How to Lose Customers and Confuse People With Your Advertising

Have you ever heard of the term “Dada Ad”?

According to this page

A Dada Ad is when some people forget they were hired to sell a product and instead create ads that just confuse potential customers. Not only do they not know what’s going on, but when (or if) the product is finally revealed, they may be confused even more.

How many times have you watched or read an ad, or even visited a website, and wondered…

“What the heck is this all about?”

Let me ask you:  Did you even bother to stick around to find out?

I’m guessing you found a better use for your time than trying to figure out what some “creative marketer” was trying to say.

One of my favorite examples of a Dada Ad is from the TV show The Simpson’s.

In the “Mr. Plow” episode, Homer hires a fancy-schmancy ad agency to try to save his small business from a competitor.

The ad firm produces a TV spot about a woman singing opera in black and white, and then smashing a snow globe to create the words “Mr. Plow” in wisps of snow. That’s it.  Nothing more about Mr. Plow and his plowing services, just a singing women smashing a snow globe.

Homer’s reaction in seeing the ad for the first time…

“What the hell was that?!”

Lisa: “Dad, was that your commercial?”
Homer: “I don’t know!

This page lists even more examples of what I’m talking about:

The Cialis commercials where, for some reason, there’s an old couple sitting in bathtubs outdoors. It’s never explained and has no apparent connection to erectile dysfunction.

Those Sprite commercials where the flowers have mouths, green sumo wrestlers hit each other, and other strange things occur. It doesn’t really make you want to drink Sprite.

One Levi’s commercial consisted of a guy and a girl standing in the middle of a city, while a herd of bison stampeded around them.

Confusing yes.  But do these ads even qualify as “creative”?

Let’s ask an original Mad Man himself, someone even the most hardcore “Madison Avenue fan” will usually give a little respect to…

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative” ~ David Ogilvy

Let me ask you a simple question: How can you SELL something when nobody knows what the HECK you are selling?

So here’s what I want you to do on your next advertising project. Try to step into the shoes of whoever is going to actually watch or read your promotions. Will your ad at least make sense to them? Will they understand, within a few seconds, the gist of what’s being sold? Or will they sit there, scratching their head, completely obviousness to what you’re trying to sell?

Even better, find a random person, someone unfamiliar with your company or product, and just ask them to tell you, in their own words…

What the ad is trying to sell!

If they can’t express what you’re trying sell, in simple terms, your promotion is likely in real trouble, and it’s time to abandon ship and find a new idea.

And remember, fellow marketer, this advice from Mr. Ogilvy: “We sell or else!”

Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Millions of dollars down the drain…

    Maybe Richard Armstrong was right. We should round up all these “creatives” before they do anymore harm.

    Then again, if they can’t sell, that’s sets those marketers and copywriters that CAN apart even more starkly.

  2. Tom Johnson says:

    Great article Ryan and you gained a lot of respect with your Simpson’s reference. I cant stand reading an article or watching a commercial and having no idea what they are trying to sell me. I have always thought that the car commercials with the tag line “Zoom Zoom” were especially confusing.

    It is one reason that I am in the midst of retooling my website. I want to get away from the more “creative” copywriting and start doing more copywriting that is informative and educational.

    Have a good one!

  3. “Dada Ad” – love it! Such an apt description for ads that look more like they’re gunning for an award than actual customers. However, I will state that certain ambiguous headlines can be crafted in such a way to intrigue the reader to learn more. It’s a fine line.

    But I can think of at least one such ad that definitely caught my attention, it was a billboard actually, of the famous self-portrait painting attempt by Norman Rockwell. The headline: “Saw The Best In Us.” It was such an uplifting message to read when stuck in commuter traffic, I had to see who was advertising it (a local non-profit). I thought it fit beautifully with the non-profit’s mission, which yes, I did take the time to learn more about after viewing the billboard.