The most overrated ads of the decade
There's usually a consensus about bad ads, whether confusing, cringy, crude or just dull. But some ads seem to hit the mark at first, or are accompanied by such a powerful tidal wave of marketing hype, that viewers can't help but get swept up in the moment. In hindsight, though, their luster fades.
Sometimes these spots fail to deliver results. Other times their flaws only become apparent years later, after more data is available—or a scandal breaks. Still other fall apart under casual analysis. Here are the most overrated ads of the decade.
“Fearless Girl” for State Street Global Advisors by McCann
Initially heralded as a great leap forward for the portrayal of women in advertising, a successor of sorts to “Like a Girl” from Always, it quickly became apparent that the 4-foot-2 bronze statue wasn’t nearly as empowering as it purported to be. Some asked why an emblem of women’s financial strength was depicted as child. “This is great, but let's face it, there's a reason it's a little girl and not a grown-ass woman,” tweeted Bitch Media co-founder Andi Zeisler.
At the time, the leadership team at State Street Global Advisors, the investment firm behind the statue, was more than 80 percent male, and a bit of digging by reporters soon revealed that SSGA had paid multiple fines for defrauding investors.
“Volvo Lifepaint” by Grey London
It was supposed to be a campaign that would save the lives of cyclists by making them more visible to drivers. Yes, some people wondered why the responsibility for not mowing down bikes in the streets fell on cyclists and not on the people behind the wheel, but bikers snatched up all the free samples almost immediately, and the idea won two Grand Prix at Cannes. Only one problem: The product didn’t work. The reflective spray didn’t stick to metal, and it wasn’t that bright and worked only when viewed from certain angles. When ads in the U.K. showed a very bright bike frame—something the spray coating wasn't capable of doing in real life—the country's ad regulatory body banned them.
“Back to the Start” for Chipotle by CAA Marketing
In 2011, Chipotle created a film manifesto, an animated exposition of its values and practices featuring humane farming techniques and a killer soundtrack with Willie Nelson covering Coldplay. The online spot was so popular, Chipotle ran it as its first TV ad. But all that goodwill was quickly squandered in the wake of more than half a dozen outbreaks of foodborne illnesses like E. coli, salmonella and norovirus traced to its stores. Of course, it was the very food safety practices and sourcing Chipotle had touted in its first ad that were lacking.
“America’s Import” for Chrysler by Global Hue
Hopes were high ahead of this 2014 attempt to recapture the magic of 2011’s “Imported from Detroit,” but its narrative fell apart, despite a decent effort from Bob Dylan’s grizzled presence. To be fair, the Chrysler 200 sedan was a terrible car, and any hype remaining from 2011’s flag-waving homage to Motown had evaporated when Chrysler was sold to Fiat, an Italian company. Global Hue, the agency behind the spot, folded in 2016, and Fiat Chrysler has now agreed to merge with French automaker Peugeot.
“The Force” for Volkswagen by Deutsch
One last time for the people in the cheap seats (and Kylo Ren, apparently): Darth Vader is a not a role model. He’s a genocidal murderer easily defeated by sand, light negging and an altitude advantage. Dubious parental decisions aside, has this kid never been to a supermarket with automatic doors? Or ridden an elevator? In my day, we used the Force to control the oscillating fan in the basement, and we liked it.
If you’re one of those people who hated the deluge of ads before the Super Bowl, this is the spot you have to thank. It dropped early, and response was huge. Of course, the car that dad is driving has its emissions monitor rigged, and the GCD on this spot, Eric Springer, resigned from Innocean in 2018, four months after a former employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him and the agency.
“Puppymonkeybaby” for Mountain Dew” by BBDO
Gross. And 2.2 million views.
“Stratos” for Red Bull
Felix Baumgartner convinced Red Bull to fund his jump from the “edge of space.” That claim was a bit hyperbolic, according to atmospheric scientists, but the leap was nonetheless impressive, and Baumgartner broke five Guinness world records on the way down. More a gimmick than an event, Red Bull failed to capitalize on the audience it gathered. 8 million people watched the jump on YouTube, and many of those tuned in hours earlier to watch his slow ascent, but much of that time was essentially dead air.
Afterward, while Baumgartner was lauded for his accomplishment, there was no follow-up. The jump became just another extreme sporting event sponsored by Red Bull, rather than part of any real brand platform.
“The Man on the Moon” for John Lewis by Adam&Eve/DDB
Nearly every John Lewis Christmas ad can be considered overrated, given the extreme hype that meets each year’s entry. Without a Super Bowl, the holiday season is the time when U.K. brands go head-to-head, and John Lewis usually delivers. But not in 2015.
This odd story of a young girl and an old man who peer at each other across the void of space is both creepy and nonsensical. Okay, he lives on the moon, fine. But how does a balloon delivery reach him? Why are the laws of physics ignored for this package but not for the girl’s earlier attempts? And isn’t he just going to be even more lonely now that he can see everything he’s missing?
It didn’t help that this was the follow-up to “Monty the Penguin,” the 2014 spot with a clear brand message and a light fantasy touch that actually pays off in the end.