One would imagine the natural response of most creatives -
notorious for their perfectionist tendencies - to the question "What's
the worst ad you've ever made?" to involve two words and the click of a
line being disconnected.
After all, no-one likes to admit to a clanger, especially when you're an
established creative chief with a good job, a solid reel, an adoring
floor of creatives hanging on your every word and a reputation to
However, as Campaign has discovered, there are lots of people out there
with enough turkeys under their belts to put Bernard Matthews out of
Adland's best have been phoning in with their personal favourites, which
admittedly were made when they were young and should have known
But what is it that makes a bad ad? Saatchi & Saatchi executive creative
director, Dave Droga, says a combination of bad art direction and a poor
script (if they ever get through to the production process) will always
create a howler.
And he adds that a dreadful idea and poor planning won't be resurrected
by sharp shooting or good post-production. However, it is possible for a
great idea to completely bomb in production.
Droga recalls the first ad he oversaw when he became the creative
director for Saatchi & Saatchi Asia in the mid-90s: "It was a cute
script, involving a traffic-light face-off between two drivers, one in a
fast US-style car and the other in an ordinary little banger. But the
concept was ruined because the gearbox fell out of the fast car. It was
the only one in the whole of Malaysia, so a replacement was out of the
question, and the ad looked appalling because people had to push the
damn thing away from the lights instead of it ripping up the
The examples from Ogilvy & Mather's creative director, Steve Dunn, and
Mustoe Merriman Levy's executive creative directors, Mick Mahoney and
Andy Amadeo, are also testament to how nice ideas on paper can "lose it"
Other times, the pressure of deadlines causes a pap-overload. Mother's
founder Robert Saville recalls "singing handbag" ads - named after the
Flexible Friend spots for Access in the 80s - which were often created
when time was at a premium. "The Fruit and Nut ad is a prime example of
this - we came up with the idea in an hour. And it shows," he says.
Most creative directors agree that the fear of losing the business is a
good ingredient for creating a dreadful ad. "Ultimately, our goal is to
keep their business, and if that means throwing something together in
time, then that's what happens," one senior creative, keen to stay in
his job, says. "The rub is when you turn out shit and they quite rightly
recognise that and you lose the account anyway."
PETER SOUTER - Lunn Poly, Get Away!
Remember the nauseating ads which aired in the early 90s for Lunn Poly
from WCRS which played on the strapline "Get Away!", resulting in the
disappearance of one of the actors or objects? Well, you can thank
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO's executive creative director, Peter Souter,
for them. "The campaign was really successful, and thrived on the high
number of spots we churned out. We must have made one at least every two
weeks," he recalls. "I thought they were brilliant - as a young
creative, it was great to see your work on TV. It was enough to make you
call your Mum and tell her to switch on." Souter also recalls an ad
during his early days at AMV for Delta Airlines featuring an array of
planes in the sky: "It was unimaginative stuff. The blurb played on the
number of people who worked for the company across the world. I'm not
sure if it was anything to do with us, but that number decreased by
10,000 every time we ran a new ad."
ROBERT SAVILLE - Cadbury's Fruit and Nut
Mother's founder Robert Saville has a whole host of ads he'd rather
forget about. One, made while when he was a copywriter at GGT, was for
the Cadbury's brand Fruit and Nut. "Yes, the one with the dancing bar of
chocolate singing maniacally at the office worker," Saville groans.
Other gems include a spot for Renault starring a gang of diamond thieves
who like their getaway car so much they can't bear to ditch it. "But my
favourite has to be one I did at Publicis to promote old Disney movie
classics. On paper, it sounded great - we had a giant projection screen
on to which we played clips from the films. In front of the screen,
children gambolled in white jumpsuits, with the action projecting on to
them, to tie in with the 'Lose yourself in Disney' strapline.
Unfortunately, the director painted them all white before we got there,
including their hair, and forbade the playing of music during the shoot,
so what we actually had on the screen were a bunch of zombies walking
around like the living dead. The client fired us immediately."
STEVE DUNN - Lasky's
The Ogilvy & Mather executive creative director, Steve Dunn, let his DIY
imagination run away with him rather too quickly when he made a suitably
dreadful TV commercial for the electrical retailer Lasky's in 1981. He
claims the commercial was so bad it was a miracle that he kept his job
and the agency, Leagas Delaney, retained the account. Dunn and his then
partner, John Bedford, settled down to work out an idea with "standout"
springing from the strapline: "A word of advice. Lasky's." "We developed
a script based on the cartoon characters The Numbskulls, which involved
lots of little people in a man's brain operating his every move, and
whatever situation he found himself in, they would control him," Dunn
remembers. A live action model was planned, and the night before the
shoot, Dunn went off to inspect it. "The second I saw it, I knew we were
doomed. There was this huge, 30-foot head, which was so badly made that
it looked like a giant egg," he despairs. "The Willy-Wonka style people
looked like a troupe of bog cleaners and their acting was more wooden
than a muesli bar. To this day, it remains an example of how badly ideas
can convert from paper to production."
PAUL BRIGINSHAW, MALCOLM DUFFY - Water privatisation
Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy's executive creative directors, Paul
Briginshaw and Malcolm Duffy, chose an ad they'd created at CDP to
launch the privatisation of the water companies in 1990. "It was a big
budget, 60-second launch for the first big utility privatisation, so we
were very excited. But the rest of the UK population thought the idea
was ludicrous, as we soon found out when we came to make the ad. There
was so much public opposition that we had to ask 12 directors before we
could find one who would do it. It was the same story with the actors."
There was further trouble to come, as the creative concept involved a
complicated portrayal of Handel's Water Music being piped round it to
show UK consumers they could buy shares in the water companies. "When we
went to Wales to film, we were expecting lakes brimming with lovely
water. But there was nothing there in the reservoirs as it hadn't rained
for three weeks," Briginshaw mourns. "To top it all, we were plagued by
protesters. We'd move off somewhere to look at another location, and
signs saying 'Get off our water!' would appear out of the blue. It was a
nightmare. It turned out to be a dog of a commercial, but seemed like a
good idea at the time."
MICK MAHONEY, ANDY AMADEO - Prize yoghurts
The executive creative directors at Mustoe Merriman Levy, Mick Mahoney
and Andy Amadeo, are convinced making bad ads are a rite of passage for
most creatives. They should know, for they wrote and art directed the
relaunch ad for Prize yoghurts while at DMB&B. "We wanted to parody a
Gillette ad, making these pots of yoghurts the equivalent of the new man
of the 90s," Mahoney says . "It was an animated spot, and we mistakenly
thought we could get these lifeless objects to emote, even though they
had no faces, arms or legs. The strapline was 'How deep is your
pudding?'," Amadeo laughs . The ad showed yoghurts acting out cheesy
scenarios such as cuddling a baby yoghurt pot, sharing a manly hug with
Dad yoghurt pot (you can tell by the stick and grey moustache), riding a
motorbike to a sunset-strewn cliff and getting married -to a cherry.
"The whole ad was diabolical, but we were young and thought it was
brilliant at the time," Mahoney admits.
PAUL GRUBB, DAVE WATERS - Cadbury's Biarritz
Grubb and Waters of DFGW have no trouble recalling which ad in their
portfolio is the worst. "We were at GGT when we were given a brief for
Cadbury's Biarritz chocolates - the Miami Vice of confectionery as
opposed to Granny's Dairy Milk," Dave Waters recalls. Taking the
trademark blue triangular box as inspiration, the two wrote a campaign
to show the difference between Biarritz and other, less exciting, brands
by showing what happened inside and outside the Blue Triangle. "Inside,
you drove a speedboat and had beautiful girls crawling all over you or
drove a Ferrari; outside, you were in a pedalo with your Mum or stuck in
a traffic-jam on the A30," he says. "It looked fantastic on paper, and
really effective when it was filmed, but it was totally ruined by the
soundtrack - an adaptation of a Barry Manilow song renamed In the Blue
Triangle. We were mortified. Funnily enough, you don't see the product
on the shelves any more," Waters muses.