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5 brave ads that rocked the boat


5 brave ads that rocked the boat

Bravery comes in many forms. Being brave could mean trying something new, standing up for a belief, or challenging the status quo -- it all comes down to defying fear. And advertisements have a lot of critics, so it can be tough out there for creatives who strive to act fearlessly.

The truth is, being too brave could be a huge mistake, and smaller brands might be better off playing it safe. There is always a risk of getting your brand into trouble. There's no guarantee you're going to win out.

You might offend the wrong people, or your audience might simply not get it. And if your brand is pushing out unoriginal shock advertising or pulling stunts, it can come off as cheap. So if you're going the fearless route, be wise, be clever, and stand out from the crowd.

If you want to get noticed, take everything you know should go into a great ad, toss it aside, and just do something else. Remember the fist Mac vs. PC ad? It features two men on a white background -- talking. The product is not even shown. But with humor, intelligence, and courage, the ad succeeds. In fact, it was named Adweek's best campaign of the last decade.

Here are five more ads that showed some serious moxie.


Last fall, SodaStream released this 30-second TV spot from Alex Bogusky. It aired in the U.S., Australia, and Sweden, but in the U.K. the ad was pulled at the last minute because it was deemed too disparaging of big soda companies.

SodaStream probably didn't realize how brave it would have to be until it got slapped with a ban. The company claims to have picked Bogusky specifically for his courage in taking on big brands, but SodaStream certainly wasn't expecting this kind of backlash. And the company won't go down without a fight.

Clearcast, the private U.K. body that evaluates whether ads should be aired, gave SodaStream this explanation:

"The majority decided that the ad could be seen to tell people not to go to supermarkets and buy soft drinks, [and] instead help to save the environment by buying a SodaStream."

Clearcast also asserted that the ad constituted "denigration of the bottled-drinks market."

Representatives from SodaStream say they will continue to fight to appeal the decision, claiming that the ad simply promotes a great product in addition to reducing plastic waste to help the environment. Stand tall, SodaStream. (And in the meantime, congrats on the unexpected press you're getting.)


This recent Lincoln ad isn't so much daring as it is just a solid creative effort, and only time will tell whether the entire rebranding campaign succeeds. Lincoln's upcoming Super Bowl spot could either be a big win or big dud. It's a big risk for what many would call a dying brand.

"The risk is that Lincoln possibly doesn't maximize the opportunity with great creative and a follow-on message that gets the brand the lift it needs," said David Cooperstein, a TV marketing analyst at Forrester Research. "That means finding ways to engage with the brand after the game is done."

That said, in a way Lincoln doesn't have much to lose. So it's taking the opportunity to go big or go home with epic, dramatic ads like this one that showcase classic models, emphasize the individual, and demonstrate excitement for the future. The ad also implies that Lincoln aims to make cars that a special few will truly appreciate, rather than trying to please the masses.

Lincoln didn't forget about social, either. A number of actual Twitter users were cast in the upcoming Super Bowl spot, and their tweets -- the result of a crowd sourcing effort called #SteerTheScript -- helped shape the ad's creative. This was another bold and intriguing move on Lincoln's part.


This ad from Carat is pretty brilliant. The cheeky "apology" takes the usual approach to feminine product ads and completely flips it. Kotex made a similar move back in 2010, when the brand sarcastically poked fun at the typical feminine product advertisement. We've all seen the ads featuring joyous, beautiful women dancing and riding roller coasters like they're having the best time of their lives.

What gives Bodyform's ad an extra edge is that it was a timely response to a Facebook user's comment that went viral. Last October, Richard Neill made this comment on Bodyform's Facebook page:

Rather than shirk from the attention or attempt to shut the commenter up, the company capitalized on it. Well, of courseĀ it did, you say. But it was risky in the sense that it easily could have backfired. And just look at it -- it's blunt, over-the-top, and hilarious. A fabricated CEO named Caroline Williams admits to years of lies, claims there's no such thing as a "happy period" (gasp!), drinks the mysterious blue liquid, and farts. (I so wish Caroline Williams was the real CEO.)

Internet Explorer

This brutally honest ad, part of IE's "Browser You Loved to Hate" campaign, is refreshing and smart. You have to give the company credit for admitting the browser sucked and being able to laugh at it.

That being said, who knows if the campaign will succeed? I think Lincoln has a better chance of resuscitation than these guys, but you never know.

Humor works to IE's advantage here because it helps to subvert a pretty glaring problem -- the ad straight-up admits that the product has a horrible track record. Clever ad or not, it doesn't let audience members forget that they already hate the product. To top it all off, the ad then suggests IE has only made slight progress.

Somehow the humor and brutal honesty save this particular ad, but the campaign as a whole doesn't quite come together. The other ads in the campaign are much less likeable and not very effective, and the website really doesn't help matters.

Admitting the browser's bad reputation was a clever idea, but IE reminds us here that a smart execution of an idea is just as essential.


Here's an oldie but a goodie. Be warned, it's potentially NSFW.

This interactive advertisement from 2010 is a lot like "Subservient Chicken," except a lot less creepy -- it's more of a comedic choose-your-own-adventure experience, hinging on the use of Tipp-Ex's ink-correction fluid.

The hunter in the ad uses Tipp-Ex to erase the word "shoots" from the title "a hunter shoots a bear" and asks you to fill in the blank with commands such as sings with, fights, kisses, sleeps with, is cooked by, breakdances with, high fives, smokes with, moonwalks with, tickles, seduces, etc.

French agency Buzzman's campaign was brave because it broke new ground and ran the risk of offending people or simply losing consumer interest. But it's hard to resist this fun and silly ad experience.

The courage to stand out from the crowd definitely paid off on this one. The ad quickly went viral and even prompted a sequel in 2012.

What do you think of these ads? Have you seen other brave ads? Let us know in the comments.

Chloe Della Costa is an editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Silhouette of a businessman jumping a wide cliff" image via Shutterstock.


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Commenter: Anne Smith

2013, January 29

Thanks for the collection! That Tipex ad is great.