupid advertising-agency-created ideas encouraging the clearly disinterested reader to put down what they were doing and  get involved in a supreme act of pointlessness instead.

Perhaps there are now enough examples of this sort of nonsense that a rudementary classification system can emerge.

a. Make our advert for us

This is probably the laziest thinking and delivers the most cringeworthy outcomes. Of course, it’s not really brand engagement at all, since no-one in their right mind could possibly put in this much effort just to celebrate the brand. Instead ad agencies offer actual money to anyone who can make a better advert than they can. But the result is almost always horrendous, like a desperately patronizing school project gone wrong, which the brand in question quietly has to run once on TV and then sweep into the shit-heap of YouTube. Since the reward is not guaranteed, such misadventures often go through a particularly embarrassing stage with the brand in question asking friendly production companies to get involved. So really this is just hit-and-miss outsourcing done in a very public and embarassing way.

b. Please be my friend

The desperate brand begs and bribes customers into playing along in even the most minor of ways. One of the most embarassing efforts recently was the huge (media wise) McCain chips campaign which required users to become the  brand’s friend on Facebook to stand a chance of winning a trip to New York. Now, I don’t have 11,000 friends but then I suspect that if I did have that many friends as a result of offering them a holiday-based reward, they probably wouldn’t be very good friends.

c. Answers on a postcard

Before we had the internet, magazines used to run competitions to win things. Typically, you had to complete some kind of tie-breaker, normally where you would complete a sentence like ‘I really love Walkers Crisps because….’. Customers would then have to try and come up with something really corny to make their entry stand out and – in theory at least – the best would win. Now, of course, you don’t need a postcard. And the sales promotion johnnies have elevated this idea of a special answer to front and centre. In order to try and get the ‘real human voice’, customers are ironically asked to engage in the most bizarre and tripy sort of  fabrication like these bread-related confessions. I can’t look at a site like this without wanting to post up ‘I have the Lindbergh baby in my airing cupboard’, although unfortunately I can’t because the answers they display are, in fact, all made up.

d. Act like a twat and we’ll put you on the (small) telly

Shows like Big Brother demonstrate that a small number of  people don’t mind public humiliation as long as it’s extremely public. The advertising johnnies have translated this into ‘upload a picture of yourself looking like a twat, and then you can download the picture of yourself looking like twat, and there’s a small chance it’ll be seen by one of the other miniscule number of twats who’s willing to do this’. Unfortunately, this formulation loses even the minimal charm of reality TV and all of its appeal for the aforementioned twats, leaving the poor advertiser with their product being modelled by a bunch of losers. Now, even those worst advertising agency in the world knows that you want to show attractive people consuming your products. Not these people: http://www.milkybar.co.uk/PhotoAlbum.aspx. Incidentally, if ever see a non-loser on one of these boards, they work for the PR company.

Of course, most of this is just harmless. Wasting FMCG budgets is hardly a humanitarian disaster. I think the reason it feels so unpleasant and tasteless, rather than just irrelevant and silly, is that it seems obvious that the people that think up these horrible campaigns would never, themselves, contemplate taking part. The repulsion comes from the inherent (if shit) attempt to exploit an audience who we can only conclude the agency staff hold in very low regard. Customers may not always be right, but if we’re working in the name of participation, can we not try at least to show a little respect?