The most irritating ads of 2011

As our research into 2011's most irritating ads reflects, marketers are under increasing pressure to create high-impact TV ads, but is it worth being annoying to be remembered, asks David Benady.

The most irritating ads of 2011

Marketers are irking the public with ads that relentlessly repeat a web address and use catchy jingles to lodge brand names in consumers' memories. This is according to Marketing's annual survey of the campaigns that annoy the public, in which the three most irritating ads of 2011 were for online brands that have used this strategy.

The marketers behind these campaigns are nonetheless adamant that they intend to continue with this hard-sell approach, and argue that such repetition drives sales.'s 'Quick quick' campaign topped the most irritating ads list, with almost half of the 540 respondents selecting it as a source of annoyance from a prompted list of commercials. The ad, with its driving bass line and sonic motif 'any ... any ... any' rankled with the public.

The brand's head of marketing, Paul Coulter, declined to speak to Marketing, but a spokeswoman defends the ad. 'I don't think anyone could forget Our ad using our infamous sonic brand trigger has helped us become the most recognised car buyer in the UK,' she says.

Second place was shared by, with its campaign starring Barbara Windsor, and, ads for which feature an animated character, Cara, dancing to a particularly grating version of the song YMCA.

Some may question whether it is good for a brand's ads to be remembered but not liked. marketing director Mike Hoban is unperturbed by the survey's findings, however. 'To quote Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,' he says. 'Our research shows that we have an ad in the top 5% of all ads created to date in terms of brand awareness. We are very happy with that. For "irritating", read "memorable".'

Other dotcom TV ads in the top 10 included, showing people's reactions to a range of personalised greetings cards, and's ad, in which meerkats Alexsandr and Sergei present an air stewardess with a cuddly toy.

It is not only dotcom marketers who are relaxed about creating irritating ads. The Halifax 'Choir' ads featuring the bank's staff singing songs including Hard Day's Night and Walking on Sunshine was fourth in the table. The ads were created by Adam & Eve to replace the previous Halifax campaign, which was fifth in last year's survey - so the latest campaign ranks as even more irksome. Halifax brand strategy director Simon Watts says: 'A good ad has to be strong enough to capture attention and sometimes that can polarise. If an ad is a bit irritating, that is not always a bad thing. We're really pleased our ads build on what has made the Halifax brand great and the response has been very positive.'

Target audiences

Joint-fifth place went to the Phones4U ads showing a 'zombie' girl stalking a woman in a car park, also created by Adam & Eve. Despite 24% of those in our survey finding the ad irritating, the execution has more than 1.2m views on YouTube. Adam & Eve partner James Murphy says: 'You often have instances where people outside the target audiences of an ad or on the fringes are less enamoured. The important thing is that the target audience likes it and gets the message.'

Our survey was carried out in the first week of December, in time to take in last year's crop of Christmas ads. In 10th place was the Marks & Spencer Christmas ad featuring The X Factor finalists singing When You Wish Upon a Star. The campaign has had its share of problems, with one of the contestants being edited out after admitting taking cocaine - not something M&S would wish to be associated with. Some observers argue that it came across more like an ad for the TV talent show than for the retailer.

Marketers recognise the potential of their ads to irritate, yet many seem to believe that if it isn't hurting, it isn't working.


While several dotcoms are content for their ads to be irritating, some brands go out of their way to avoid annoying audiences. The appeal of even the best-loved campaigns can eventually pall, however.'s 'meerkat' campaign is ranked in the top 10 of tedium, to the surprise of the agency that created it, VCCP. Chief executive Adrian Coleman accepts that many ads for price-comparison sites are perceived as riling, but argues that the meerkat ads bring entertainment and creativity to the sector. 'There is no sign of the campaign wearing out,' he insists.

Meanwhile Boots' 'Here Come the Girls' campaign takes joint 13th place. Critics claim the musical signature is tired and out of context in short ads that lack the story of the original. Neil Christie, managing director at agency Wieden & Kennedy, says: 'The sheer repetition factor of campaigns means they just get worn out. There are only so many times you can listen to your favourite song before it gets irritating.'

A spokesperson for Boots said: 'Every campaign has a life cycle, but we know from in-depth research that "Here Come The Girls" has a lot more creative potential.'



Rank Brand Agency / production house %
1  Driven 49
2=  (Beta) 38
2=  Hornet Inc 38
4 Halifax  Adam & Eve 26
5= Phones4U  Adam & Eve 24
5= SCS Sofas  Martin Tait Redheads 24
5=  Wordley Production 24
8 Barclays  Bartle Bogle Hegarty 22
9  VCCP 21
10 Marks & Spencer  RKCR/Y&R 19
11= Flora Cuisine  DDB UK 16
11= Danone Activia  RKCR/Y&R 16
13= Boots  Mother 15
13= The Health Lottery  DLKW Lowe 15
15 Littlewoods  In-house 13
16= Colman's Instant Beef Gravy  Karmarama 12
16= Microsoft Windows 7  Crispin Porter & Bogusky 12
18 M¸ller  TBWA\London 11
19= UPS  Ogilvy & Mather 8
19= British Airways  Bartle Bogle Hegarty 8
19= Eurostar  Leg 8
22 Next  In-house 6


Source: Adwatch fieldwork was conducted from 1-5 December 2011 by TNS as part of its twice-weekly OnLineBus omnibus among 1027 adults aged 16-64. For details of the survey, contact Researchedads were nominated by Marketing's readers.