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Persuasion

How Newcastle calls ‘bollocks’ on the advertising industry Add to ...

More than two decades ago, when the Energizer Bunny first drummed its way onto TV screens, it kept going and going right into the middle of other commercials.

In order to create the image of a long-lasting battery, the brand created ads that started out looking as if they were promoting something else. They would often run after a regular Energizer ad. In the middle of commercials for fake brands such as Très Café coffee, Nasatene nasal spray, and Château Marmoset wine, the bunny would thump onto the screen, interrupting the action – the idea being that it was still going, even though its commercial had ended.

Globe and Mail Update Aug. 28 2014, 7:41 PM EDT

Video: Watch Newcastle beer's mock Superbowl ad with Anna Kendrick

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But the ads weren’t just about communicating a message of extreme endurance, or mocking Duracell’s ads that showed toys powered by its batteries outlasting other brands. The spots were also a shot at advertising in general. The fake ads were designed to spoof the kind of commercials people hate. Think of the contrived scene in which friends rave to each other about a product, or the pretentious tone of ads for luxury goods. The bet was that by making fun of advertising, Energizer could find a more receptive audience.

The bunny “interrupts, disrupts, and derides the kind of advertising people would zap anyway,” Dick Sitting, senior vice-president for Energizer’s ad agency, Chiat/Day/Mojo, told New York magazine in 1991, explaining the commercials’ popularity. “The bunny becomes the hero for shutting the ads up.”

The rise of digital media means that advertisers now have the chance to reach us at every second of every day. But it is also a time when people value frankness, the kind of tone they use when talking to their friends on social media. Partly because of that, the strategy is alive and well. And it can pay off for brands that do it right.

The strategy is now helping Newcastle Brown Ale to make itself heard on a shoestring.

While the British beer is now owned by a big company, Heineken NV, it is a small brand with a small budget. About one year ago, the marketing team took stock: Its TV commercials were not making an impact. While the “No Bollocks” campaign that started three years ago received positive feedback for mocking over-the-top promises of good times, bad Photoshopping and egregious flag-waving in other advertising, they did not have the money to make a difference in TV.

So the brand moved 100 per cent of its budget into digital, where it has seen results.

Before the Super Bowl, when companies were spending roughly $4-million (U.S.) to air 30-second TV commercials, Newcastle produced a series of videos admitting it couldn’t afford to join the fun. Instead, it talked about the ad it would have made – implicitly mocking the over-the-top Big Game ads that air in the U.S. – featuring “battle apes,” robots and actress Anna Kendrick wearing only body paint.

It released teaser trailers, videos of real focus groups reacting to its premise and a video with a crude storyboard version of its ad, as well as videos with Ms. Kendrick and former NFLer Keyshawn Johnson complaining about Newcastle backing out for lack of funds.

The humour boosted Newcastle to a “trending topic” on Facebook, ahead of the Super Bowl itself, for two days. The campaign earned roughly 600 instances of coverage in the media, helping to stoke views of the videos, which spiked to more than 10 million in two weeks. The company estimates that in total, its media exposure amounted to more than one billion “impressions,” the number of times people would have seen the coverage.

“We felt that people were kind of tired of marketing that treated them like idiots,” said Scott Bell, creative director at Newcastle’s ad agency, Droga5.

The latest campaign makes fun of crowdsourcing. Miller Lite, for example, asked U.S. consumers to send in photos of their summer, and produced an ad with a selection of those images. Newcastle asked people to send in the kind of “mediocre” photos that overpopulate Facebook, and promised to retouch them poorly to insert its product into the shot.

“If you’re going to be on the Internet, you have to give it what it wants. The Internet doesn’t want advertising,” said Quinn Kilbury, brand director for Newcastle and a former marketer at Pepsi, where he worked on big-budget Super Bowl advertising. “We’re not competing with Budweiser or craft beer, we’re competing with Justin Bieber and cute kittens.”

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