What Were They Selling Again?

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

    Lisa: Dad, was that your commercial? (referring to the avant-garde Mr. Plow ad)
    Homer: I... don't know.


    (in response to the "PlanEx" commercial, parodying Apple's 1984)
    Leela: That was terrible! People won't even know what we do.
    Bender: I don't even know what we do. Nah, just kidding! What are we like, a bus or something?

    Futurama, "Future Stock"

    There are many ways in which a commercial can fail to get its message across. Some ads are uninteresting; others are so bad that they turn more viewers against the product than they attract. But some commercials fail because they're too good.

    A commercial that's too clever, or features too memorable a gimmick, runs the risk of being remembered only for the gimmick and not its association with the product. The commercial has performed the important task of holding the audience's attention, but it hasn't spread the word about the product it's trying to promote.

    German media experts call this the "Vampire Effect"; this was also named on The Gruen Transfer as "Vamping". May happen in a Design Student's Orgasm or Dada Ad.

    See also Breakaway Advertisement, Sidetracked by the Gold Saucer.

    Perfume related products have their own trope, Perfume Commercial.

    Examples of What Were They Selling Again? include:

    In General...

    • So many Super Bowl ads fall into this category, it's a wonder companies spend so much money on them. Then again, they probably get distracted by the fact they're making a Super Bowl commercial and forget to actually relate to the product.
      • E* Trade lampshaded this with an ad that was 30 seconds of two guys clapping their hands in time while a monkey danced on top of a bucket. They closed with the line "Well, we just wasted two million bucks. What are you doing with your money?"
      • A similar commercial by FedEx lampshaded this Trope when they claimed to have found the formula for the perfect Super Bowl ad — Item 8 of 10 was the Product Message, which they marked as "optional".
        • The complete list was 1: Celebrity spokesman 2: Animal 3: Dancing Animal 4: Hot Chicks 5: Groin Kick 6: Talking Animal 7: Cute Kid 8: Product Message (optional) 9: Hit Song 10: Epilogue Scene.
      • Then again, the Super Bowl is much better for getting consumers than corporations as customers. Some companies that primarily sell to other corporations advertise in the Super Bowl just so they can truthfully claim in their other ads that they're so rich, they can afford to advertise in the Super Bowl. (This is how the "herding cats" commercial came about.)
    • The quote at the top of this page comes from The Simpsons, which poked fun at this in an episode where Homer hires an ad agency to promote his plowing business (to replace his home-filmed advert). The resulting commercial is a pastiche of pretentious European art films that very barely mentions the product (right after the snowglobe breaks, albeit very briefly)...or indeed, makes any semblance of sense at all.
    • Billy Mays. "IT TURNS WHITE TO SHOW IT'S READY!" and "NO MORE BLEACHED CLOTHES!" So much mockery, so little time. It doesn't help that he promoted so many damn products...
      • ...Or that his spoof commercial advertising ESPN360.com looks and sounds so much like his usual infomercials that if you're not paying attention (and many people phase it out once he shrilly spits out his name), you'd have no idea it's a joke.
    • One theory as to why NASCAR has become so popular with corporate sponsors — there's lots of space on the cars to place big logos so the crowd and TV viewers know who's sponsoring the car. "This logo is dangerous and inconvenient, but I sure do love Fig Newtons."
    • The Compare the Meerkat ads are a hair's breadth away from this among a lot of British adults, and have already crossed over for schoolkids.
      • On the other hand, the adorable meerkat is now is worth quite a bit in his own right. His "autobiography" was a bestseller!
    • There's a series of highway billboards which are all black with white text which only say "I HATE STEVEN SPRINGER" without any other information. Turns out the advertisements are for a brand of jewelry called Steven Springer, which is "hated" because it's too great of a deal. Too bad most people don't know the brand and the signs can quite easily backfire by discouraging the people who do know it.
    • Pretty much all cologne commercials are like this. Almost all of them simply feature sexy men being sexy for about 30 seconds, making you wonder "what the hell is this a commercial for?" And then flashes the name of the cologne for about half a second.
    • Some viewers get so caught up in the Double Entendre of the "You and Your Johnson" video, they overlook the fact it actually advertises outboard motors for boats.
      • Likewise, there's the infamous "Wonder Boner". For the record, it's a device that (supposedly) makes it easier to remove bones from fish so that said fish are safer to eat. Of course, these days, people are too busy giggling at the Double Entendre name rather than remembering the actual product.
    • This is a very real risk for any product sold with sexual imagery. It's probably to your advantage if you've gotten horny consumers to notice both the boobs and the brand in your ad, but according to at least one study (unfortunately in German), the chance of their even noticing the brand goes down by about half (differing slightly across genders.)

    Automobiles & Related

    • Infiniti's early advertising showed only the brand name and a flock of birds. Nothing to indicate that it was actually promoting a car.
      • Lampshaded by Dave Barry: "It's all ocean waves? Did they park too close to the sea? 'Damnit, I told you the tide was coming in!'"
    • A documentary about a newly-launched airline. Because the airline's ad was so non-specific, there were people who came asking them what they actually do.
    • A baby dashing through a darkened hospital before crashing through a wall. The commercial was for the VW Lupo — "Volkswagen's tough little baby".
    • Honda had a very long and very strange (but compelling) ad some years ago on British television. It had a very catchy, if bizarre song ("hate something, change something...") sung by Garrison Keillor, who's not well-known in Britain, and was full of bright and surreal imagery. It also had a fun flash game, but it took three or four close viewings before anyone realized that it was a Honda commercial. And it took a trip to the website to realize what the commercial was about.
      • Honda is still doing this with all its adverts, failing to mention a single car or why their cars are better than the rest, only that Honda likes complicated puzzles and skydiving. In the UK, anyway; their US ads tend to be of the "this is the car, this is the deal you can get" variety with the only touch of whimsy being "Mr. Opportunity", a cartoon car salesman surrounded by live-action cars in a live-action showroom.
        • For many people, these adverts are so spectacular they cross the line twice, being so memorable it's hard to forget what they're advertising. Particularly the one which was only shown in full in cinemas (it was two minutes long) where the guy drives a wide variety of Honda vehicles across land and sea whilst singing "The Impossible Dream" and rides up out of a waterfall in a hot-air balloon with the Honda logo at the end. Now that's advertising.
      • Honda also made an ad called Cog. It's about a two-minute commercial of chain events that you generally see in a Tom and Jerry deathtrap scene (a Rube Goldberg Device), only it was seemingly all filmed in one take and contains zero CGI. It took about 700 tries to get it right. Granted, you will definitely remember it afterward, but nothing about the commercial itself really differentiates what car company made it.
        • A key point of difference between the "Cog" and "Hate Something" ads and the more successful "The Impossible Dream" was that the latter had every vehicle and the driver clad in their simple red and white colour scheme, making it so strong through the advert that it acted as much for letting everyone know Honda had this colour scheme as for letting them know that Honda made cars. That helps with brand identification which then helps with recognising further Honda ads which helps allowing further leeway before running into this trope in the future.
      • Honda seems to like to have one of these long feature adverts per year. One of them featured a full choir performing the sounds of a car during its journey, using nothing but their voices. This was, like Impossible Dream and Cog, only shown in full in cinemas (with crowds sometimes joining in the choir's singing).
    • Somebody did a series of wonderful adverts about a car that said you should ask before you borrow it. One had a couple going into a mad passionate clinch over the dinner table, her dragging him upstairs, handcuffing him, and walking off leaving him looking at a note with the slogan on it. Another had a slow breakup song and a woman throwing the man's possessions out of the bedroom window as he came home, looked at the car keys in his hands. The car was the Nissan Micra.
      • The same car brand had an advert directed by David Lynch. About the only thing at all about the ad that anyone got was that they made portmanteaus out of favourable adjectives for cars. People agreed that the advert was very shiny and bright.
    • An ad about a Peugeot car used the usual format for car commercials (people talking, arrows pointing with descriptions) but replacing all language with pure gibberish, except for the line "Try it and you'll understand". While some of the made-up words became Memetic Mutations ("bloblor", anyone?) very few people can remember which car was publicized.
    • An example from Italy, a 2002 commercial — a woman is in her flat, talking on the phone. She's arguing with her boyfriend, and in the end she shouts "I'll go out and date the first man I meet" and hangs. In another flat, a man is washing dishes and hears all that yelling. When the woman opens the door to go out, the man is there, on her landing, still wearing his apron and rubber gloves, ready to become that "first man". His catchphrase "Buonaseeera" ("Good eeevening") became extremely popular. The ad also had a sequel with the same man and a different woman, and this time the woman said the catchphrase. These commercials were so popular that people started to quote the catchphrase every now and then, the actor was nicknamed "Mr. Buonaseeera", the apron and gloves were auctioned for charity...but the actual advertised product was soon forgotten, and the actual ad motto was forgotten too (the phrase intended to be the motto was "Cogli l'attimo", i.e. "seize the opportunity"/"carpe diem"; it advertised a special price for a Fiat car, a car which never appears in the ads, which are always shot indoors!)
    • An ad a few years ago had big beasts with headlights and brakes and stuff in a rodeo championship, with one cocky guy falling off and a more careful guy having a perfect ride. Included were herds of these beasts running on the roads and one drinking out of a trough in a gas station. Its point was supposed to be a lecture in SUV safety.
    • There was a German ad about an Elvis Presley impersonator whose car breaks down, so he has to hitchhike. In his car, he had a little Elvis puppet standing on the dashboard, shaking its pelvis when the car vibrates. When he's picked up by a woman driving the advertised car, he puts the puppet to her dashboard, only to see that lil' Elvis doesn't dance anymore — said car goes so softly, there are no more vibrations. Everyone remembers the mascot (which you could buy afterwards). Hardly anyone remembers which car it was for.
    • The fact that so many car ads are like this is parodied by The Symmetrical Breadpazoid here. [dead link]
    • One ad showed a car zooming along a cliffside road while music reminiscent of a James Bond movie soundtrack plays. No commentary at all. The car pulls into the driveway of a mansion; Patrick Macnee gets out, smiles directly into the camera, and asks "You were expecting someone else?"
    • A quite-recent ad for the Kia Soul opens with a shot of a war-torn battlefield, where fighting rages on. Exoskeletons duel for control of a floating island. A soldier is picked up and flung like a ragdoll. Suddenly, a green car drives in. Three hamsters get out. And they dance.
    • A Jaguar ad from the mid-2000s was filmed entirely in black-and-white and showed young, ultra-wealthy people frolicking in the Hamptons to a tasteful soundtrack. The car actually featured in the ad, but more as background filler than an advertised product. It was less about the car and more the lifestyle, or (as this troper described it to her mother), "beautiful people having fun, without you."

    Better Living!

    • In Britain, everyone remembers Nick (Wallace and Gromit) Park's Creature Comforts concept (Claymation animals with genuine Vox Pops voices) being used for a series of well-regarded British Gas adverts in the 1990s. Except the adverts were for the Electricity Board, and emphasised how much better electric heating was than gas.
    • Diesel had a series of print ads concerning Global Warming which featured young, beautiful people in the foreground. Viewers didn't really notice the submerged landmarks in the background which were supposed to be the focus. That said, given that the brand is named after a freaking polluting fossil fuel, the concept was bound to fail anyway.
    • General Electric's new "Ecomagination" campaign to promote green energy, featuring dancing elephants and rock star cows.
    • One Christian group has a billboard ad campaign with nothing but the line "I Am Second" and a link to their website. Some people can see it's a coded reference to John 3:30 but otherwise it suggests....a sport? A band? An athletics clothing manufacturer?

    Clothing, Personal Hygiene & Related

    • These three ads for Gap clothing. The commercials consist of absolutely nothing but 10-20 similarly dressed actor/models in front of a solid white background singing Top 40 tunes while standing absolutely still and looking bored out of their minds. Until they flash the slogan (Everybody in leather/vests/khakis) and the Gap logo, they look like the world's laziest music video.
    • A Levi's ad showed two very young teens apparently about to "do the deed for the first time", slowly undressing and talking about being scared and trusting. Then they turn and jump off a pier into the water. What is there to let you know it's an ad for Levi's? A brief logoshot at the very end. That's it.
      • Another series of Levis ads, some running over a minute long, consisted of nothing but unrelated snippets of young people partying outdoors, accompanied by a reading of Walt Whitman's Pioneers! O Pioneers!
    • One of the most surreal ads ever featured a hamster running furiously in his wheel until it breaks and he dies of boredom. It only ran for a short time, and if anybody remembers it today it's for the artificial outrage certain tabloid papers tried to stir up about the portrayal of a dead pet. So what was the product? Levi's.
      • They did several ads like that at this time, didn't they? There was an ad with a toddler hammering a square peg into a round hole...
    • There's a parody ad for Doggie Dentures that looks like a great idea and your dog will just lov—oh wait, it's supposed to be for Dentasticks, a type of dog treat that helps clean dog's teeth.
    • The controversial Nike ad featuring Tiger Woods that began airing shortly before the 2010 Masters. It features a still shot of Tiger's face as he presumably listens to an audio recording of his dead father. Although reaction is mixed on whether the ad is disgusting or brilliant, no one seems to know exactly what the hell the ad is specifically selling. The best guess anyone can come up with is that the ad is promoting the resumption of Tiger Woods as a viable advertising spokesman after the incident on Thanksgiving 2009.
    • Compare the amount of people who know about Terry Tate to the amount of people who know that the entire Office Linebacker series was an advert for Reebok.
    • Subverted by Old Spice's The Man Your Man Could Smell Like campaign. It's weird enough[1] and gimmicky enough that it risked stepping into this trope's territory, and indeed, sales of the specific product being advertised (Old Spice Red Zone After Hours Body Wash) actually dropped slightly after the ads' debut. However, sales of the the Old Spice brand as a whole increased by a whopping 150-200%. One gets the feeling that Procter & Gamble management is currently laughing its way to the bank.

    Electronics, Technology, Etc.

    • There was an ad for Microsoft where Jerry Seinfeld sees Bill Gates trying on shoes at a mall shoe store and goes in to help Gates pick out the shoes. When Gates buys them, he produces an ID which features his infamous 1977 mugshot for a traffic violation. They walk out of the mall, with Seinfeld asking Gates if Microsoft is working on edible computers. Cut to the Microsoft logo, end of commercial. It's selling something for Microsoft, but what exactly? It was actually pulled from television precisely because no one could figure out exactly what the advertised product was. Penny Arcade was quick to poke fun at this.
    • An Australian radio ad featured a jingle — a chorus singing "So easy, Clive Peeters..." over and over again. Not once did it mention who or what Clive Peeters was. (An electronics store, in case you were wondering.)
    • Ozzy Osbourne's commercial. That's all anyone knows about it. They know it involves cellphones. And Ozzy Osbourne. But they don't know what it's about anymore. (It's touting AT&T's Samsung Jack.)
    • An honestly hilarious commercial where Snoop Dogg wanders around asking various celebrities if they've seen his missing bling, ending with David Bowie...who, when Snoop leaves, takes the bling out with an evil little smirk to the camera. So surreal it's wonderful. The product? XM Satellite Radio.
    • Subversion: Go-Daddy.com. One of the most annoying/brilliant commercial ideas ever — get people's (read: men's) attention with the false promise of girl-flesh, then blueball them by saying the only way to find out what was being hinted at is to go to their website. You always knew who the company was. The problem — what did the company do? You might think it was most/least subtle porno site ad ever for the longest time, but they're a website host for non-porn sites only, making their libidinous double-cross even more galling...
    • There was a commercial some time back with a little girl standing calmly in a field while a rhino charges at her. As the camera flips from girl to rhino and back, the message "Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation" is displayed a word or two at a time. At the end, the rhino comes to a halt right in front of the girl, who reaches out to gently touch its horn. It was for a telecommunications company; now try and guess which one.
    • Sony brought in David Lynch (always a good idea when you want to convey a straightforward message) to direct a series of advertisements for the launch of the PlayStation 2 in Europe. They were surrealist black and white affairs about The Third Place, which is apparently an enigmatic land of play alongside people's work life and home life. There were many jokes about the other meaning of the slogan, but only amongst gamers — Sony had neglected to actually include the console, or any other gaming references, in the advertisement.
      • They repeated the mistake with the PlayStation 3, using a series of adverts styled in the manner of a glossy new drama or soap opera set in a holiday resort, and ending with "This Is Living" and the URL "thisisliving.tv". Non-gamers (and gamers' spouses) thought it was an advertisement for Living TV, a UK satellite channel specialising in glossy dramas and soaps. They added a "PlayStation 3" flash at the tail end of the commercials' run, after the machine shuddered, uneventfully, into stores.
      • Aaand the exploding baby ads.
    • Evony. Oh dear God, Evony. Evony is a clone of the old computer game Civilization, which is a classic 4X-style strategy game. It's run, in at best a legally grey manner, out of China. A few of their ads actually show what the gameplay looks like, but at least as many of them show pictures of hot models in their underwear (that the Evony people don't hold the copyrights for) and say things like "play discreetly in your browser". There are some in-between ones where the girls are at least dressed in medieval-type outfits (though that's only one of the many time periods covered), which tend to say things like "rescue the princess" (an element that doesn't exist in the actual game).
    • Optimum's recent commercials — apparently, all they're about are some girls singing the number to call and a dude rapping so fast you can't tell a word he's saying half the time. But it's mostly the number song that gets stuck in the head.
    • A commercial that took the proverb about "herding cats" to a literal level, by featuring a group of cowboys herding cats across a classic Western landscape, commenting on the hazards of the job, and noting how proud it made them when they did their job well. It was funny, well-acted and directed, with great effects to make you think you were looking at "ten thousand shorthairs". They even apparently got several cats to swim across a narrow river. The narrator says, at the end, "This is kind of like what we do..." Who remembers who "we" are or what it is "we" do? (It's an ad for EDS, the computer / consulting company.)
      • They did it thrice, actually. Here's "Running of the Squirrels", and their third commercial.
      • They're business consultants, or something along those lines. They aren't advertising on the Super Bowl to get viewers to use their services — their customers are corporations. No, they're advertising on the Super Bowl so they can say in their ads to their intended demographic that they can afford to advertise on the Super Bowl.
    • Outpost.com ran three commercials over the Super Bowl about how they wanted people to remember their logo, so they were doing a particular stunt such as shooting a hamster through the O in their logo (they missed...several times), tattooing their logo on the foreheads on pre-schoolers, arranging a high-school band into the form of their logo, and then releasing the rabid wolverines. People recalling the commercial remember everything but who the logo was for.
    • Old Zune ads. Get a 30-second blip of some unrelated animation, and slap on the Zune logo at the last few seconds.
    • This ad for television provider DirecTV. Ostensibly a commercial about getting the best while saving money—but all anyone really remembers is "OMG ADORABLE MINI-GIRAFFE WANT!"
    • That commercial where there's a line of various technologies falling and smacking into one another; a car, phone, SPACE SHUTTLE... but when the last domino falls and hits the product theyre touting, you just too busy thinking COOL to remember the name... It was a smartphone right?
    • I'm sorry, but what does this have to do with a cell phone, again?
    • During the World Cup, there was one very popular Argentine ad to support the national soccer team [1]. It was a 2 minutes footage of very clumsy, out-of-shape and generally bad amateur soccer players, ending up with the slogan "Do your best, for all of us that didn't make it". The ad was brilliant to say the least, since every Argentinian is considered a to be a failed soccer wannabe. It was fun, it was heart-warming, it combined perfectly with the urge of the World Cup, and it even included the precious notti magiche. The catch? It was a cellphone advertisement! (not that anybody noticed)
    • The ad for the Android Razor looks like a trailer for a movie about a flying razor blade.
    • In summer/fall 2010 the first ad for Monster High was all over channels like Nickelodeon. However, the ad featured a British voice introducing the viewer to the first six characters who were all shown animated and talking a bit about themselves. It told you to go to the website but it didn't explain what the website was like very well. And nowhere in the ad was there any evidence(unless the tiny Mattel logo at the very end counts) that Monster High is a doll line. This is a very, VERY rare example of a toy ad of all things doing this trope.
    • And what exactly does this have to do with Gamecube?
    • And, of course, the classic: Apple's 1984 commercial, mentioned in the second page quote.
    • This was the original 1986 commercial for The Legend of Zelda; a crazy guy in spandex shouting the names of some creatures in the game along with a few screenshots. At least it seemed to get viewers' attention.
    • This commercial for Lollipop Chainsaw downplays it a little. It's probable that nobody actually believed the detergent was real, and the girl is indeed the game's protagonist. However, it's kind of hard to say until the end of it whether this was supposed to advertise a game or some sort of horror-movie-farce. If anything, it gives very little info about the game itself. Not that viewers minded.

    Food & Drink

    • Orangina. Because when you think of citrus fruit sodas, you think of CGI Petting Zoo People dancing suggestively.
    • Mountain Dew's live-action versions of the Mad Magazine "Spy vs. Spy" comics were technically superb, keeping to the spirit and fun of the source material — and generally failed to make the connection to their product, other than having the victorious spy enjoy a Dew in the final seconds.
    • Urban Legends surrounding the sudden stop of the Taco Bell chihuahua ads were eventually debunked on Snopes.com with a simple explanation — the massively popular ads were cut because they simply didn't increase sales.
    • Similarly, the California Raisins were massively popular, even having their own merchandise and animated series, but didn't increase sales of raisins.
    • Mel Brooks did a Captain Ersatz version of his 1,000 Year Old Man for Ballantine Beer, creating the phrase "There's a party in my mouth."[3] He received fan mail saying people loved the ads, but hated the beer, while many others assumed he was doing the original character and didn't get the brewery connection.
    • An early-1990s commercial for a beer which had some beer-drinkers wanting to try something new, be it "Grandpa's Old Fuzzy Ale" or "Benedict Arnold Pittsburgh Lager". Most people probably won't remember the beer which was actually being promoted.
      • For that matter, nearly all American and Canadian beer commercials are arguably examples of this trope. Advertising regulations in both countries prohibit actual on-camera consumption of alcoholic beverages, and touting any (supposed) specific benefits of drinking their product (increased popularity, sex appeal, and such). As a result, commercials for major brands have long resorted to such cliché elements as bikini-clad women or wilderness vacations gone awry.
        • The exception is the Alexander Keith's ads, which were memorable for featuring a guy in a kilt and muttonchops yelling at people for "not givin' the brew the respect it deserves!" On the downside, everyone remembers it for being the beer drunk by loud annoying guys with really bad Scottish accents (someone Did Not Do the Research — Nova Scotian accents don't sound like that) and one actor being convicted for possessing child pornography. The ads don't air anymore.
      • This may explain Australian beer ads, either a hilarious send-up of adverts in general or filled with Australian in-jokes and parodies stereotypes, though these actually fit well with the Australian beer-drinking culture. One example: A melanoma-ridden alcoholic is involved in a racially-motivated attack.
      • There's a commercial about a cat who lived with a woman. During the night, he leaves and wanders around inside a nightclub. The cat returns to the woman's apartment for the punchline "Have you been out chasing the bats birds again?" At this point, the logo for a beer comes up with the cat emblazoned on it, and the commercial ends.
    • This Thailand commercial showing a woman somehow increasing her bust size using her "love handles". What's the product? Iced tea. This one is banned in the United States for obvious reasons.
    • Another British example. Back in the 1970s, there was a very popular series of adverts featuring Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter, which always ended with the advertised drink being poured all over Joan. The catch? Everyone thought they were advertising Martini & Rossi, when the ads were actually for a different but similar drink.
    • Guinness ads tend to come in two flavours — entertaining adverts that are clearly advertising beer, and very artistic adverts. Where the line is tends to be a matter of debate, although the River of Life ones are probably the former and the current Domino Alley ones are probably the latter, but not as far into the latter as some of their ads have gotten in the past.
    • The recent Snickers commercials count, like Sir Snacksalot. It features the Snickers candy bar with "Sir Snacksalot" in the same font printed on it. You wouldn't know it's for Snickers unless you look at the candy bar that the guy is eating.
      • Snickers also has a weird campaign where the tagline is "you're not yourself when you're hungry, so grab a Snickers", but they only say that at the very last second. Until then, it's just some random celebrity Adam Westing with some schlubs.
    • This non-Japanese ad where two girls where getting saved from some mean guy and their gym coach by a Godzilla-sized rubber ducky, all done in Japanese. It was for Coca-Cola's Oasis beverage. Somehow, Rubber Duckzilla was meant to connect to the tagline "For people who don't like water". Their first ad with this tagline was about a girl and her Cactus boy lover eloping. Presumably the cactus boy is meant to not need a lot of water and so would for some reason prefer not to drink it and the rubber duck...floats? On the whole, the eloping lovers and two Japanese girls with a hidden secret would've made better ads for gay rights.
    • The Great American Soups ad, the most expensive TV ad ever at the time (featuring top-of-her-field tap dancer Ann Miller and a complete Busby Berkeley Number), was hugely popular and extremely effective at getting people to buy soup. Unfortunately, the ad didn't manage to impress the brand name on buyers; they bought the familiar Campbell's brand instead.
    • Gatorade had an ad campaign that (presumably) parodied this. The entire video was grayscaled and had various people scroll past doing random hand motions. It ended by saying "What is G?", never once coming close to mentioning the product.
      • The ad campaign also featured a series of faces ending in the "G" logo with no mention of Gatoraide. It wasn't until well into the campaign that they used the faces of recognizable athletes.
    • There was a British campaign which featured surreal little vignettes, ending with a picture of a soft drink can and words like "Hypno", "Appe", "Trauma", "Bap", and "Dogma". Turns out they were for a drink called..."Tizer". Get it?
    • For years, Swedish grocery store chain ICA has run a series of sitcom ads that take place in an ICA store with a recurring cast of characters. While the commercials themselves are very popular, and the characters are familiar to most TV-watching Swedes, the viewers would be hard pressed to mention a single product that has been advertised. This is mostly due to the way the ads consist of comedy shorts that very rarely mention the products in the dialogue, simply zooming in on them and showing their price but simultaneously distracting the viewers with humoristic dialogue.
      • This is somewhat excusable, since ICA's primary purpose is to get you into the store, rather than to buy the product featured in the ad. They don't much care whether you buy the bread that's on sale—although they'll include it, since a few people will notice—but rather whether you remember the name of the store and thus choose to go there to do your shopping.
    • "WAZZAAAAAAAAAAAAAP!!!" It's easy to forget that this 1990s Catch Phrase came from a Budweiser commercial because it overshadowed the presence of beer in the commercial.
    • The Cadbury ads featuring a gorilla drumming to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"...in fact you wouldn't have realized Cadbury too quickly, sans the logo at the beginning and the purple background. Nevertheless, the ads were a huge hit and "In the Air Tonight" even re-entered the charts. Then they came back with the eyebrow dancing one...
    • A series of ads for Starbucks go "Starbucks logo, person talking about their personal life (a glass blower who is intrigued by fire, a scooter rider who likes antique scooters), Starbucks logo and web address". The people who are shown in the ads don't mention Starbucks and are not seen drinking it.
    • This new Brazilian ad shows us how "the giant (Brazil) is no longer asleep" and features special effects that seem to come straight from a Michael Bay movie. It's an ad for whisky.
    • An ad for V8 Fusion juice consists of a carrot looking at himself in the bathroom mirror, and a voice over describing a moisture cream made from banana extract, "so you can smell and taste like bananas", and going like your typical shaving commercial complete with a female character feeling his chin. Cut to another carrot watching it as a commercial on TV and mentioning he wants some of the product. Cue tag-line "all vegetables want to taste like fruit".
    • The Cherry Coke ads in the late '90s, which showed teenagers doing various ridiculous things, followed by giant words flashing on the screen saying "Do something different."


    • As early as the 1960s, this commercial with the catchphrase "Mamma mia, atsa one spicy meatball!" was discontinued, not because it was offensive to people of Italian heritage, but because viewers couldn't remember exactly which Italian-food brand it was advertising — probably because it was actually advertising Alka Seltzer, an indigestion remedy!
    • The original Claritin commercials involved bright, beautiful scenery and happy music. They were very uplifting and memorable, at least at the time...yet what they actually were selling remained a mystery for some time, making this the most famous effect of Yes but What Does Zataproximetacine DO?
    • A case of literally being distracted by the shiny — there's a TV ad where animated pipe robots walk around in their city, and it's an ad for some medicine that fixes your "pipes".
    • A lot of ads for feminine hygiene products used to be this way — usually a woman clad in a diaphanous gown walking along a beach somewhere trailing her feet in the water and letting the wind blow through her hair. At the end, there'd be a brief logo for Maxipad or whatever and some innocuous tagline like "Maxipad: just because". These days, what with the feminist movement and all, commercials for these products (and ED) are a bit more upfront about these things...to the point that the "U line by Kotex" campaign parodied the "old method" hard.
    • Head-On, apply directly to the forehead. Head-On, apply directly to the forehead. Head-On, apply directly to the forehead. (The manufacturer wanted to avoid making factual claims about its headache-relieving properties — the "active" ingredient is homeopathic {it's mostly wax} — to avoid legal trouble. Draw your own conclusions.)
    • One Pantene commercial is about five minutes long and shows a story about a deaf Asian girl who wants to learn how to play the violin. Fighting past a girl bully and having her violin broken, she gets onstage at a concert and plays a song so well that it gets a standing ovation. And the violin has been taped back together. The Pantene logo and the caption "Shine" appear at the very end. Up until that point, the only hints this was a shampoo commercial were the many lingering shots of the girl's luscious black hair — you could easily mistake it for a music academy, or a school for the deaf, or even a movie trailer.
    • Lunesta is a brand of prescription sleep aid. Their original commercials had people falling asleep, a butterfly flying around, and a voiceover telling you to talk to your doctor to learn more. The new commercials have the same butterfly flying in front of a black background, and the words "follow the wings." That's it. The words "Lunesta", "insomnia", or even "sleep" never appear.
      • The new Lunesta ads (in Canada, at least) have the moth tucking people in, with a voice-over talking about Lunesta's effects.
    • There was a series of commercials showing people scaling cliffs and overcoming other obstacles, with the last shot showing the word "Zyrtec" carved into stone or otherwise worked into the scenery. At the time (before you could just Google things like this) people genuinely wondered and debated what Zyrtec was. It was actually a new allergy medicine.

    Home Products

    • A decidedly NSFW example from Germany — hardware store chain Hornbach had commercials for wooden ceiling panels that showed a couple getting busy, with the man suddenly staring distractedly past the woman and up at the ceiling, mouthing his discontent with the panelling. Due to a hugely successful comedy act by Michael Mittermeier ("stop the ad, I want to see them fucking again"), the word "Holzdeckenlamellen" has become incredibly funny in the right circles...but nobody ever seems to remember what company the commercial was for in the first place. One could also mention that Hornbach has a history of either totally-out-of-the-way ads like this and so-straightforward-it's-totally-out-of-the-way as having Blixa Bargeld just read the catalogue (in a dramatic fashion).
    • The live-action 1956 short Once Upon A Honeymoon is supposed to be selling new models and colored variations of telephones (to match any decor). Good luck trying to figure that out without anyone telling you, though. In the words of the confused hosts of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (whose commentary can be viewed here):

    "Wait a minute, what the hell was that about, anyway?"

    • There was a wonderfully memorable commercial a few Christmases back for Lowe's, featuring a little kid stumbling down the stairs scrubbing his eyes and tells his dad that he can't sleep. Dad responds that he's just nervous about the big day, escorts him down the dark hallway, opens the door to show light just pouring out and a room bright as day from all the Christmas lights. Not one mention of Lowe's until the logo flashes up at the end.
    • This advert for John Lewis. Nice concept, brilliantly executed (and they later posted a video showing how). Unfortunately, unless you already know what John Lewis is and what they sell, utterly useless because the advert tells you nothing about them other than they're somehow related to people and/or growing up (it looks like a life insurance advert; John Lewis is actually an upmarket home products store). And if you already knew about John Lewis, it does nothing but remind you that they exist.


    • One Dutch insurance company is famous for its advertisement catchphrase "Even Apeldoorn bellen" ("Just call Apeldoorn", Apeldoorn being a city in the Netherlands); they've used the phrase for over a decade, but people tend to forget which company it is. Then again, there's only one insurance company in Apeldoorn so that's okay. A second, less successful company coined the catchphrase "Foutje, bedankt!" ("Mistake, thanks!") which reached meme levels for a few months, except that nobody has an inkling who or what it was supposed to be advertising. This campaign was quickly dropped once the ad agency clued in.
    • The AFLAC duck, at the end of it you know that there's AFLAC and there are ducks...but at least ducks aren't acronyms.[4]
      • AFLAC is getting a little better. "If you are hurt and can't work, it won't hurt to miss work."
      • They always mentioned what they do (supplemental insurance), but most viewers don't take their focus off the duck.
      • The current AFLAC commercial in Japan features a woman having a tea party with the duck and a cat. What this has to do with life insurance, we're not sure.
      • Later AFLAC commercials also feature the "Major Medical" pigeon, but it's not entirely clear whether he's competing or cooperating with the duck, or really why he's there at all.
    • The GEICO commercials are no better. They have a gecko, a caveman, a wad of bills with googly-eyes glued to it, and a Rod Serling-esque guy. Just pick a mascot and stick with it, already!
      • Geico's gotten a little better about this lately, but their ads still don't really have anything to do with car insurance. All most people can recite are "Geico can save you 15% or more on car insurance" with the current "Can GEICO really save you 15% or more on car insurance?" and then acting out various idioms and turns of phrase literally (for example, showing woodchucks chucking wood, having three people attempt to tango, etc). The best one so far has been "Does a former drill sergeant make a bad therapist?", with R. Lee Ermey. The ad team at GEICO is incredibly creative.
      • Geico's advertisements do succeed at the crucial thing — you'll always remember them as Geico, and that you could save 15% on car insurance by switching.
      • And most recently, the little pig from one of the above commercials about idioms has been seen doing extreme sports like street luge and ziplining with no connection whatsoever to Geico till the end.
    • State Farm's hands aren't completely clean here — to go by their 2010-2011 ad campaign, saying their slogan out loud will cause sensitive, rebellious, lantern-jawed guys to appear and sit on your car. There may be something in there about coverage or some shit, but who needs that when you can spawn chunkheads (and Bob Barker!) from thin air? Also, apparently, saying their slogan summons a State Farm agent from thin air so you can get anything you want.

    Money & Money-Related

    • One infamous Super Bowl ad for Nuveen Investments (a company The Other Wiki describes as "a global provider of investment services to institutions and high-net-worth investors in the asset management industry", which probably means either a stockbroker or a hedge fund) took place Twenty Minutes Into the Future, where man had cured AIDS, cancer, and spinal cord injuries, then showed Christopher Reeve, aided by CGI, getting out of his wheelchair and walking. There were massive protests from those who didn't pay attention to the premise of the commercial and felt lied to afterward.
    • The Pets.Com commercial mascot, a talking sock puppet dog, managed to outlive the very company he was invented to advertise and now hawks, of all things, cheap car loans.
    • E* Trade came out with an ad about a man with an unusual medical condition — he had money coming out the wazoo. The point of the ad was that, unless you had the same "problem", you should consider their services.
    • The "Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman" series was deliberately designed like this. They were supposed to be promoting American Express credit cards, but said cards were only used once or twice per short (each of which ran for five minutes) while the rest of the time was Jerry and Superman talking about nothing.
    • The commercial for Visa Check Card several years ago, starring Yao Ming ("Can I write a check?" "Yo!" "It's YAO.").
    • This commercial uses lots of cute fuzzy bunnies at a fair and sickeningly sweet music to advertise the New York Lottery.
    • A series of ads made in the 1990s for Union Bank of Switzerland consisted entirely of mood-lit celebrities, including Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley, performing readings of classic poetry (including "If" by Rudyard Kipling and "Ozymandias" by Percy Shelley, with the name of the bank only briefly appearing in text at the beginning and end.


    • The 2011 commercial for Utah politician Jon Huntsman's Presidential campaign, which consists solely of a motocross biker riding his motorcycle through a desert and an anecdote that Huntsman headed a rock band in the 1970s. The only thing that tells you it's a political ad is the "Paid for by Jon Huntsman" tag at the very end. Not long after, Conan O'Brien made fun of the commercial by creating an even more bizarre ad featuring senior citizens and house music.


    • Parodied in the mock-infomercial "Icelandic Ultra Blue". Apparently it's something medical and sinister.
    • A recurring theme in the british version of The Apprentice - one team will be led by someone with an "artistic vision", the other team will make something "tacky" that shouts the product name and concept at you, and the shouty team will win because Lord Sugar can't stand "artsy fartsy stuff".
    • Stone Toss has a page mocking this that became a minor meme: «Burgers?»
    • PETA is known for their risque advertising campaigns, most of them depicting nudity. For example, one ad featured Joanna Krupa posing nude, with angel wings and a halo, using a large crucifix to cover her crouch and breasts, with the message "Be an Angel for Animals" printed below. Eye catching, certainly, but whether you find this offensive (as the Catholic Church did) or silly (as almost everyone else did) it lacks any important information about animal welfare or animal rights.
    1. It's the most recent in a string of really rather bizarre Old Spice campaigns; to give you an idea of how bizarre, the ads in the campaign before it were directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.
    2. Clavo que clavo la sombrilla
    3. After sipping a beer he actually said, "My tongue just threw a party for my mouth!"
    4. (The acronym is for American Family Life Assurance Company.)