Grey Pringles Hamster

On The Agenda

Don't you know I'm loco? Why bonkers ads have bounced back onto our screens

Everything’s a bit crazy these days - understandably so - but why are so many ads becoming just as wacky?

By conor nichols

Imagine the pitch to Pringles that sold in the idea of a campaign that centred on a keyboard-playing hamster. And that was just the latest in a run of slightly bonkers ideas that Grey London created for the brand with its ‘Wonderfully Different’ ad.

If big brand advertising is to cut through and be memorable, then it must do something different from everything else to compete with the constant noise and distractions modern life throws at us all the time. Including an element of surprise and straying from ‘logic’ or ‘the norm’ is just part of that recipe for attention.

“Memories that stick with us for a lifetime are those that fit other things we remember—but have a slightly weird twist,” Per Sederberg, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University has stated.

A new report from VCCP called Cracking the Memory Code’ explores how brands are recalled at various consumer touchpoints, and it claims that there is a common misconception that the more people see something, the more they like it.

“Every piece of communication exists on a knife edge between being instantly forgotten and remembered forever. It throws down a gauntlet to everyone working in marketing communications: if we’re not interesting, they’re not listening, and our brands go missing,” explains Richard Harriford, global group planning director at VCCP and author of the report.

That would go some way towards explaining the years of meerkat ads produced by the agency for Compare the Market. They were something different at the time, and now they have become consistent assets for the brand to leverage. They’re now so well established that they are probably not even considered bonkers anymore. But once, 15 years or so ago, they certainly were.

That also explains the previously mentioned hamster, and various other seemingly mad ideas that have been produced in ads over recent months.

Let’s take a look through some of the industry’s favourite and most outlandish efforts.

A human-chicken apocalypse - KFC ‘Believe in Chicken’ by Mother.

A man being so overcome with emotion that he hums one of the most beautiful tunes a bike rider has ever heard - McDonald’s UK ‘A Little More Mmm’ by Leo Burnett.

A lizard coming back to life after being presumed brown bread - Apple ‘RIP Leon’ by TBWA \ Media Arts Lab.

A mother undergoing an ultrasound scan to see if her baby is a Marmite lover - Marmite ‘Baby Scan’ by adam&eveDDB.

A vlogging Father Christmas attacked by a swan - Taco Bell UK x An0nymooose Christmas campaign by The Or.

A bolo-tie-wearing man grooving to some Bill Withers - Uber Eats ‘Dance, Do Less’ by Mother.

Absurd plotlines, no real context and questionable soundtracks - but nevertheless enrapturing and unforgettable. All of these ads have these ingredients that make for a successful and popular tasting pie.

Weird works. And as David Wigglesworth, (the ECD at Grey London behind the Hamster Pringles ad), says, “our brains love things that are moderately incongruent - new news coupled with the comfort of familiarity”. He adds: “This is what this campaign brings to the table, something unusual and something we know and love.”

But why now? More and more of these nutty films have made their way into the advertising tree in recent times. Of course all of them seek to draw a smile from viewers and humour was a hotly contested category feature in Cannes Lions, but does this pattern extend beyond the attempting-to-make-people laugh trope that many brands are employing in their marketing strategies in 2024?

Maybe we need a little crazy in this time of (in my opinion) bland, samey and tick-box marketing. And maybe if times are perhaps crazy enough, with the general election looming - (and the inevitable littering of bullshit) - we should add some more crazy to the crazy pile. Because, once more, surely life’s more exciting that way? Isn’t it a brand's job to entertain and maybe even inspire? Out with the boring in with the insane.

Anyways, enough of my drivel - here’s the opinions of some actual experienced advertising creatives on the rise in bonkers ads.

Laurent Simon, chief creative officer at BMB

Kyle Harman-Turner, executive creative director/creative partner at FCB London

I came into this industry as a bit of an “anti-accountant”. (No offence to our CFO Rob)

I was totally inspired that it’s possible to make a living out of madness.

Spending hours looking over annuals, I admired the irreverence of the 1960’s ‘Pink Air’ campaign for Fina. Howard Gossage created an achingly cool differential between the sameness of all the US gas stations.

When I first started working in the industry I couldn’t really comprehend that people would pay you actual money to write scripts like Pot Noodle ‘The Slag of all Snacks’.

Fair to say I’ve made a career out of it ever since;

I’ve set up a ‘Kidnapping Service’ for Jaguar Land Rover, helping people to take themselves hostage from the monotony of their everyday lives.

I’ve created an Epic Strut character with the bottom half of Kim Kardashian and top half of Phil Mitchell, to convey the money saving feeling for MoneySuperMarket.

More recently, I’ve helped Britain to get comfortable with their poo taboos, breaking down the economic benefits of taking a dump at work for ten minutes at work each day. (A full week’s pay pooing on company time no less).

The Diesel campaign taught us that “Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls” - and I like to surround myself with some of that stupid as a daily reminder to punch out of the invisible.

I’ve always kept a scrapbook of my favourite work. Everything from Honda Banana to an IKEA ad you can take a piss on. (A pregnancy test is built in, giving a discount on a baby crib if it’s positive).

As I write this sat at my desk, on my pinboard in front of me is Jeremy Hutchison’s ‘Erratum Range’. He invited factory workers across China, India, Poland, Turkey and Pakistan to insert a deliberate error into one of the everyday items they typically produce in bulk and send him their results. He created a cheese grater without any holes, a watering can that pours back into itself and a tennis racket with two heads, to name a few.

Now more than ever, it feels like we need some of this light relief against the backdrop of a world that seems to be on fire everywhere we turn. Almost everyone I know has stopped watching the daily news. The grim reality is unbearable. It says a lot that Cannes featured humour category this year.

But what makes all of this work the most impressive to me is its “bonkers resilience”. Just imagine the sheer amount of naysayers who would have asked to write on the car, not the banana for Honda. The health and safety officer who advised the IKEA client against encouraging the public to pee on the advert. The research company who said a Drumming Gorilla would score badly on taste for Cadbury. I greatly admire the few creatives I’ve met who defend their work like their own children, driving their single minded madness out into the world.

David Wigglesworth, executive creative director at Grey London

Imagine you’re an advert. You are an uninvited party guest. Nobody wants you here, so what are you going to do mr advert? Sit quietly in the corner, guaranteeing nobody ever notices your arrival? Or are you going to earn your place? Storming in, stealing the party with a glorious, dazzling display of “I wish I had that dude's IDGAF energy”.

If I’m kicking down the doors of the party, I’d want to do it as Reebok, making everyone belly laugh as I put on a ‘Belly’s gonna get ya’ show.

Smashing my head through the party wall as Reese’s Pieces screaming ‘YESSSSS’.

Unsettling the neeks in the room as an MTV ‘Jukka Brother’.

Or bringing the party to a close as Pringles existential ‘hamster’.

Sure, it’s not for everyone. But I know I’d rather be noticed than ignored. Party hard friends.

Dan Watts, executive creative director at Pablo

The most important thing any piece of creative advertising needs to do, is to be remembered.  And to be remembered you need to surprise people.

You can surprise them with a fact, an emotional twist, a shock, or….you can make them laugh.

Surprising someone with funny is the best way for a brand to not just be remembered but be remembered fondly. It’s why the nation’s favourite ads are normally a bit bonkers, from laughing martians selling mash potato to a drumming gorilla plugging chocolate, to Meerkats flogging insurance.

Are they necessary to cut through the noise? No. A good idea is the key there. But they certainly help. And when you look at the best ones they have that insightful idea at the heart of them. Skittles Piñata Man is batshit bonkers, but it’s rooted in a smart strategy.

Berries and Cream is 30 seconds of insanity but it’s also a single minded product descriptor for Starburst.

Our recent Wilkinson Sword work at Pablo follows suit – bizarrely comedic executions, cemented in a serious strategic idea around putting great blades before everything else. You need a serious bedrock to rub the madness with.

My favourite bonkers ad? I’ll always go for firing gerbils out of a cannon into the ‘O’ of Outpost in a bid to remember their name. It was revolutionary when it came out 25 odd years ago and made me want to do advertising. Its endline “Send Your Complaints to OUTPOST.COM” is still one of the best ever TV endlines.


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