5 Worst Ads of 2008 (so far, give or take)

Ian Lurie

Many bloggers try to take the high road, avoiding mocking the work of others. I have no such reservations.
My creative lead pointed out that 2008 has, so far, been a truly great year for godawful advertising. So I’m stepping away from internet marketing for a moment to bring you the worst 5 ads of the year (and maybe of late 2007):

Number 5: WAMU Wahoo!

Anyone remember this one? Probably not, since it was immediately buried in a wave of layoffs and horrific financials. But it’s painful nonetheless.
I hope WAMU’s CMO, if they have one, is either hiding her head in shame or looking for a new job after this beaut.
The motto manages to be uninformative yet easy to mock while insulting the intended audience (generation Y) at the same time. Good job guys!

Number 4: McDonalds Iced Espresso: Cold, not Snobby

What? Huh?
Oooooh, I get it. You’re telling me that going into a filthy fast food restaurant to get my coffee means I’m not a snob. Got it! Hahahahahahah! You guys made a funny!
McDonalds invested who-knows-how-much to get this great motto: “Cold, not snobby”. Then they built a nice, slow-loading Flash site to remind you what going to McDonalds is really like.
I thought their early coffee ads were pretty clever. But “cold, not snobby” allows so many interpretations you have to wonder if their marketing team dropped acid before their brainstorming session.

Number 3: Enfatico’s Self-Promotional Ad

Enfatico, the ad agency created by WPP to serve Dell and only Dell, launched an ad promoting themselves before their first Dell pieces went public.
If you’re only working for Dell, why do you need to advertise?
And won’t your client be a teensy bit mad when they realize that, instead of working on their stuff, you were creating your own?
This one didn’t make my list for being lousy. It made my list for displaying bad judgment matched only by Donald Rummsfeld saying “stuff happens”.

Number 2: Tukwila Life!

If you don’t live in Seattle, you don’t get the joke, but trust me, it’s funny.
My company is actually located in Tukwila, and it’s not a bad place.
But in trying to promote its centennial, the city hired some unknown ad expert to come up with the brilliant motto “Tukwila Life!”
Tukwila is 90% shopping mall, 10% river and greenspace. It’s a great place to have an office.
But yelling “Tukwila Life” is like me yelling “Six pack abs!”. It’s so far from the truth that I’m just embarrassing myself.
Better luck next time, guys.

Number 1: Say WA

This is from last year, I’ll admit, but it will probably win for the next decade.
The state of Washington paid Foote Cone & Belding some ungodly amount of money to develop a new motto and campaign for the state.
The result? Say WA
Even worse, the state then used the tag line, realizing how utterly moronic it sounded only after the tourism board said “Hey, the emperor’s buck naked!”.
Now we have ‘Metronatural’, which while more obscure is still embarrassing. So this campaign is crap squared, and therefore wins.
Got any other horrible ad campaigns to add to the list?

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. First saw ‘Whoo Hoo’ on a billboard during a trip to LA. I assumed it made sense somehow to people living in LA, and that I was merely a stranger in a strange place.
    Then a saw it all around Seattle when I returned, and was mad that I’d closed all my Wamu accounts a few months earlier, because I wanted to march in and close them again.

  2. It isn’t just “Tukwila Life” it’s “That’s Tukwila Life” which seems like it should be said in the same way that one would say “well, that’s what happens when you give your child a bear as a pet.”

  3. These are great examples of how big advertising has been very bad for MANY years, not just this year.
    The best usage I saw for the “Whoo Hoo!” stickers was as a makeshift duct tape to cover obvious dents in the back of some guy’s hatchback.
    Will the agencies ever learn? Probably not. But that’s (Tukwila) life.

  4. “Cold, not Snobby” was also in response to Starbucks grandisimo latte soy mocha vanilla bla bla coffee. A way to say “hey, we’ve got coffee too and it’s very simple to order!” Still bad ad anyway.

  5. I would also venture to add Burger King’s “Burgers so special, they’ll make other people think YOU think you’re special.” Good roundup, though!

  6. I think the one for the pregnancy test strip is the most tasteless ad I’ve ever seen. A strip in the foreground with a yellow stream coming from above. Then the clincher: The most accurate strip you will ever pee on.

  7. Actually, the quote is along the lines of “the most advanced piece of technology you will ever pee on”. It’s the worst ad I’ve ever seen and it’s been running for months. It’s STILL running now.

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