Last week, Campaign launched its Home School for mini creatives to provide an ad break to working parents in adland and beyond and their tiny co-workers. I’ll be taking this week’s class, I’m afraid, children.
Aimed at key stage three (11- to 14-year-olds), but hopefully interesting to all ages, it has been compiled with my new co-worker and home-teaching assistant, Daisy Adams. Daisy is racing towards her teenage years and I’ve been begging her to do something more creative or educational than make endless TikTok videos.
After various suggestions were met with huffs, tuts and eye-rolls, I proposed co-curating this lesson about some magical advertising. Cue more eye-rolling.
I figured this distance learning could incorporate a life lesson. Given the strange and uncertain times we’re going through, we all need to become comfortable with strange and uncertain. So, here’s a compilation of the most bizarre and unnerving ads, including some stone-cold classics. Open your exercise books and take notes.
Dunlop 'Tested for the unexpected'
The epic, indulgent, psychedelic treat by Tony Kaye is probably one of the most memorable and bizarre (not to mention expensive) ads ever made. An absolute joy and a feast for the eyes and ears.
Guinness 'Pure genius'
The long-running "Good things come to those who wait" campaign has had some legendary and much-loved iterations over the years – Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Jonathan Glazer’s "Surfer" being the most cited favourite – but this overshadowed the brilliance of the previous campaign featuring the enigmatic Rutger Hauer. At the time, these were arguably as popular, bewildering and, well, pure genius.
Xbox 'Life is short'
Have to include this one, because it feels kind of apt. Bartle Bogle Hegarty's arresting, darkly comedic spot for the console urging people to spend more time playing might have had a point. It was allegedly banned after a surge of complaints, but this might be advertising urban myth.
Tango 'You know when you've been Tango'd'
Speaking of being banned, this one caused a fair amount of controversy and calls for it to be pulled, when it inspired a spate of copycat "happy slapping" incidents in school playgrounds up and down the country. Ahhh, boisterous school playgrounds… remember them?
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk 'Gorilla'
No advertising list or ad break would be complete without this popular favourite. Again, advertising folklore is that this was an idea that had spent some time waiting for a brief. Would a lifelike gorilla drumming to a Phil Collins track have worked for anything other than the nation’s favourite chocolate, though? Still a brilliantly weird spot, regardless.
Honourable mentions and weekend slots would go to Moneysupermarket.com’s "Epic" campaign that kicked off with Dave’s #EpicStrut, complete with hot pants and stilettos, moved on to pole-dancing builders and ended up with He-Man, Skeletor and Action Man in camp dance-offs.
Finally, there’s one of the most bizarre and claimed "scariest ad of all time": Metz "Judderman". Again, rumoured to have been deliberately and excessively dark and bizarre to avoid the product being labelled an "alcopop" and accusations of being targeted at kids.
Wonderfully bizarre advertising for less-than-wonderful bizarre times.
Simeon Adams is creative partner at Goodstuff Communications