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Anti-Ads: Ever Heard of Them?

Rebecca Mahfood | May 11, 2022 at 8:30 AM
Rebecca Mahfood

How Are Anti-Ads Successful? 

Did you ever think that telling people not to buy your product or mocking your brand would actually entice them to purchase? Probably not, but we are going to share how this could be the future of successful advertising. So what is this phenomenon, you may ask? Just as the name suggests, anti-advertising is paradoxical or contradictory advertising that uses reverse psychology in order to get consumers to purchase what is being advertised. Anti-ads can be witty, sarcastic, repulsive, and downright distasteful. Yet somehow they can be more convincing than traditional ads using which use flattering wording and imagery. 

Though this style of advertising isn’t common or popular, it has been around since the 1950s. Since we all know that what’s old becomes new, it is not surprising that anti-ads may not only be becoming popular but also being an extremely efficient and successful marketing tool for Gen Z. In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares everything you need to know about anti-advertising and how this can be an important advertising tactic for your brand to consider. 


Anti-advertising blog (1)


Brief Overview of Anti-Advertising 

Have you ever been told not to do something, so you automatically feel incited to do it? Well, this innate huntsman characteristic of rebellion and lack of reasoning is exactly what the anti-advertising style banks on. To put it plainly, anti-advertising is the exploitation of irony, satire, self-deprecation, comedy, and distastefulness in order to defy conventional advertising tactics with the aim of gaining the affinity of consumers or increasing your conversion rates.

Anti-ads were first introduced in the 1950s by the German car manufacturer for VW Beetles. They made multiple ads featuring words such as ‘lemon’ and ‘think little,’ which were obviously making a mockery of themselves. It was a brave and bold decision to use this self-deprecating tactic but it paid off by being an iconic moment in advertising history that inspired brands in a variety of industries for years to come. 

Since the 1950s, anti-advertising has been used by numerous prominent brands such as Oatly, Patagonia, Burger King, Hinge, Ryan Air, and more. While some brands have been able to successfully leverage this advertising style, some have not. 

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Good Versus Bad Anti-Advertising

Ok, so I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t anti-ads supposed to be bad?” Here’s the thing, at the end of the day, the goal for ALL ads is to drive conversions. Whether that’s to increase sales, brand awareness, loyalty, or more, all brands want the same thing. While some brands are able to create effective anti-ads, such as Hinge, Patagonia, and Ryan Air, some were not as successful (I’m looking at you, Burger King and Protein world).

Hinge

Meeting a compatible partner was difficult, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, but this period of isolation and desolation only made matters worse. And while online dating has been around since the late 90s, these sites were mainly targeted toward Boomers and Gen X and didn't cater to younger Millennials and Gen Y. That is until the last decade when apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge were launched specifically targeted to these younger audiences. Because there are now a variety of dating apps to choose from, Hinge decided to do something different with their advertising to increase their user base. Their popular anti-ads feature the slogans “designed to be deleted” and “fall in love, delete Hinge”. While this concept does make sense, all app developers don’t design their apps to be deleted, yet Hinge is promoting this feature to emphasize that their main goal is not just for you to use the app, but for you to find the love of your life through them!

Hinge Ad

Photo credit: Hinge

Patagonia

Another brand skillfully using the art of anti-advertising is Patagonia with its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign. Patagonia is an American outdoor clothing retailer based in California but has stores and factories in over 10 countries across 5 continents. Their company focuses on making minimal and quality clothing for those that have an active lifestyle such as surfers and climbers. One aspect of their business they focus on is sustainability and being environmentally conscious, which is what gave birth to their “don’t buy this jacket” campaign. When you first look at the ad, you’d likely be a bit puzzled. “Why would this company not want me to purchase from them? Are they really using such blatant reverse psychology? Weird.” Funnily enough, though some anti ads do use reverse psychology, usually cleverly and not so outright, this ad is as literal as it gets. Upon further inspection of the ad you realize the message they are trying to send is that they don’t want you to continuously buy new clothing but rather to be more eco-conscious by repairing and reusing the clothing you already have. 

Patagonia 'don't buy this jacket' ad

 

Photo credit: Patagonia 

RyanAir

Another company, Ryan Air, is absolutely crushing the anti-advertising on Tiktok, which is where I first discovered this concept, myself. Ryan Air is an airline with operates in Europe and is known for having extremely low prices. Though they are not operating in North America, their social media presence has garnered an international fanbase. Their entire TikTok is actually a mastery of social media and anti-advertising, combined, and their social media manager definitely deserves a raise for all that clever content. Though there is no continuous slogan throughout their videos, they’re constantly making videos that comically highlight and mock the features they are commonly criticized for by customers such as charging for an extra suitcase, very little legroom, etc. Despite the brashness of highlighting the brand's worst features, it works for them and makes them even more loved by their audience. We can assume that this is due to millennials' inherent love for self-deprecation but also because it makes the brand more fallible and seems more trustworthy.

Ryan Air TikTok AdRyan Air Tiktok Ad

Photo credit: RyanAir


Bad Anti-Ads

Now, how helpful would this blog be if we didn’t highlight some failed attempts at anti ads? For numerous reasons, Americans are now more than ever extra conscious about what we eat.

Burger King

Burger King was on the right track by reformulating its ice cream to have no artificial preservatives, colors, or any other chemicals. But their attempt at anti-advertising through satire/humor may have just led to, quite literally, a shitshow (excuse our language).

If you weren’t aware, Burger King Brazil recently debuted an ad for their new "no-shit included" ice cream. While their concept was on par, let’s just say the ice cream is far from desirable. Rather than using humor to intrigue and entice consumers, it is almost repulsive. We hate to say it, because we love ice cream, but this ‘poop emoji ice cream’ goes down as not only a failed anti-ad but possibly one of the worst advertising tactics we’ve seen. 

Burger King Poop Emoji Ice cream Ad

Protein World

Next up on the epic fails list is Protein World which essentially launched an attack on female bodies with resulted in a mass uproar, investigations and even being banned from advertising. The ad in question features a woman in a bikini posed next to their weightless products and features the text “are you beach body ready?” Though the ad was probably ended to be humorous, it was anything but. It came across as insulting and rather than the brand mocking itself, it was mocking the consumers who don’t have that unrealistic body shape featured in the ad. Organizations came out with numerous renditions of this ad featuring women of all different shapes and sizes and the text “all bodies are beach ready” in order to promote body positivity and diversity. This ad became so controversial that the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) banned the ad for misleading health claims and launched an investigation into the social responsibility of the company. That being said, after the debut of this ad their sales increased dramatically, so maybe despite the horrible messaging maybe for Protein World, it wasn’t such a failure after all.

Protein World Ad

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The Future of Anti-Advertising

Similarly to all aspects of our lives, advertising is becoming centered around social media and especially becoming heavily influencer-based. So it is only natural that we see the trend of influencer advertising intertwine with anti-advertising. And who better to carry this trend into popularity than the most popular TikTok influencers followed by millions of impressionable teens and young adults. Dixie D'Amelio and Nessa Barrett both posted their own versions of anti ads for 2 different drinks but in the same style which is essentially mocking traditional advertising for being cheesy and fake.

Dixie D'amelio Ad   Nessa Barrett Ad

Another ad we thought was hilarious was Doja Cat’s ad for JBL which was just so off base and ridiculous that it worked and was even highlighted by other Tiktokers for being a successful anti-ad. 

Girl Boss Town Commentary on Doja Cat Ad


Eager To Learn More?

Check out our other blogs which offer insight into advertising and influencer marketing. 

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Topics: Anime, Sports

Rebecca Mahfood

Written by Rebecca Mahfood